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Trip Report Trip Report: Maui and Oahu Sept 26-Oct 6, 2012

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If you don't like long, detailed trip reports, you'll want to skip this one! This one chronicles my entire trip and has lots of details.

This was my third trip to the Hawaiian Islands; a third trip to Oahu and first trip to Maui (one of the previous trips also included Kauai). As much as I wanted to see some of the sights that Maui has to offer, I had put off going there since it seems to me from my research, that many of the people who love Maui don’t seem to like Oahu very much and I love Oahu. I finally made the decision to give Maui a try to see how it compared and see what I might be missing.

My trip started on Wednesday night when I flew from Boston to San Francisco on United Airlines. One thing I have found over the years and I find to be especially true with United is that if you book your flight months in advance like I do, there will be at least one schedule change prior to your departure. They usually don’t notify me of these changes despite being registered for email updates. This trip was no exception with 2 or 3 schedule changes and at least one equipment change which almost screwed up my extra cost Economy Plus seat on one flight. Luckily I have learned over the years to log on to my account every few weeks to keep myself informed of these issues so that they can be corrected before it is too late.

I arrived at the airport early in order to have time to eat prior to my flight. I opted for a ham and swiss sandwich from Pot Belly sandwiches. I’m glad I got there early, as the TSA at security were moving at record slow pace that day.

There was a 30 min delay on takeoff for an unexplained reason. Upon landing at SFO we sat at the gate for almost 10 minutes waiting for them to bring out the jet way. Finally, I was off the plane and baggage came out sort of quickly. I got the free shuttle that my motel, the Best Western El Rancho Inn, provides from the airport and arrived at the hotel in a couple minutes. You simply call them (courtesy phone at the waiting area for hotel shuttles) and it will then come get you. The fact that the hotel is located just 8 min from the airport makes it an easy choice for a one night stop over. Upon check in they will ask you what time your flight is the next day and give you a choice of what time you want the shuttle to get you. The shuttle leaves every 30 min and will come to your general room vicinity. Make sure you are waiting outside where they can see you though, as some people told me they were in the room with the door open since it was chilly out and they missed it, so had to get the next one. I was assigned room 719 which is at the back of the property. The room was everything I expect of a simple motel; it was clean and functional. The décor was peach colored walls, dark pink/red carpet and light wood tones. My building was near the train tracks and trains pass by about every 15 min (I’m not sure how late they run, as I stopped noticing them about 11:30pm). This may bother some people but it was no big deal to me.

The hotel also provides what they call a free departure snack which runs from 4:30am-9:30am. They have muffins, bagels, coffee, juice and other pastry items. I had an orange juice and a banana nut muffin which was good. (If you want a full breakfast, there is a restaurant on property that starts serving later). I took the hotel shuttle back to the airport at 6:30am. Upon arriving at SFO, it was quite busy. The lines in the terminal for UAL are not well designated when it’s busy and people were confusing the security line with the bag check line because there were so many people. Both lines were moving at a snails pace. Finally, they opened another security line and led a batch of us downstairs one level where that one was located, so the wait was not quite as long.

Thankfully we took off more or less on time. We landed in Maui at about 11am, which is the main reason I wanted to stay overnight in San Francisco instead of flying the whole way in one day; by staying overnight it allowed me to make the early flight to Maui, while if I flew from Boston that morning I would have gotten there much later and no time to do any activity that day. Baggage claim took about 15 min. I got the Hertz shuttle to check in for my rental car and the line was long and took forever. I had reserved a convertible and was assigned a white Camaro convertible.

I pulled out of the airport and my first stop was Broke Da Mouth cookies. I got a package of the Maui Coffee and Macadamia Nut Cookies. The cookies there are okay, but not that special in my opinion. The main reason I wanted to go there was to see if they had any slices of the Queen Emma cake available but on that day they were only selling the whole cake. I had read online of people being able to buy slices, so that was too bad, as that cake looks delicious. From there I drove directly to my hotel, the Sheraton Maui. I checked in but my room was not yet ready. They gave me a 35% off coupon for lunch and a free drink voucher. I had nachos at the Cliff Dive Bar as by that time I was starved. I then got a towel from the pool kiosk and snorkeled at Black Rock for about 30 minutes. I saw 2 sea turtles, a triggerfish, and a small eel among other things. I spent the rest of the afternoon looking around the hotel and in the swimming pool which is a lazy river style pool.

My room was ready about 3pm and I got room 3603 which is a partial ocean view room on the 6th floor of building 3. This building was very centrally located and easy to get to the pool, lobby or parking lot. The room looked out at the ocean and a golf course. One thing I will say about this hotel is that there are elevators everywhere. Around every corner seemingly is another elevator.

At about 6:15pm I saw the nightly cliff dive ceremony while enjoying a Maui Mist coctail. This ceremony is presented nightly at sunset. It starts prior to sunset with a hula dancer by the stage near the pool and then continues with a torch lighting and culminates with a diver off Black Rock.

After the cliff dive, I then got the 7:10pm shuttle to Lahaina. Starwood has a shuttle that serves its 3 hotels (Sheraton, Westin and Westin Villas) and Lahaina. Dinner tonight was at Lahaina Coolers. This is a very casual restaurant off the main path where you can seat yourself at any open table. I had a Lava Flow and Evil Jungle Pasta which is pasta in a spicy peanut sauce. After dinner I walked around downtown and got a Lappert’s ice cream from an ice cream shop. I love Lappert’s Kauai Pie flavor so always try to get it at least once each trip. It seemed quiet downtown--quieter than I thought it would be considering how many shops and restaurants there are.

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    Friday morning I had my surf lesson with Maui Surfer Girls from 8-10am. Owner Dustin was my instructor. You meet your instructor at the beach (one of 2 possible locations). They provide a rash guard and booties for your feet along with the surf board. Dustin carried the boards down and I brought down her dog on her leash. Her dog is so cute and really loves being at the beach. There were not many people at the surf break “guard rails” so this helps make it great for learning. I had surfed a few times on previous trips to Oahu, so after a brief onshore review we got right in the water and started catching waves. The lessons are 2 hours so this gives you lots of time to get plenty of waves. She had me work on turning the board during my lesson. I really enjoyed my lesson and would definitely use Maui Surfer Girls again when I return to Maui. In fact, surfing was my favorite thing I did on Maui.

    After my lesson it was back to the hotel to change, then on to Lahaina to look around. I looked in the various shops along Front Street, admired the large banyan tree and had Ululani’s shave ice. I opted for a small with macadamia nut ice cream on the bottom then guava, mango and lilikoi flavors. This was very good shave ice and the flavors were fresh and authentic tasting (didn’t taste fake or too sugary).

    Next I drove on to Iao Valley State Park and spent about 30 minutes there taking the walkway and looking at the Iao Needle. My next stop was then Paia town where I spent time looking in the shops. I then drove to Ho’okipa Lookout to watch the surfers and windsurfers. Finally, dinner tonight was at Mama’s Fish House. I checked in early for my 4:45pm reservation and got a window/open air table like I had requested. Mama’s Fish House may seem like a strange choice for someone who does not eat seafood, but I picked it for the atmosphere, having seen the photos of the restaurant and its desserts online. I ordered a non alcoholic lilikoi colada, the Maui onion and tomato salad and the beef short rib which is covered in mushrooms. The short rib was especially delicious I thought, but it was quite rich and the portion was a bit much for me. For dessert I had several options but the photos I had seen of the Polynesian Black Pearl dessert looked so good, I was pretty much decided on that before I even arrived. For anyone unfamiliar with the Black Pearl it is a pastry dough clam shell (tastes like a fortune cookie) and inside is a ball of chocolate mousse covered in chocolate ganache and the chocolate mousse “pearl” is filled with lilikoi mousse. It was every bit as delicious as the photos. Mama’s has a beautiful setting looking out over a beach with palm trees and set among gardens. It has a tropical and laid back atmosphere. It is fairly highly priced but for me it was worth it---I loved everything I had there and didn’t even order the fish. I would go again for sure.

    Back at the hotel I walked from Sheraton to the Hyatt on the beach walk. Since the walk promenades along the beach and past all the hotels, there are plenty of people on it and it’s lit well enough to be able to walk along it at night.

    Saturday I had my Road to Hana tour with Valley Isle Excursions. Pick up was 6:45am from the group lobby/portico at the Sheraton. The driver was Debra. The buses they use seat 12 people but the 2 single seats are on the right hand side which is less good for the road to Hana viewing. Since I was alone I got one of the single seats. After picking up one more group we had a light breakfast of juice and muffins at a golf course. They say they keep it light because some people get motion sickness on the road. We then began our drive. We drove through Paia and past some scenic lookouts. We stopped at the Ka’anae Peninsula to view the shoreline and the old stone church and to purchase banana bread. The place we stopped for banana bread had small loaves fresh out of the oven and still warm. I bought one and used it as a snack during the day. We stopped at a black sand beach as well somewhere along the way. Lunch was at a flower farm where all the women were given a ginger blossom. They also sell bouquets of tropical flowers and jewelry there. The lunch was BBQ chicken, macaroni salad, green salad and a chocolate covered macadamia nut. After some time to look around the grounds we drove on to Oheo Gulch pools. Some days depending on the water flow, it is possible to swim in the pools, so if this is of interest to you, bring your bathing suit. The day we were there swimming was allowed and a few people from our group went in. After the pools we then drove around the backside of Haleakala and to Tedeschi Winery where you get a tasting of 2 or 3 wines including a sweet pineapple wine. I like sweeter wines and thought the pineapple wine was great. At this stop you also have the chance to go into the Ulupalakua Ranch store where they have Maui made jams and other items for sale. The backside road was worse than the main Hana road; it was literally one lane in places and very bumpy. It was interesting driving back on that road though because the terrain was totally different than the lush rain forest of the morning. The backside looked sort of like Wyoming--complete with cattle grazing. Then we drove up toward Kula where it got very green again with rolling hills. The next time I go I’ll probably drive the road to Hana myself---that way I can stop at the places the tour didn’t stop at. Because I go by myself though I’ll probably turn around and drive back the same way I came; the backside it quite remote feeling without passing another car for miles at times. I wouldn’t want to be stuck out there alone if anything happened with the car (which you are asked not to take back there anyway). I didn’t think the main road to Hana seemed all that bad. Sure it’s narrow and hair pin turns in places, but nothing completely horrifying. I’m glad I took the tour the first time though since it’s hard to see anything when you are driving yourself; it would have been nice to have more opportunities to stop along the way though.

    I was back to the hotel by 6pm in time to see the cliff dive ceremony again. I then checked my messages and found one from Paragon Sailing, canceling the Molokini snorkel cruise I had booked for the next morning. This was 6:45pm when I got the message. I started looking online at other options but time was running late and I was afraid places would close up and be unable to book me, so I ran down to the concierge to see if they could find me a replacement tour. They too appeared to be closing up shop but they were able to book me on the Four Winds II. Though not a sail boat (it has a mast with a spinnaker type sail but it’s really a motor boat they stuck a sail on--their website describes it as a sail assisted power cat) I felt lucky to be able to book anything that late in the evening considering they all leave or meet early in the morning, so I really didn’t have a lot of time.

    Next I walked to Whalers Village for my 7:30pm reservation at Leilani’s on the Beach. I was a little early to check in and waited about 15 min for my table. I got a table on the rail as I requested, and ordered a mai tai, wedge salad, herb crusted pork loin in a lemon sage brown butter sauce and served with delicious pan roasted gnocchi and chocolate decadence cake. The cake was several layers high and served warm. I enjoyed my meal there overlooking the beach walk and Whaler’s Village. Leilani’s has 2 levels the lower beach bar area and the upper dining room and they have 2 different menus. I ate in the upper dining room.

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    Sunday I got up at 5:45am to get ready to drive to Ma’alaea for my snorkel trip. I got there in time for 7am check in time. I parked on the street, though plenty of parking was available in the lot as well. I got to see the Paragon boat I was supposed to go out on and Trilogy as well. My second choice was Trilogy but it seemed they didn‘t go out that day either so it worked out that I was on the boat I got. After boarding we were served breakfast including my favorite POG juice. We had about 45 minutes to 1 hour ride to Molokini. They rent wet suit tops, underwater cameras and they produce a video of your trip which you can purchase. They also run a Snuba program which you can opt to partake in for an additional fee. I snorkeled 30 min but you could stay in about 1.5 hr if you wanted. There were lots of fish and they would swim right up to you. Lunch was served and it was BBQ pulled pork, hotdogs, veggie burgers, potato chips and cookies. On the way back we made a stop at turtle town and saw a couple turtles and we saw a dolphin as well. We arrived back at the dock by 12:30pm. As I mentioned before, it’s really a motor boat rather than a sailboat; they sometimes have a mast that runs one sail but it wasn’t up, at it was under repair they said. After returning, I went to Hula Cookies and Ice Cream in the nearby shopping plaza. I opted for an ice cream sandwich; you choose your cookies (chocolate chip for me) and ice cream (kona coffee) and they make the sandwich fresh.

    Next I drove to Kihei, then Wailea, Makena and La Perouse Bay. Secret Cove/Paaka was my favorite beach on the way. After you get to Secret Cove the road gets very narrow and winding. There was an especially pretty stretch not far beyond Secret Cove, which went right along the water. Too bad it’s narrow so you really have to pay attention and not linger. After that the road has some sections with hills where neither car can see the other coming over the top, so you must drive slowly and carefully. There are also some sections where there are one lane turns as well. The road continues like this to La Perouse Bay and goes through a section with nothing but rocks and soil on either side.

    Once again I went back to the hotel to see cliff dive then drove to Pineapple Grill for a 6:45 reservation. It was a little hard to find in the dark, as once I got into the Kapalua complex, the roads were dark and hard to read the street signs. My beverage was a Lahaina Town Colada (pina colada, coffee liquor, banana). I had a greens salad with pineapple vinaigrette, steak au poivre and pineapple upside down cake. The pineapple upside down cake was the best I’ve ever had. It had a delicious caramel rum sauce with coconut in it. The entire meal was really good and withs lots of interesting flavors.

    Monday morning I had breakfast at Sea House Restaurant at Napili Kai Resort. I got the Haleakala pancake--baked custard batter with cinnamon sugar caramelized bananas and pineapple. I ordered the Kahuna whipped cream to go with it (guava whipped cream with pineapple, coconut, banana, mandarin oranges). The table I chose was outside and had a really good view of Napili Bay.

    After breakfast I walked some of the Kapalua coastal trail, drove to various beaches in the area (Oneloa, DT Fleming) and Honolua Bay and beyond. The road beyond Honalua Bay gets narrow and twisting, sort of like the road to Hana. Back to the hotel by 10:45am to check out by 11am check out time. I spent about an hour at the pool and then left by 11:45am. I arrived at the airport about 12:45pm in plenty of time. They told us to get there early (2hrs prior) for day time flights but there was hardly anyone there, so I was sorry I heeded that advice. I breezed through check in and security and had about 2 hrs to wait for my 3:15pm flight.

    My flight on Hawaiian Air arrived on time and my ride from Star Taxi was waiting for me. Though it is not necessary to reserve a taxi in advance, Star Taxi charges a set rate depending on where you are going as opposed to using the meter. To my hotel it was $30 plus tip. Depending on traffic, this service or one similar may save you a few dollars, since the meter won’t be ticking while you sit in traffic. I did save money by using them, as I paid a few dollars more on my return trip using a meter and I can also recall what I’ve spent in other years using metered taxis.

    I arrived at my hotel, the Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach by 4:30pm. I received room 931 at check in. The hotel is just finishing up a renovation and I got one of the newly decorated rooms. The rooms are decorated with green rug, medium woods and red/gold linens on the beds. My room was in the ocean view category and I received one of the rooms facing west toward the Royal Hawaiian. I have always gotten rooms on this side of the hotel and the fan noise that others complain about from the Royal Hawaiian mall has never bothered me. I guess I just don’t mind white noise.

    I had booked a 6:30pm dinner at Hula Grill and I arrived early but it turned out they had lost my reservation. It ended up being no problem though and if I had wanted a table in the back/third tier I could have been seated right away. However, I wanted a table on the rail, so had to wait about 15 min. I had a lava flow, tomato and onion salad with garlic dressing, Steak Kiana which is served with a mushroom cream and lilikoi butter sauce with mashed potatoes, then macadamia nut tiramisu for dessert. After dinner I walked over to the Westin Moana Surfrider for their entertainment. Then I perused the shops at the Royal Hawaiian Center.

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    Tuesday I got up at 7am. I had a 9am surf lesson booked at Ty Gurney Surf School. I arrived there at 8:40am in order to pay up. They provide rash guards for your use. My instructor was Joey and we walked across the street to the beach from the shop. Since I had surfed before we did a very brief on shore session. Ty Gurney’s teaches what I’ll call a modified pop up (they have you go to your knees first), as they have found that people often have trouble popping up the other way (all in one motion). Since in all my other lessons I was taught the other pop up and have no problems doing it, once Joey was satisfied that I could indeed just pop up I was okayed to use that method instead. I booked a 2 hour lesson and during the time we were out there I got lots of waves. I’m working on being able to catch my own waves without a push from the instructor. I was able to do it sometimes but not most of the time yet. I really enjoyed my lesson and decided to book another lesson for Saturday. This was my first time using this school on Oahu. In the past I had surfed with Hawaiian Fire and thought they were great. However, they have changed a few things and no longer offer pick up from Waikiki for their early surf lesson (only pick up from Ko’olina for that one). To be picked up in Waikiki you need to do the later time which basically sucks up half the day. You can opt to drive yourself to either session, but if you don’t have a car for the whole duration of your trip that may not work for you. So, the fact that they have made changes necessitated my having to look for other surf schools. I wanted one that taught their lessons on an uncrowded break, as that is one thing I loved about Hawaiian Fire--the lack of crowds. Ty Gurney uses “Pops” surf break area (I think) which is a fairly long paddle to get to, so it weeds out many of the unsupervised beginners and has mostly people who know what they are doing or other beginners who are being supervised by other instructors. While the area is not as quiet as Hawaiian Fire’s location it’s definitley better than the section of Waikiki directly in front of the Outrigger Waikiki, Westin, Kuhio Beach area—that area looks like a disaster waiting to happen (surfers of all levels, catamarans trying to land on shore, swimmers, boogie boarders and SUPs all milling around together). I was ultimately satisfied with my experience at Ty Gurney’s and was glad I picked them. Two other schools that I considered that sounded as though they would suit my criteria as well were Kai Sallas and Gone Surfing.

    Lunch was at Duke’s and it was cheese quesadilla. After lunch I picked up my rental car from Hertz in the Hyatt on Kalakaua. I booked a convertible and got a white Mustang. My first stop was Lyon Arboretum which I had never been to before. I thought is was beautiful; very lush and green with many varities of plants. I took the main trail and then a narrower trail up to a small waterfall they have. It was really more of a trickle but the walk to get there was gorgeous. I am not a real hiker and I characterize the walk to get there as the harder side of easy (slightly uphill, dirt and loose rocks with some mud). After Lyon, next on my agenda was Tantalus/Round Top drive with a stop at Puu Ualaka State Park. The views over Waikiki and Honolulu are very nice from the lookout. Next I got on the Pali Highway and then got off on Nuuanu Pali Drive, which is like driving through a rain forest with vines dripping from the trees and plants covering the trunks. Koko Crater Botanical Garden was my last stop of the day. This garden is over in the Hawaii Kai area. It’s not a lush, green garden, but one with a dirt floor; it’s situated in a crater. They have some lovely plumeria of different varieties and colors and a bougainvillea section.

    Back to the hotel by 5pm to get ready for dinner. Tonight dinner was at House Without A Key, located in the Halekulani Hotel. Certain nights each week they have a kiawe grill night menu and Tuesday is one of those nights. The main attraction at House Without A Key is the entertainment. They have Hawaiian music and a hula dancer nightly. You have the option of sitting at one of the cocktail tables or at one of the dining tables if you want to eat. It gets filled by 6pm so arrive early. I ordered a Hale Passion drink (coconut, almond, lilikoi) the Kiawe Strip Steak served with tamarind sauce and the Coconut cake for dessert. The steak was really good but the downfall to going on kiawe night is that the smoke from the grill was blowing everywhere and my hair and clothes smelled like a chimney afterwards. I had to hang my clothes on the balcony to get the smell out and even after that they still smelled very faintly of smoke. After dinner I went to look in the International Marketplace which will likely be gone by my next visit to Hawaii. I ended my night with a walk to Hilton Hawaiian Village and ended up getting Lappert‘s Ice Cream--Kauai Pie and Heavenly Hana. Lucky for me their portions are not that big there.

    Wednesday I left the hotel at 6:20am for my drive around the island. My first stop was to Boots and Kimo over in Kailua. I got there 15 minutes before they opened, so just had a short wait. Once inside I got a short stack of the traditional macadamia nut pancakes. I am not usually a breakfast eater so I was only able to eat half. They were good though, but I remembered the sauce as being richer and more flavorful the last time I was there. I might have to defect the next time in Kailua and try Cinnamon’s Guava Chiffon pancakes instead. Next I drove to Lanikai Beach for a short stop. Then on to Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden and drove/walked through. This was my third time to Ho’omaluhia and I still think it’s gorgeous with the majestic green Ko’olau Mountains as the backdrop. My next stop was then to La’ie Point. From there it was then on to Ted’s Bakery for a snack of chocolate cream pie--it was good but nothing special. I stopped at Sunset Beach for 30 min and sat and watched the surfers. Then I drove to Ehukai, then Turtle Beach/Laniakea Beach. I didn’t see any turtles but they have signs all over the place warning people not to approach the turtles. I tried to do Waimea Bay next, but after circling the parking lot I didn’t find parking, so since I’ve seen it before I drove on. I made the requisite stop at Kua Aina in Haleiwa for lunch and hit it right at the busiest time. I just barely found an open table in time to receive my order of a burger with American cheese and bacon. All burgers also come with lettuce, tomato, mayo and grilled onion. I also got fries and lemonade. I think their fries are the best part of the whole experience because they are so skinny and fairly crisp. By the time I left, the crowd had thinned and there were several open tables. I next shopped in some of the surf shops. Surf n Sea is always my favorite; they have tons of items and brands. After shopping I went to Matsumoto‘s for shave ice. I ordered a small with ice cream, vanilla, lilikoi and coconut flavors. It was not as good as I remembered it and definitely not as good as Ululani’s on Maui or Wishing Well on Kauai. The flavors tasted more synthetic and the ice was not as finely shaved. The last trip I went to Aoki‘s after having been to Matsumoto my first trip. Last time I thought I liked Matsumoto better but next time I think I’ll go back to Aoki’s for shorter lines!
    Next stop was to Dole Plantation for Dole Whip. (Yes, I know I ate a lot of food-- but you’re only there such a limited time!) I then drove back to my hotel via Route 99 to H2. Rte 99 had no traffic lights working so had police instead and traffic was backed up for miles. Once you got off Rte 99 and onto H2, traffic went along smoothly and I was able to hook up with H1 and get back to my hotel.

    My dinner tonight was at Duke’s. I got a Mai Tai, salad bar which comes with all entrees, teriyaki steak, and Hula Pie for dessert. I ended my evening by looking in the stores along the Waikiki Beach Walk.

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    Thursday morning I left the hotel by 6am to get to Koko Head by 6:30am to hike the old tramway trail to the top. When I arrived there were already many people there. For anyone not familiar with it, Koko Head Trail is a steep climb up an old tramway that the military used to use to bring supplies up to a post at the top. The rail ties are now the steps. I climbed to the top in about 28 min. There were people going at all different paces. Most of the people there at that hour appeared to be mostly locals or military people using it for training. Some hard core people were making it extra hard by carrying large rocks up. There are places along side the trail to pull off and rest and let faster climbers pass. There is one section that crosses a ravine so you must watch your step on that section not to put a foot between the ties. Once you get to the top of the hill and finish with the rail ties section, you can climb even higher using dirt paths and rocks to get to the true peak on top of an old shelter. The views are great and it’s a very rewarding climb. You feel like you really accomplished something by doing it and that it was worth it. I made it down in 15-20min. I thought the climb down was harder than the climb up. A few tips if you decide to do this. Go early---I can’t stress this enough. You want to be there before the sun comes around and starts baking you. It would make the climb 10x harder if you got overheated. Also, the steps toward the bottom start off small/shallow. Don’t tire yourself out by bounding up that first section at full speed. If you go steadily you will save your energy so that you still have some left for the higher steps and steeper areas. Pretty much everyone is friendly there as it’s a shared experience so you’ll see strangers encouraging strangers and cheering them on. Just be aware of your surroundings and pull off to the side to let a faster climber or person jogging down have the right of way. Finally, I don’t think there is any shame in quitting the climb if you get to feel like it’s really too much (like if you think you‘re going to pass out). Everyone has different levels of fitness and stamina so just go as far as is right for you. Better to be cautious than to have a fall or cause someone else to fall like domino behind you. I will say this--if the Diamond Head climb was really tough going for you, then Koko Head is probably not a good choice.

    As my reward for getting up Koko Head, I drove to Moke’s Bread and Breakfast in Kailua for lilikoi pancakes. I absolutely loved these pancakes! For me, since I seem to love everything lilikoi, these were the top pancakes of the trip. Service was really slow though.

    I returned the car by 11am and sat on the beach until a late lunch at Teddy’s Bigger Burgers. I got a burger with American cheese. The burgers come with lettuce, tomato, onion and spicy sauce. I also go a peanut butter chocolate shake. I think they have the best shakes--they are so thick you can barley use the straw.

    Next on the agenda I had a Stand Up Paddle Board lesson at 3pm from Ty Gurney Surf School. Since I SUP on flat water at home it wasn‘t really a “lesson“ but more like supervision to guide me where the safe areas were. While I had no trouble standing on the board, I found SUP in the ocean much harder than SUP on flat water. Mainly because you are paddling out over waves--some of which are quite large. There is also the added challenge of not touching the bottom if you fall off, as it‘s a reef and there are urchins and sharp coral. My goal was to try and catch waves on the board but I abandoned that goal after about 30 minutes since it was hard paddling out to where the waves were breaking since you had to get through some sizable waves/whitewater and I developed a phobia of flipping the board and touching bottom since it was low tide. So I mostly just paddled around the little swells. I found trying to catch waves on the SUP much harder than surfing.

    After SUP I went to the Mai Tai Bar at the Royal Hawaiian where I enjoyed the view and had a Scratch Mai Tai which I liked because it was sweeter than some Mai Tais. I then tried the Pinakona Coco drink which has cream of coconut, muddled pineapple, rum and kona coffee garnished with cinnamon (it’s sort of like a Hawaiian version of a Painkiller).

    At about 6pm I walked down to the Kuhio Beach hula mound for the free hula show. When I arrived there were only a few other people there so I was able to get a good seat. The show ran from 6:30pm to 7:30pm but at other times of year it starts at 6pm (the show runs about 4x/week). Bring a blanket or something to sit on if you go, as the grass is damp.

    After the show I walked down the street to Arancino at the Marriott hotel. It was about a 30 minute wait for a table. I ordered the Pasta Arrabbiata. It was okay but nothing out of this world. I’d probably opt to try a different restaurant next time. I sat inside so maybe I would have enjoyed the meal more if I’d waited longer for an outdoor table.
    I finished up the night by looking around the shops in King’s Village.

    On Friday morning I arrived at Hula Grill right as they opened at 6:30am and was given a nice table on the rail. I got a glass of fresh pineapple juice and chose a short stack of the pineapple coconut pancakes which are served with a dollop of macadamia nut butter. They will also serve you coconut syrup on request. These pancakes are a tradition each trip to Oahu for me and I love enjoying them as the light changes over Diamond Head.

    At 8:05am I was due to be picked up for my kayak tour with Kailua Sailboards and Kayaks. My designated pick up location was the Westin hotel. I was early so the driver was not yet outside the bus when I arrived. They were using a mini bus with Polynesian Cultural Center on the outside of it, so make sure you look for the driver with the sign for Kailua Kayaks not just what it says on the bus. After picking up some other people at other stops, we arrived in Kailua at about 9:45am. Once the bus arrived we were directed inside where we all checked in for our various tours and shown where to meet. I was signed up for the 4 hour Adventure tour so was directed to the eco-lounge. In the lounge we signed our release forms and were issued a logo water bottle to keep and given loaner snorkel gear if you didn’t bring your own. They also gave you a small dry bag to use if there was something you wanted to bring and didn’t want wet. Everything else you didn’t bring was put into a locker for the day.

    Next we went outside to get our kayaks, PFDs and to have an onshore paddling demo and how to get the kayak off the cart. The kayaks are already loaded on carts and the location of the shop is about 2 blocks from the beach and you must wheel your own kayak that distance. The guides then meet you out in the water. I was issued a single kayak while the other guests who were all duos were in tandem kayaks. Lucky me, on the way over to the beach my kayak fell off the cart when going over a bumpy section and thankfully someone helped me get it back on. Once at the beach area you launch your kayak into a canal and paddle toward the ocean. There is a sandbar so you must get out of the boat, pull the kayak over the sand and then finally into the ocean. There was not very heavy surf the day I went, but you must time your kayak launch around the waves or you’ll get thrown around and/or the boat can smash into you. They recommend pulling the tandem kayaks over the sand from the stern as opposed to the bow, since they have a metal keel that digs in to the sand. The single kayaks don’t have the metal keel though, so I’d suggest pulling the single kayaks from the bow. Otherwise you have to try and spin it around in the water which takes longer and waves will come and make things hard for you. Better to just be able to point the thing into the water and hop in as quickly as possible in my opinion for those of us doing it by ourselves.Apparently the reason you meet the guides in the water and have to transport the kayaks yourself is due to a local regulation trying to curb commercialism. Anyway, we met up with the guides in the water and started our paddle toward our destination: the Mokulua islands. It took about 45min to an hour to get out there. I think closer to 45 min as the group was fast paddling and there was not too much wind or swells. We arrived on the island and beached the kayaks and were provided with a granola bar for a snack. Then we took a short hike around the corner of the island which is a bird sanctuary for the Wedge-tailed Shearwater. You are not allowed to climb the hill part of the island, as that is where the nests/burrows are. You could see the juveniles in their burrows from where we were walking. We made our way over the rocks to the Queen’s Bath. The rocks are quite sharp in areas and some of the little walk required scrambling up and over some rocks. Once at the Queens Bath you had the option of going in or not. I chose not. Those who did go in said it was pretty warm though.

    We then made our way back to the beach for lunch. Lunch was fruit juices, ham and turkey wraps, fruit and chips. After lunch you could opt to enjoy the beach or snorkel or swim. They said sometimes there are turtles off shore but I didn’t see any that day. The snorkeling was not that great either; I saw only about 2 fish.
    We then got back in the kayaks and paddled back to Kailua. It was even faster getting back because the wind was at our back and pushed us toward shore. Once back at the beach you hauled your kayak back over the sandbar and into the canal to paddle back to the launch area. Then it was time to put it back on the cart. I attempted to put it on the cart myself, but was failing, so someone offered to lift the other end for me to help me put it on. A tip for others who are by themselves if there is nobody around to help: the next thing I was going to try was putting the cart in the water and floating the kayak onto it that way (like a boat trailer). I think that would work as well. We rolled the kayaks back to the shop and had the chance to change clothes before being driven back to Waikiki. The excitement on the way home was that one of the other shuttles broke down in a tunnel on the Pali Highway so ours had to go and rescue some of the people off that shuttle.

    I think I was back at my hotel by 4pm, just in time to change and walk down to the Chart House near the Ala Wai Harbor. My plan was to have a drink and maybe some pupus there before catching a cab all the way to the other end of Waikiki to my reservation at the Hau Tree Lanai. My reason for this back-tracking was I hadn’t been to either restaurant before and needed to do that to squeeze them both in to my busy itinerary. I sat at the bar at the Chart House and got the Guy Tai (a Mai Tai like drink named after the long time bar tender). Everyone there seemed to know one another and the bar tender (Guy) knew all their orders. I also ordered a basket of chips and salsa. The salsa tasted very fresh. Guy was also passing around a container of homemade banana mochi macadamia nut bread, so I had some of that as well. Chart House bar is the type of place where everyone will talk to you. It has a neighborhood feel to it. It felt like the type of place one encounters in Key West. The bar menu contains a vast array of pupus which all sounded good. You could make an entire meal of just those if you wanted. It’s funny because if you eat in the bar area, the prices are pretty reasonable, but if you eat in the dining room the prices are quite high.

    I left there about 5:40pm and got a cab from the Ilikai Hotel. It took about 15 min to get from there down to the New Otani Hotel where the Hau Tree Lanai is located.
    I got seated right away and was offered 2 tables to choose from. One was right next to the large hau tree but with a poor view of the beach and the other had a better beach and sunset view so of course I picked that one. Service was excellent and all geared toward guests enjoying the views. First they bring the drink menu so you may order a cocktail to enjoy the sunset. Then as the sun was setting and people started getting their cameras out, the staff walked around and offered to take photos of your group if you wanted one. They would take several until you were satisfied. Then they brought the dinner menu. I got the Hau Tree Supreme salad with papaya seed dressing and then the NY strip steak. The steak was served with garlic butter and a scalloped potato cake. Then it was on to dessert where I got the Mauna Kea Delight which was an ice cream pie with coconut haupia, fudge, chocolate and macadamia nuts on a chocolate crust. The nice thing about the dessert was it was actually a manageable size and not huge! I enjoyed my meal here and while the food was good, it was not outstanding for the price paid. You are paying for the view and service. Since Waikiki is full of ocean view dining you can do better price wise elsewhere, but it all depends on the atmosphere you are seeking.

    After dinner I walked back to my hotel and was able to catch the 7:45pm Hilton fireworks show from the beach. I then did some last minute souvenir shopping since this was my last night in Hawaii.

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    Saturday was my last day. I had one more surf lesson booked for 9am at Ty Gurney. I arrived there about 8:45am and got assigned my instructor CJ. We walked over to the beach and since I was there the other day, we skipped the on shore part and went right to the water. The lesson was really fun as usual and I got lots of waves during my 2 hours. Today she suggested I try walking on the board--moving farther forward or farther back to control my speed. By the end of the lesson they told me next time I could graduate to a somewhat smaller board! Too bad my next trip to Hawaii won’t be for a couple years. I’ll have to brave the cold waters of New England to work on my technique.

    After my lesson I went back to my hotel to check out by the noon check out time. Then it was time for a lunch of nachos at Duke’s before heading out to sit in a lounge chair. I also rented a boogie board for an hour to amuse myself.

    At 2:30pm it was time to walk down the beach to the Outrigger Reef Hotel where my catamaran cruise on the Waikiki Rigger took off from. The sail is 1.5 hours and offers a cash bar. If you purchase their ‘Rigger cocktail it is $8 and comes in a refillable tumbler that you can bring on board if you sail again and get refills for a reduced price. They also have beer and wine. It was a nice day for a relaxed sail with light winds and very little sea spray. You sail out past Diamond Head and then turn around and go back. There are many catamaran companies to choose from and since I’ve only sailed this one I’m not sure what one is “best” or if there is much difference among them.

    After disembarking I had to go back to the hotel and change for my early dinner at Chuck’s Steakhouse in my hotel the Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach. They start serving at 4:45pm so it is an ideal place for an early dinner. They also don’t get the crowds that Duke’s and Hula Grill get so you can get in. I got a table on the rail and ordered a Lava Flow. All entrees come with the salad bar and I ordered the Teriyaki steak which is served with a loaded baked potato. For one last dessert I got the mud pie which I could not finish. By this point in the trip I was actually getting sick of food and eating! I enjoyed my steak at Chuck’s better than the one I had at Duke’s, as it was more tender and had more teriyaki flavor.

    I was done with my meal about 6:20pm and went downstairs to claim my luggage and have them call me a cab to the airport. I arrived at the airport a little before 7pm for my 8:52pm flight and surprise, surprise--once again there was hardly anyone at the airport. Ag screening, check in and security were all fast. In my experience most people must fly at different times than I do, as I’ve never seen any of the Hawaiian airports to be busy or live up to stories of people missing flights due to being stuck in lines. I guess I’ve just been lucky! Another impressive thing about HNL is that they were able to fully board and get everyone’s carry ons stowed on a full flight 777 aircraft in 40 min and get an on time departure. They were really efficient. Most gate agents/airports can’t seem to board a small 737 in that same time and get an on time departure in my experience.

    Now that my most recent trip has ended, I can conclude that I still love Oahu best, though each of the islands is fun in its own way. The reason I am so drawn to Oahu and especially Waikiki is that if you stay in Waikiki you don’t need a car for your entire stay. Of course it’s nice to have a car for a couple of days to be able to get to other parts of the island, but you don’t “need” a car on Oahu the way you do on the other islands. For someone who is not a fan of driving that much, this is ideal. Everything is accessible via cab, the Bus, walking or most of the activity operators on Oahu will pick you up at your lodging which is not the case on the other islands. It’s so convenient to be able to step out of your hotel in the evening and have dozens of places to eat within walking distance. After your meal you can stroll up and down the beach or along Kalakaua Ave, dropping into different hotels to enjoy their evening entertainment. Being in Waikiki may not be a serene experience, but it’s like New York City and Key West all rolled into one; there is always something going on yet it has a casual relaxed vibe. For some reason I always get a kick out of seeing people wearing bathing suits, carrying surf boards down the main shopping street, probably because that is something I would never see in Boston or my hometown.

    I’m not really entirely sure why I am just not as enamored with Maui as I’m “supposed” to be. I know this will sound weird to most people but I found the beaches and landscape on Oahu to be more to my liking; I never tire of looking at the Ko’olau Mountains and Sunset Beach is always a favorite of mine. I also prefer the driving on Oahu to that of Maui; it’s more relaxing to me especially on the windward side and north shore. Don’t misunderstand me, I enjoyed my trip to Maui. It’s just if I had to choose one island and only one, Oahu is still the winner with me. I feel like I’ll never run out of things to do or new experiences there. There are places on Oahu I have never been yet, such as Ko’Olina and the Waianae coast. I think Oahu is an island that offers something for all tastes, but you have to know where to find what you are looking for. If you like the city atmosphere you can find that in Honolulu/Waikiki where museums, shopping and dining abound. If you want a peaceful experience out in nature, try Ho’omaluhia or Lyon Arboretum. Lyon Arboretum has enough trails that you may never pass another soul on some of them and you’ll feel like you are deep in a rain forest. There are dozens of beaches to choose from as well- some highly populated and some near deserted.

    Next time I visit Maui I will go to Haleakala. I had wanted to do the horseback ride into the crater but didn’t have time this trip. I also would like to do a snorkel trip to Lanai. Upon my return to Oahu, I want to surf even more; in fact if I could find a weeklong intensive surf “camp” for novice level adults I’d consider going just to do that. Surfing is always my favorite activity by far on each Hawaiian trip. There is just something about the exhilarating feeling you get when your board catches the wave. Nothing else matters at that point except the wave you are on and riding it to completion to the best of your current ability. Another thing I’d like to do next trip to Oahu is the Lanikai Pillbox hike.

    Well, since I’ve now been to 3 of the 4 major islands, my next stop should be the Big Island. I know it will be nothing like Oahu but I’m sure I will find things to appreciate about it, as each island has its own charms unique only to it. Plus, after some time on the Big Island I’ll be sure to save some days to stay on Oahu: my favorite island.

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    Nice trip report! I too love oahu...I am a city girl at heart and I love the variety of food and activities there. I follow all the new restaurants and eateries that open so I can keep a list of places to check out on my next trip. I also love Maui too. Actually I love all the islands and it's hard to pick a favorite because I like them for different reasons. Thanks for sharing your trip report!

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    Wow - what a report.

    We were also on Maui recently (two weeks ago).

    <<<The road continues like this to La Perouse Bay and goes through a section with nothing but rocks and soil on either side.>>>

    That's not rocks - that's lava! Google "Makena lava fields".

    <<<They told us to get there early (2hrs prior) for day time flights but there was hardly anyone there>>>

    When we flew out of Maui two Sundays ago, the security line was 40 minutes long. If you had left your hotel later, undoubtedly the line would have been long and you would have missed your flight :-)

    <<<I was signed up for the 4 hour Adventure tour so was directed to the eco-lounge>>>

    We did this tour a couple of years ago and loved it. We did have to drag our kayaks the two blocks, but our tour guide was with us -- we didn't meet her in the water.

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    Awesome report. I am heading to Oahu for the first time in about 3 weeks so was interested to read your report. You have given me a couple of ideas that I didn't previously know about.

    Thanks for taking the time to write about your trip :)

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    That's great that you were able to hike Koko Head - it's one of my sister's favorite places to go as an alternative to her morning run. She hasn't yet convinced me to join her.

    You're right that it's a must to go early in the morning - my sister gets there at around 5:30 am when it's still dark (she uses one of those small headlamp type things). When the sun comes out it can be brutal.

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    Yes, I'll bet the view from the top of Koko Head at sunrise would be beautiful. I'm guessing lots of locals get there before the sun comes up to avoid the heat and other people. That would be something I would do too if I was more familiar with the footing on the trail. There is that one section that has the bridge over the ravine that being a Koko Head beginner I wouldn't want to do in the dark!

    jrossitter: lucky you to have so much time in Hawaii! Have you been before? Kauai was gorgeous. I'm sure you'll find different things to enjoy on all 3 islands.

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    Miramar:
    It's our first (and probably only) trip to Hawaii, although it's been a lifetime dream.
    I'm not a fish lover, so although I plan to try some of the local seafood, I'm pleased that I won't be limited to that.

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    jrossitter: enjoy your trip! When I first took my first trip to Hawaii, it was a lifelong dream for me too. I'd wanted to go since I'd seen it on TV as a 4 year old. I remember how thrilling it was to finally get there; I hope you have as wonderful a trip!

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    Great, detailed, non-boring report! I'm curious about why you don't take a nonstop widebody from JFK, Newark or Dulles right to HNL. We spend a month or two in South Maui in winter. I always look for one long leg Chicago-Honolulu, then we hop to Maui without leaving airport security. We buy coach and use our miles to upgrade to first.

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    ChiSue: Thanks!
    I like to connect at the half way point/California because I prefer to break up the flights rather than have to sit on a plane for 11-12 hrs from the east coast. Especially sitting that long in coach is just unbearable to me. I like to fly UAL due to economy plus seating. I used to use my miles to upgrade to First for Hawaii trips, but since they changed their policy on how many miles it costs to fly to Hawaii now and the copay is a lot more than flying within the continental US it's just not worth it to me anymore.
    Plus since I'd have to connect anyway just to get to NYC or Washington it's just as convenient to connect on the west coast. Also there are more flight options from the west coast in case something goes wrong--I'd rather be stuck at SFO or LAX (better chance of being able to get another flight sooner).

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    What a great trip report!!! Thank you so much.

    I am headed back to Oahu for the 8th time the first week of November.

    Oahu has a special place in my heart and I am glad you could share your experience with others.

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    Thanks for sharing. My husband and I just returned last night from Maui and we must've crossed paths with you at the Sheraton last weekend (we were also watching the cliff diving ceremony at sunset)!

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    Thank you for giving me your rationale on the flights. I don't know what we might do if we couldn't get the first class multi-adjust seats. As long as we can, I'll opt for getting the most time IN first on the single nine-hour leg to HNL. (My choices may be limited any day now, since our miles are on AA!) We wouldn't do a single overnight just to break the trip though; too much time and fuss in and out of airport security.

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    Yeah, I don't mind the overnight in/out of security. Plus by doing the overnight I get to Hawaii much sooner than any of the other options coming from the east coast. I have to try and make the most of my vacation days so even a few extra hours on Hawaii (as as you can see by how tightly I pack my schedule with activities!!) is appreciated. Pretty much any way you slice it though the flight to/from Hawaii is still pretty long.

    Wow, 8 times to Oahu--I'm jealous.

    I enjoyed the cliff dive ceremony at the Sheraton Maui. There were some nice sunsets while I was there.

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    Miramar, we just returned from a 7 day stay in Maui and did many of the same things you did. We stayed next door to the Sheraton at the Royal Lahaina and also visited Whaler's Village.

    We had lunch at Mama's Fish House and, while I'm not a big fish eater, I truly enjoyed my mac nut crusted mahi mahi stuffed with crab and lobster.

    We had lunch a couple of times at Leilani's and had a slice of their amazing Hula Pie (split 3 ways!).

    We didn't do the Road to Hana on this trip but did go to Haleakala. We also went to I'ao State Park one day and then drove north up past Honolua Bay. Amazing views from there! We didn't make it to the Sea House restaurant but it was on my list. We ate at Mama's Ribs in Napili instead.

    Sounds like you had a great trip. We've been to Maui about a half dozen times and must say it is our favorite island. But each island has it's own personality just like people!

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    Betty's, did you stay in one of the smaller buildings at Royal Lahaina? I didn't even know those existed (the two-story buildings) until Took a walk from the Marriott up past Honua Kai. The grounds are really nice, too.

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    Yes, we stayed in one of the cottages. That's where we have always stayed. They are in need of an update, which they did not too long ago on their tower rooms. The tower rooms turned out very nicely. But don't know what the plans are to update the cottages.

    But the location is amazing and we love the sunset ceremony they have every night behind the restaurant. The nightly entertainment on this trip was really good as well. A local musician and a hula dancer perform a number of Hawaiian songs.

    And, we love the old Hawaiian feel of the hotel as well as the many lovely trees and plants surrounding the hotel.

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    Most reviews say to avoid the cottages because, as bettyk indicates, they have not been refurbished in a LONG time. The plan -- delayed by the economy -- is to replace them with another tall structure. It's all about wringing the most profit from the land. (We much prefer low-rise, low-density condos. I have 'a thing' about taking an elevator to the beach!)

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    I would much rather see them refurbish the cottages rather than replace them with another tower.

    On this trip, we learned about the Hawaiian singer, Israel "IZ" Kamakawiwoʻole, who did a popular rendition of Over the Rainbow. Many of his songs are in support of Hawaiian independence and lament the loss of the land from the Hawaiian people. I can highly recommend his album "Facing Future" which contains Over the Rainbow/It's a Wonderful World and many other lovely songs.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_DKWlrA24k

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    Wow, Miramar, loved your detailed trip report. I'm off to see if you wrote one on Oahu. We're leaving on Friday for a ten day stay on the North Shore with several family members and I haven't had any urge to do research which I know I will regret once we get there and people start asking "what are we going to do next?" At which point I hope to be able to refer to an Oahu trip report of yours.
    I'm also signed up for a surf lesson. I think I'm going to have a bit of a problem because that little part of the 'pop-up' is going to be a bit of a challenge. But if I can get that far I think I'll be able to actually ride the board on some gentle baby waves. I'm so looking forward to it.

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    pdx--thanks! I did write a separate trip report for my first Oahu only trip (2005) and I also wrote one for my Oahu/Kauai trip in 2008. My first trip in 2005 I included more cultural things such as Iolani Palace and the Bishop Museum.
    I hope you enjoy surfing as much as I have on my trips! Don't worry too much about the pop up. There are several different ways I've observed different schools teaching students to stand up on the board. If you enjoy water sports, I think it will just be fun being out there and learning something new.

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