Lifestyles in Hawaii: “Naked on the beach”

(Sorry about that cheesy title. As a writer, I couldn’t resist the double entendre. As a blogger, I couldn’t resist the SEO. I assure you that the spammers will punish me for my transgressions…)

Hey, it’s Labor Day, and you’re probably not going to read this post until you’re back at work the next day… or at least until you’re finished with a day full of fun & family.  I’m not even going to attempt to write a 2500-word 15-link pillar post on some aspect of military financial independence.  Instead, let’s give you an idea of how others spend their “Labor Day” around here.

I do most of my surfing at White Plains Beach in Kalaeloa, the former Naval Air Station Barbers Point. The underwater topography is very flat and shallow, with old coral reefs worn down to small humps across the sandy bottom. The outer breaks are several hundred yards wide and 2-4 feet high almost every day, yet the water depth is only 6-8 feet.

Closer to shore there’s always a reliable 1-2 feet of surf and the water depth is only 5-6 feet. (It’s a great spot to learn to surf.) During the summer, the southern-hemisphere storms bring the waves thousands of miles across the equator. Several times each summer they can push the surf up to 8-12 feet. Yet because the breaks are so broad and flat, with so little coral to bump into, White Plains Beach is an excellent break for beginners.

I’ve surfed there for over a decade, and a few of the old-timers have been there for over 30 years. Our daughter is proud to state that she’s been surfing there for over half her life.

White Plains Beach is frequented by a few other ocean dwellers, too. The shallow, flat, sandy conditions mean that predators have trouble sneaking up on their prey. Sharks stay away from the shore (as far as I can tell) but there’s still limu and an occasional urchin among the old coral heads. Small fish dart among the shallows, and I’ve seen a few pufferfish wandering by the lineup.

Twice in the last decade, I’ve been privileged to watch a honu cruise through the area, checking the rocks for limu. They’re protected creatures so they get a wide berth.

However, White Plains is also frequently visited by another omnivore that’s pretty far up the food chain: Hawaiian monk seals. They were here long before us humans, but in the 19th century, they were nearly hunted to extinction.

The population estimate is now under 1200 seals and may still be declining. They’re protected creatures too, and one of the reasons that the northwestern Hawaiian Islands (west of Niihau all the way to Kure Atoll) have been declared a marine national monument. However, the seals don’t read our maps so they range widely throughout the area and have given birth on many of Hawaii’s populated islands.

I took these photos from at least 30 feet away with a zoom lens. As you can see, these guys are just seething with nervous energy.

Monk seals on White Plains Beach, Kalaeloa, Oahu

Monk seals also don’t play by the Sea World rules. They’re wild animals weighing over 400 pounds, and even on the beach, they can lunge faster than humans can backpedal.

They look cute & fuzzy but they have teeth. When they’re raising their pups they’re protective and even aggressive around humans. They generally hunt for fish and eels in deeper waters from dusk through dawn, but they haul out on beaches during the day to avoid predators and get their rest.

Of course, that can lead to problems on a beach that’s frequented by humans. If surfers out at the break notice a dark shape swimming by the lineup, it can cause the wrong type of excitement.

I’ve sat on the beach and watched a monk seal pop its head out of the water just a few feet from shore. Then it cruised along the beach looking for a quiet place to haul out.

Unfortunately, it was Saturday morning so both the beach and the water were packed. As the seal nonchalantly made its way through the (human) swimmer’s area, some of the people froze in place while others bolted for the beach. The seal serenely ignored them all and eventually hauled out further down the coast.

This side of the beach is the "fence line", and it's a quiet spot away from the crowds.

Napping at dawn.

Surfers and fishermen know to give the seals a wide berth. Casual beach visitors, however, may mistake monk seals for the inhabitants of a petting zoo.

I’ve even wandered onto a beach in the early dawn hours, yawning and not really paying attention until I belatedly realized that I was within 10 feet of two sand-covered somnolent seals.

Eventually, a wildlife volunteer (or the lifeguards) will show up with signs and ropes to cordon off the area.

This particular morning I was relieved to see that both of the seals were adults– no juveniles. When the females give birth (usually in the spring but also later in summer) they stay on the beach for 5-6 weeks nursing their pups. To make sure the pups are successfully weaned, the local National Marine Fisheries Service staff can close the beach (to humans) for the entire time. Sure, there’s usually another perfectly good surf break just a mile or two away, but surfers get very familiar with their favorite breaks (and parking spots, and food wagons) and don’t like to have to start over again somewhere else.

They actually sleep very lightly, but if you stay clear then they relax.

Still napping… all day.

As disruptive as monk seals can be, I still enjoy seeing them around. It’s a constant reminder that we humans are only guests in their waters. If they encroach on “our” areas, it might be an early sign that the population has bottomed out and can start recovering. Honu have made a comeback, and I’m hoping that the seals can do the same.

Related articles:
Good reasons NOT to live in Hawaii
Lifestyles in early retirement: Hawaii long-term travel
Lifestyles in military retirement: Living in Hawaii
Lifestyles in military retirement: learning to surf in Hawaii

About Doug Nordman

Author of "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" and co-author of "Raising Your Money-Savvy Family For Next Generation Financial Independence."
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4 Responses to Lifestyles in Hawaii: “Naked on the beach”

  1. RonBoyd says:

    It has been about five years since we last visited Hawaii. Thank you for reminding me of one of the things I miss most when away for too long. The urge to return is quite strong now.

  2. Matt says:

    Love the photos, great shots! We have a page on White Plains and would love your review of it:

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