Fair Wind Big Island Ocean Guides offers nighttime manta ray sightings. // © 2014 Thinkstock/coobrien
Hawaii is a favorite destination for family vacations thanks to its wide variety of unique, fun activities and distinct cultural flavor. For father-son activities, Hawaii offers the gamut of island attractions, from “hanging ten” to close encounters with the ocean’s most fearsome predator.
Sailing out three miles off the northern coast of Oahu to snorkel in shark-infested waters may not sound like your everyday father and son moment, but for dads visiting the island with adventurous boys, it’s tough to imagine a more memorable family excursion.
“I’d recommend it for kids ages 3 to 30,” said Joe Pavsek, the owner of North Shore Shark Adventures. “And it’s not just for sons. My four-year-old daughter loves it.”
It’s been more than 20 years since Pavsek made his first shark cage dive, an outing with friends in a contraption he fabricated with PVC pipes and heavy wire. Today, however, his company operates three boats that offer daily tours, providing guests a chance to swim right next to sharks separated by the confines of an 8-foot by 10-foot aluminum cage outfitted with Plexiglas windows.
“The Galapagos sharks we see range anywhere from 6 to 12 feet, and the Sandbars are smaller, around 4 to 6 feet,” Pavsek explained. “We also see all kinds of whales from December through April. Yesterday we had one right under the shark cage.”
The tours last two hours, and shark sightings are guaranteed. The boat ride out to the dive spot off shore is about 15 minutes from Haleiwa Harbor — early morning bookings are generally less rough — and clients don masks and snorkels before climbing into the submerged cage for an eye-to-eye encounter with the graceful ocean predators.
Folks can also book a seat on the boat just for the ride out and watch the action from above.
“We get quite a few people onboard who say ‘No, I’m just going to watch from the boat,’” Pavsek said. “But once they see what’s going on, 90 percent of them get in the water.”
Rates start at $96 for adults and $60 for children ages 3 to 13.
Snorkeling with manta rays on the Big Island of Hawaii is another of the Aloha State’s most awe-inspiring ocean activities.
Fair Wind Big Island Ocean Guides takes customers out shortly after sundown, departing from the boat harbor at Keauhou Bay on the island’s west coast. The outfitter anchors its 55-foot Hula Kai vessel about 200 yards from the Sheraton Kona Resort, where a faithful troupe of manta rays, some with a wingspan of up to 14 feet (but no dangerous stingers), typically gathers each night to feed on plankton.
After securing masks, snorkels and fins, clients swim the short distance out to the “manta float,” a bobbing chain of Styrofoam and rope deployed behind the boat, to grab on while an underwater ballet unfolds below.
Drawn to lighting attached to the manta float, tiny plankton head to the surface toward the string of Fair Wind snorkelers, and it’s not long before manta rays begin to feed. Rising in slow-moving somersaults, the elegant sea creatures rhythmically ascend toward the floating lineup of onlookers but dive off right before colliding with the spectators, heading to the ocean floor to begin the dance again.
Lasting about 90 minutes, the Fair Wind Night Manta Snorkel & Dive is $105 for adults and children at least age 7.
Surf With Hawaiian Fire
No Hawaiian vacation would be complete without a day of surfing. Ancient Hawaiians invented the pastime, after all, and riding waves is a quintessential component of the destination’s rich culture.
“For many fathers in Hawaii, teaching their sons this awesome Hawaiian sport is a rite of passage and a pursuit that can be shared for a lifetime,” said John Pregil, the co-owner of Hawaiian Fire, an Oahu surf school that only employs off-duty Honolulu firefighters as instructors. “As my sons get older and our lives get busier, I can’t explain how excited I get to share some waves with them.”
For visiting dads who are interested in learning to surf with their boys, but might be a little worried about safety, Hawaiian Fire offers a terrific product: expert instruction by firefighters who are trained to save lives and teach surf lessons in a secluded beach setting on Oahu’s west coast.
“Although we love Waikiki and its history as the birthplace of modern surfing, it isn’t very safe for beginners,” Pregil said. “With thousands of surfers using hard, fiberglass boards, many of whom are beginners and first-timers in a small geographic area, it makes for a dangerous environment.”
Operating now for nearly 15 years, Pregil started the company with fellow Honolulu firefighter Kevin Miller as a safety-focused alternative to the many surf schools located on the beach in Waikiki.
“The great thing about surfing is that it’s extremely fun to do at any age,” Pregil said. “And the only thing better than catching a wave is watching your child catch one.”
Hawaiian Fire lessons start at $169 for kids ages 7 to 10.