Air and See

Local outfit offers a whole new look by seaplane

By: Marty Wentzel

HONOLULU Pat Magie has flown above some amazing scenery, from Canada to the Caribbean, but he claims that Hawaii has the most beautiful water he’s ever seen. That’s mighty high praise from a pilot who has logged 30,000 hours in seaplanes, and it was enough of an endorsement for me to climb into his small flying boat for an aerial tour of Oahu.

Magie and his wife, Debbie, own and operate Island Seaplane Service, running 30-minute and one-hour flightseeing tours out of Keehi Lagoon. He uses the same seaplane as Pan Am’s amphibious China Clippers that flew from California to Honolulu and beyond in the 1930s and ’40s.

After standing in countless airport lines in recent years, I found it refreshing to simply walk out on Magie’s small floating dock, buckle up next to him and take off within a matter of minutes. Balancing ever so subtly on one float so as to minimize drag, Magie eased the craft into the air with such skill that I hardly even noticed the ocean spray around us.

Compared to helicopter tours with constant rat-a-tat rotors, the seaplane was peaceful and, as Magie noted, a lot safer.

“We can land in water in case of engine failure, and we can glide if necessary,” he assured me.

Since I was sitting next to the man named National Seaplane Pilot of the year in 2000, I breathed easier.

From 1,000 feet up, the seaplane introduced me to views that offered a whole new outlook on Oahu. Wearing headsets with mouthpieces, Magie and I shared easy-going conversation along the way.

Heading east, we passed over Diamond Head, flying low enough to see people waving from the 760-foot summit. Views of Koko Crater and Hanauma Bay offered eye-opening lessons in the island’s fiery volcanic history. Magie had fun pointing out little-known landmarks, like a large compound on the Windward Coast.

“There’s one of Michelle Pfeiffer’s beach houses,” he said. “If she knows I’m coming, she likes to come out and wave her bikini top at me.”

The tour provided the perfect vantage point for viewing Godzilla’s massive footprint, created for the movie of the same name when it was filmed at Oahu’s Kualoa Ranch. It turns out that Hollywood has discovered Magie, who not only flew a seaplane for “Godzilla” but for several other movies and television shows. Ever the good sport, he even donned a wig and dress in order to serve as Catherine Zeta-Jones’ stunt double while flying a plane in “The Phantom.” His seaplane base took its own star turn in the recent Adam Sandler-Drew Barrymore movie “50 First Dates.”

Magie recounted his colorful career, including paddling a canoe from northern Minnesota to Hudson Bay in his youth. During that 2½-month adventure, he and his companions shot over some rapids, lost their supplies and were forced to live off the land eating porcupine.

“That experience gave me a real urge to see more of the North Country, and learning to fly was the natural solution,” he said.

A pilot’s license opened doors to such adventures as leading rugged backcountry camping tours in Alaska and running risky, life-saving medevac missions. In 1996, Magie launched Island Seaplane, the only one of its kind in the islands.

“It just didn’t make sense that Hawaii didn’t have seaplane tours,” he said.

His instincts were right on. From his seaplane, Oahu never looked so good to me before, from the effervescent reefs of Kaneohe Bay and the big winter waves of the North Shore to the meticulous crisscross of pineapple fields in Central Oahu. It’s a great overview of the island, especially for clients on their first day here.

As we made our approach back to the lagoon, we followed the same route as the Japanese planes that bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, a goose-bumps moment if ever I’ve felt one. Magie made sure I could see the outline of the sunken USS Arizona in the harbor, then treated me to the singular thrill of landing on water.

While other 74-year-olds might consider retirement, or a more grounded profession, Magie continues to take people out on daily tours above Oahu because, as he put it simply, “I love to fly, and we have the prettiest runway in Hawaii.”

Island Seaplane Service
85 Lagoon Dr.
Honolulu, HI 96820

The half-hour flightseeing tour,
passing over Waikiki, Diamond Head, Kahala, Hanauma Bay, Kaneohe Bay and Pearl Harbor, costs $99 per person.
The one-hour flight amplifies the above with an aerial tour of the North Shore and the central plains of Oahu, for $179 per person.
For a minimum of 12 people, Island Seaplane packages its aerial tour with a sunset pupu party on the floating dock for $99 per person.
The firm’s Meal Deal, combining a seaplane tour and island-style dinner on the dock, is available to groups of 20 people or more for $129 per person.
Complimentary van service is available from Waikiki hotels.
Island Seaplane pays travel agents 30 percent commission.