Labor of Love

A tour operator creates adventures for clients ages eight to 80

By: Marty Wentzel

When visiting the Marine Life Conservation District of Kealakekua Bay, some clients choose a comfortable catamaran ride, while thrill-seekers prefer zipping there in a zodiac. But for active clients who want a bit of a workout, Geoff Hand offers another alternative. His firm, Adventures in Paradise, runs kayak and snorkel tours that head to the bay early in the morning, before scores of other tourists have even boarded their boats.

If, like me, your clients are lucky enough to have Hand as your guide and their chances are good, since he leads half the tours they’re virtually guaranteed a satisfying trip from start to finish. A people-person with a gift for gab, Hand changed professional gears when he realized that office life wasn’t his calling.

“I’m living proof that money doesn’t always buy happiness,” said the ponytailed paddler. “Being on the water is what brings me joy.”

After running a kayak tour business in Monterey, Calif., he moved the company to the Big Island five years ago.

“I can do this year-round here,” he said. “It was a no-brainer.”

I asked Hand if my mother could join our excursion.

“You bet,” he said. “We bring people from ages eight to over 80, and we paddle at the speed of the slowest kayak.”

After outfitting us with lifejackets, masks, fins and wetsuits, Hand loaded up his truck and drove us about 10 minutes to our put-in spot on the south end of Kealakekua Bay.

For the Adventures in Paradise fleet, Hand uses one-, two- and three-person kayaks made out of plastic durable enough to avoid dents when dragged over rough lava. Hand gave us a brief paddling and safety orientation, then adeptly maneuvered us into our craft and onto the sea. As we paddled across the bay for 45 minutes, he entertained us with information about its marine animals, coral, water depth and weather patterns, as well as the history of the surrounding area from upcountry coffee plantations to oceanfront desert. Clearly this guy has done his homework.

At our destination, a palm-fringed cove, Hand helped us out of the kayaks, hauled them up on shore and arranged all of the snorkeling gear, while Mom and I stretched our legs and didn’t lift a finger. He showed us the best rock to sit on while we donned our fins and masks. Prior to entering the water, he shared instructions about protecting the delicate marine environment we were about to explore, then showed us the easiest route for sliding in and swimming without bumping into any rocks.

There’s a reason Kealakekua Bay is such a popular snorkeling destination. Thanks to its incredible water clarity, dozens of types of tropical fish are visible from first glance to last. Hand swam beside us, pointing out yellow tang, black and white puffers, aquamarine parrotfish and brilliant coral formations. Watchful of our stamina, he stroked back to shore at one point, returning with a life vest so Mom’s experience was more relaxing. Without rushing us, he knew exactly when we should turn around and snorkel back before we got too cold or tired.
Back on shore, Mom and I dried off and warmed up as Hand swung into action preparing a snack of fresh sliced pineapple, rice crackers, granola bars, sodas and juice. He escorted us along a short path to Captain Cook’s monument, telling us the tale of the 18th-century British explorer’s demise at the hands of native Hawaiians. Then, like a true gentleman, he readied the kayaks for our return.

We hugged the shore on the paddle back, marveling at the centuries of geological history that sculpted its massive cliffs. He pointed out sea birds and told us to watch for the dolphins that come into the bay each day.

Sure enough, he spotted a few fins in the distance, and we paddled toward them to see what would happen, then stopped and waited. A few minutes later, five dolphins swam up to and under our kayaks, then sped away. For the first time all morning, the three of us were speechless.


Adventures in Paradise
81-6367 Mamalahoa Hwy.
Kealakekua, HI 96750

A guided snorkel/kayak tour of Kealakekua Bay costs $100 per person, departing at 7:30 a.m. and returning at 12:30 p.m. Rates cover all gear (including RX masks), snacks, drinks, instruction and transportation to and from the bay.
The firm also offers kayak/snorkel tours in Kailua Bay ($80); dolphin watching/snorkel cruises aboard a 28-foot turbo-powered boat ($90); and half- and full-day hiking trips (from $60-$150). If a guided tour isn’t your client’s style, Adventures in Paradise rents kayaks and helps load them on their rental car.

Commission: 10 percent.