When I lived in Hawaii I loved the sea. Not being good at surfing, I took up kayaking in about 1981, when my wife Barbara and I met Ann Fielding, a marine biologist well known in Hawaii for her books on Hawaiian fish and her adventure tours. Ann was inspired by the exploits of Audrey Sutherland who had swum the coastlines of the North Shores of Kauai and Molokai and had kayaked the coast of Alaska. Audrey wrote the pioneer book Paddling My Own Canoe. I was lucky enough to know Audrey; somewhere in my library I still have a sea-stained copy of her book inscribed with her invitation to me that “I was welcome to come along….”, which is an honor, as Audrey was an independent-spirited woman and likely still is, although she is now in her 80s.
Ann introduced us to inflatable kayaks made by the French firm Sevylor. Barbara and I bought two of the smallest style of kayaks, the K69 Tahiti. Made of quite rugged PVC, the kayak had inflatable seats and came with screw-apart blades and a foot pump. The kayaks folded down to duffel bag size and were easy to transport by plane or on top of our tiny Suzuki 4WD.The PVC was vulnerable to punctures from coral and keawe tree (mesquite) thorns but these could be fixed easily.
We paddled those boats hundreds of miles along the rugged, cliffed and generally inaccessible north shores of Lanai, Molokai and Kauai; the rough, windy waters off the La Perouse lava flows at Ahihi on Mauai, and the tranquil calms along the Kona Coast of Hawaii.
The kayaks traveled much further when we paddled the Rock Islands and lagoons of Palau in the Pacific Trust Territory in Micronesia. In 1982 I took K69s to the Ok Tedi project in Papua New Guinea so my crew could frolic with them on weekends. Running the mini-rapids of the Ok Tedi River was both scary and fun, with the all-male crew outdoing ourselves in macho stunts. I was never too good at macho, so the chaps outdid themselves guffawing at the boss as he tumbled into the roiling eddies (which in calmer reaches were crocodile-infested).
When I moved to Honolulu in 1983, I often paddled off the coastline of Northern Oahu. The kayaks were not quite as appealing as convertible cars for courting, but I did manage to tempt more than one lady to take a paddle with me – with me doing the paddling. By that time I was so impressed with the kayaks that I became a retailer as a sideline business. I had a company name: Kaukahi Kayaks, developed by Ab V~, a Hawaiian draftsman at the office I had worked in. Ab also designed a fetching logo for Kaukahi Kayaks. I noted in researching for this post that the name “Kaukahi” is also used by the Hui Wa’a Kaukahi , or “association for single (solo) canoes”. That seems an appropriate name: my most enjoyable kayaking was when I paddled my own canoe; but, that is as true in the random paddle of life as it is sea-sport.