Fish aumakua, fish guides, and fish butts – journey with me on my morning dive.
As part of moving to the Big Island for photography, I bought my own scuba gear (finally!) and promised myself I’d use it frequently instead of just being lazy and snorkeling out into the ocean. It’s so much easier to be lazy, as I’m sure you can understand, especially if you’re like me and are always forgetting a piece of equipment, then needing to return home. Today, I forgot my camera (yeah, really). Anything else and I could have rented the missing bit when I picked up a tank from Kona Honu Divers – who is, by the way, my new favorite dive shop in Kona. People ask me for recommendations of dive shops, and to be honest I don’t really go out on boat dives when I can hike in from shore. Now that it’s whale season I’ll probably book a dive or two to get out further, but I haven’t yet. So you might wonder how I can have a favorite dive shop if I don’t spend more than a few minutes picking up tanks – it’s easy – they bring their dogs to work. Every time I go there I’m greeted by a happy, tail-wagging pup who makes me feel like I’m the greatest thing that’s happened all day. The ladies patiently look at the latest pictures of Lucy on my phone, and I get to see the cool places they take their dogs. Today was dogs and dolphins. Watch Lucy’s first dolphin encounter on Youtube.
A quick tank rental turns into half an hour, and I’ve already gone home to retrieve my camera, so my typical one-tank shore dive takes me somewhere around 4 hours after I clean my gear. It presents a good case for being lazy.
Today I dove from Honokohau Harbor, which is a simple 10 minute drive from my house. It is also where I take Lucy for some off-leash action a couple mornings a week, being the only dog-friendly beach nearby. The biggest challenge of this site, also known as ‘rip-off reef,’ is walking the treacherous lava rock trail to get to the water. I’ve turned my ankle walking there with nothing but a cup of coffee in my hands, so imagine wearing all my scuba gear and lugging my giant camera. Some people call it rip-off reef because it’s a simple 3 minute swim to reach the mooring buoys used by the scuba companies, but the hike is not easy and many people could not do it – there’s a reason scuba is a fat man’s sport (or lazy man’s sport, or injured man’s sport – pick one).
I swam out and encountered a cloud of raccoon butterfly fish, probably the same ones I see every time I get in the water there. Raccoon butterfly fish seem to follow me around wherever I am, which is why I sort of think of them as my aumakua, or spirit animal. I’m not sure what that says about me. I greeted the familiar cloud of fish, and headed to deeper water, with a trail of butterflies following.
This is when I saw the giant triggerfish (I believe it was a finescale triggerfish), related to Hawaii’s state fish Humuhumunukunukuapua`a. I hadn’t seen this guy before and wanted a picture, so I slowly followed him, hoping he’d stop for a snack and strike a pose.
He became my fish guide for the morning, because he led me out under the boat channel into the deeper bay, where I heard the always-welcome squeak of dolphins. I swam in circles watching them for a while.
After some time I thought I should start heading back toward shore. I always give myself plenty of time since I’m swimming near a busy harbor with dozens of boats zooming 20 feet above me and I don’t want to run out of air in the middle of their path; plus, I’m usually fairly lost. I got a new 3-guage octopus, which includes a compass, although I keep forgetting to look which direction I’m going. It’s easy enough to go back toward the sun in the morning, but the coast is long and I never know how far north or south I’ve gone. I was floating, trying to determine how far I might have wandered when I saw a giant pufferfish swimming by; the last time I used a pufferfish as my fish guide I ran into a tiger shark (I’ve since developed ‘trust issues’ with pufferfish), so I ignored him and just picked a direction that was ‘east-ish.’ I realize people are probably cringing at the thought of me diving solo, under speeding boats, half lost – but it sounds a little worse than it is. Once I get to my safety stop depth, which I didn’t really need since I wasn’t diving very deep, I sit there and look for any clues as to where the beach might be – too far north and I’ll be in the actual boat harbor, not just the boat lane, and too far south I’ll run into the mooring buoys from the dive companies, so it’s not too big a deal.
I floated for a while, looking around, and spotted my cloud of raccoon butterfly fish, waiting to lead me home. They actually led me to an angry looking barracuda, who was the fish that helped me find the beach. He kept circling behind me and I hoped I wasn’t wearing anything too shiny.
I spend most of my time underwater casually following fish, hoping to blend into the reef and get a good picture, and the result is looking at a lot of fish butts. I can probably identify most fish from their back half.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my dive today. I’m always open to new scuba buddies, and if any land friends find themselves on the Big Island I’ll take you on an underwater tour to meet my ocean friends.
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