Hawaii is not a secret destination in any respect, but when Eddie Bauer adventure kayakers Ben Stookesberry and Chris Korbulic hit the Islands, it was with an adrenaline itinerary that involved missions from big-wave surf kayaking on Oahu’s North Shore and dropping 120-foot Rainbow Falls to paddling up close and personal to the shoreline lava flows of the Kilauea volcano on the Big Island while filming for a Brazilian reality-TV series.
For Stookesberry and Korbulic, island time didn’t mean sipping mai tais at the poolside cabana bar. But we would expect no less from the adventure crew that has slayed the Impossible Gorge, kayaked in the land of Vikings, and explored the deepest reaches of Africa—all in the last two years. We started hearing the first reports of their Hawaiian vacation through media outlets a few weeks back. But when Ben checked in with his waterfall-running and lava-flowing report from paradise, we were, once again, impressed. -LYA Editor
Words by Ben Stookesberry, Images by Ale Socci
I have intentionally avoided the rivers of Hawaii since I was young. Back then, I was on a vacation with my family when we stayed on the rain- and river-free leeward slopes, even though rumors of spectacular waterfalls on the other side of the mountains littered every brochure. Years later, when kayaking evolved as my life’s passion, I thought of those waterfalls and then quickly dismissed the possibility of them being a kayaking destination. I felt those decisions had been validated when, three years ago, friends made a trip to the Big Island with kayaks and returned frustrated by a complete lack of rain, and rivers and waterfalls that only trickled as a result.
So this February, when Chris Korbulic, Pedro Oliva and I left for Hawaii on our latest in a string of kayaking expeditions made for Brazilian television, I was skeptical at best. But the TV execs wanted programming to complement their coverage of the North Shore Triple Crown of surfing, and somehow they were okay with the idea that kayaking Hawaii might not complement anything—let alone the finest surfing on the planet.
After our first four days on Oahu, there was no rain, and the novelty of getting beat down by heavy seas and verbally abused by locals for our surf kayak transgressions wore off. The next day we flew to Hilo on the Big Island and looked longingly at some nearly dry riverbeds that looked naked and strange in the midst of exuberant greenery. And then on the way back into town, it started to rain.
And the rest is kayak history, because Pedro and Chris made the first descent of 120-foot Rainbow Falls that very next day. And then something really strange happened. It kept on raining and we kept on kayaking down incredible rivers thundering though jungle and volcanic bedrock.
One river of note ended with an awesome 60-foot falls that dropped directly into the ocean with waves crashing right into the pool at the base.
After several days of beautiful but extreme Hawaiian kayaking, including one falls that knocked me unconscious from severe whiplash after a 90+ foot free fall, we actually had to take a day off from the still-gushing waterfall-strewn rivers. But with Pedro, a day off doesn’t mean stop. It means go do something different, and this time he wanted to kayak as close as possible to where lava from the most active volcano on earth is entering the ocean.
Why is a good question, to which there is only one good answer—Why not?
It’s worth noting that our three weeks on the Islands were the wettest three weeks in the last few years. In other words, we got lucky. Because when it rains, Hawaiian rivers make their case for supremacy amongst the giant waves and epic volcanoes that dominate popular perception of the Islands.
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