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“Don’t forget to breath,” advises my instructor as he prepares me for Waikiki Ocean Club’s Sea Trek helmet dive. As absurd as that advice sounds, breathing is briefly an issue.
Completely removed from our element, my companion and I are given the dynamics scoop on our glass-enclosed helmets. We adjust to the filtered air rushing in and celebrate the fact that we can actually see what’s transpiring since we don’t have to remove our prescription eyewear in the totally dry environment.
Holding onto handrails enclosing Sea Trek’s open-sided “elevator” platform, we’re slowly lowered 15 feet below the surface for the zero gravity adventure. While marine life is somewhat sparse on this unusually windy day, divers typically see colorful butterfly fish, moorish idols, yellow tang, sergeant majors and an occasional green sea turtle.
Sea Trek is among the dozen-plus ocean offerings at the Waikiki Ocean Club, a 10,000-square-foot, tri-level floating playground shining in the surf 300 yards off Waikiki Beach. For your clients who gravitate to Oahu’s south shore sun and action but prefer more elbow room, this colorful moored catamaran has come to the rescue. And what sets it apart is that so many watersports options are available from a single venue.
Billed as the largest multi-hulled cat in the world when built in 1981, the 388-capacity vessel served a similar but brief stint as KanDoo Island in 2009. Businessman Robert Norton has buffed it up to the tune of $1.8 million by adding onboard amenities and upgrading the aesthetics with an eye-catching yellow, blue and green color scheme. The Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort welcomed the family-friendly club in April as part of a trio of ocean concessions operating from its pier.
According to Waikiki Ocean Club’s president. Lee Collins, the appeal spans from sunbathers to thrill seekers.
“The wider the net we can throw out, the more exciting it is,” Collins says. “Families absolutely love this product. Since it’s so multigenerational, grandparents don’t have to do anything extreme while youngsters can do it all. It can be mellow or very active to appeal to every age.”
On the day I visit, there’s a mix of couples, families and a giddy group of girlfriends who entertain us by refusing to act their ages. Collins says this tends to be the trend since people are relaxed, more open to trying new things and drawn into the fun. Total strangers bond on everything from what they see while kayaking to the fine art of balancing on a giant floating trampoline tethered 15 yards offshore.
Full-day general admission covers use of the trampoline, the tri-level diving platforms, the water slide, the swimming area, snorkeling equipment, assorted ocean toys and the outdoor showers. The top two decks are lined with cushioned teak lounge chairs allowing sun worshippers to catch rays and weary water warriors to snooze in the shade.
For additional fees, die-hard water fanatics can dive into group snorkeling tours, jet skiing, introductory scuba, two-day PADI open water certification, high-speed aqua quads, kayaking, a Diamond Head boat tour and instructor-led stand-up paddling.
In conjunction with Hilton’s longstanding tradition of Friday night fireworks, Waikiki Ocean Club has introduced a two-hour Fireworks On the Sea cruise with a local-style buffet and two beverages for $79 per person. An upgraded VIP experience with exclusive seating is $119, with optional bottle service for $100.
One drawback to this one-stop recreation shop is that you’re limited to purchasing food and beverages onboard rather than toting your favorites with you. It’s a liability issue that Waikiki Ocean Club has addressed by operating a full bar and a galley with a lunch menu and snacks.
Anticipated to make yet another substantial splash is the 2013 arrival of a towering 14-foot by 14-foot by 20-foot iceberg-styled inflatable climbing wall and a water slide loaded with more than 100 climbing handles. With a weight capacity of 1,500 pounds, plenty of people can share the excitement of climbing to the top and careening down the water slide side by side.
If you’re simply looking for a space to sun yourself away from crowds, a secluded beach is always an option. But if you prefer easy access to a range of water sports or if you are part of a group with diverse interests, Waikiki Ocean Club can definitely enhance an Oahu south shore experience.
Waikiki Ocean Club808-380-6800www.waikikioceanclub.com
Access: Shuttles depart the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort pier and Ala Wai Harbor
Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily
Price: $89 per adult, $69 per child ages 4-15, $25 per child age 3 and under. Fee activities range from $49 per person for helmet dives to $149 for introductory scuba lessons