Thursday, September 02, 2004

Memories of Hanauma Bay

After Rachel Carson awoke us to the wonders of the oceans and before Boeing passenger jets transformed the face of Hawaii, my grandfather would pack his fishing gear and my bamboo pole in the trunk of his black Plymouth and trundle off to Hanauma (ha-NOW-ma) Bay in southeastern Oahu.

Many thousands of years ago the sea broke through the walls of the extinct crater. The first to arrive were fish; later came the iridescent coral and tidewater denizens, the sea urchins, sea stars, and sea cucumbers; finally came man, who dredged the black volcanic rock and added sand. The bay became the favored vacation spot of kings and queens.

My grandfather parked in the dirt clearing at the top of the crater, and, laden with buckets and bait, we began the descent down the steep path to the white crescent below. Tourists were not plentiful then; the central Honolulu beaches, Waikiki and Ala Moana, wider and friendlier, were more convenient to the hotels. When we reached the bottom, I switched to my black-and-white Keds and gingerly walked along the slippery ledges to our favorite spot left of Hanauma’s mouth.

Grandfather helped me affix a piece of shrimp or cuttlefish to the hook. I always felt great anticipation when the baited hook first plunged into the cold, clear water; the previous outing’s disappointments were shunted aside in memory, and maybe today would bring success. It was rare that I caught anything, but hope springs eternal in the young angler’s breast.

Grandfather cast his line far into the ocean, reeling it in slowly. The shifting currents would push our lines under the rocks. The moment’s exhilaration when I felt the tug quickly turned to disappointment. I tried to work the hook free and often failed. The line would finally break, and I would thread the line through another hook, painstakingly tying a knot and pulling it tight with my teeth.

When we caught fish we would store them, still living, in a bucket of ocean water. After hours of baiting, casting, and losing hooks, I would put the pole down and watch the trapped creatures, which were much larger and more vigorous than my pet guppies. When we exhausted our bait, grandfather emptied the bucket on a large flat rock. If I was lucky enough to have caught a fish, we usually returned it to the ocean because it was too small to eat. After the larger fish gasped their last, grandfather gutted, cleaned, and scaled them, wrapping the remains in newspaper. We trudged back to the beach over the wet rocks; my weariness increased the odds of slipping. After a long day the climb with our gear to the car was the hardest part, and I would doze off during the ride home.

Since 1967 Hanauma Bay has been closed to fishing, and visitors are prohibited from walking onto the rocks where grandfather and I used to fish. Today it is a major tourist attraction, complete with paved parking, a five-dollar admission fee, and a visitor’s center.

Although my grandfather has been gone over 30 years, I could see him in my mind’s eye when I swam at Hanauma Bay two weeks ago. He grinned through his yellowing teeth, his panama hat jauntily askew, proudly holding the big gray fish that grandmother would steam that night. I miss him and the little boy who accompanied him, their images fading in the spray of the breaking waves. © 2004 Stephen Yuen

We used to fish where the waves break near the top of the photo.

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