Saddle Up and Play Cowboy

Local tour operator Steve Wood shares his favorite places to ride

By: By Dawna L. Robertson


Gunstock Ranch
Happy Trails Hawaii
Kualoa Ranch
Original Glider Rides  
Turtle Bay Resort  

Glider pilot Steve Wood enjoys the North Shore on horseback when not flying. // (c) Dawna L. Robertson
Glider pilot Steve Wood enjoys the North Shore on horseback when not flying.

Tour operator Steve Wood places a premium on the solitude that comes with treading off the beaten path. Raised in the hamlet of Hutton, North Somerset, England, "Woody" landed on Oahu during a trip around the world in 1997. While taking a leisurely drive along the coastal Kamehameha Highway, the adventure lover instantly fell for the island’s mellow North Shore.

Woody was so smitten, in fact, that he made this laidback area his new home. He eventually combined his passion for flying with his thirst for creativity by joining Honolulu Soaring at Dillingham Airfield in 2002. Woody then became president and co-owner two years later of the company better known as the Original Glider Rides.

Since 1970, the Original Glider Rides has combined the thrill of soaring with the natural beauty of Oahu’s North Shore via scenic air tours and flight training. Woody noted that what sets these engine-free gliders apart from other aircraft is the in-flight silence. Learning to pilot gliders in England, he considers doing so in Hawaii basically the same process but with much nicer weather.

"It’s one of the safest forms of aviation available to the recreational passenger simply because there are so few mechanical parts in a sailplane," said Woody. "There are no noisy engines and no giant blades whining, just the quiet air whispering over the wings of the aircraft."

When he’s not flying high, Woody prefers to soak in the North Shore’s scenery via horseback riding. First saddling up while working on a farm when he was 14, Woody has acquired an appreciation for connecting with a live creature rather than a machine.

"I’m a country person," Woody said. "So seeing the land from the air is always nice. But seeing the local countryside from the ground adds a unique perspective."

Not regarding himself as an expert, he added that he has tremendous respect for seasoned horse riders, and especially horse jumpers.

Woody noted that he finds riding a great way to relax, have fun and spend time with his girlfriend.

"Out of luck, my girlfriend Chrissy owns two horses — Luke and Gigi. She stables the pair at Dillingham Horse Ranch, which once offered commercial riding," he said.

Woody’s routine these days is picnic riding for an hour-and-a-half every few weeks.

"I’d like to get out more, but I’ve been working quite a bit and it’s difficult," he said.

While more accustomed to outings on friends’ horses at Dillingham and other North Shore areas, Woody highly recommends several commercial stables where visitors can get in touch with their inner cowboy.

"Riding at Pupukea is really nice," he said. "There’s a canopy of trees and it’s beautiful. It gives you a good taste of the North Shore."

He’s also high on the stables at Turtle Bay Resort.

"It’s a different ride than I typically do since it’s right along the ocean," he said.

Woody added that Hawaii laws prohibit riding directly on the beach due to health and safety regulations.

Another top pick on Oahu’s Windward coast is Kualoa Ranch. The 4,000-acre working cattle ranch and visitor attraction operates guided rides meandering through dense rainforest into Kaaawa Valley.

With his hectic work schedule, Woody has yet to see much trail time on the neighbor islands. But he’s quick to suggest that anyone visiting any Hawaiian Island should experience the unique rush that riding offers.

"Visitors always associate Hawaii with beaches and the ocean," he said. "Taking a horseback ride here is really different. It’s a more unusual way to explore an island."