Mokuleia Diving with Dolphins
Diving Mokuleia Beach, Tuesday 5/30
This dive was one of those dives that gets your heart racing, and you feel that adrenaline in your chest. This dive was one of the most intense dives that I have experienced! The waves at the entry point of Mokuleia beach made entering and exiting the water challenging. I wouldn’t have been able to do this dive without Chad! I feel like I have come so far with my diving skills; from starting on Utila Island, Honduras in 2013 with little confidence in the water, and now on Maui in 2023 having incredible dives. My trust in Chad and the fact that I would follow him to the ends of the earth, is what gave me the guts to do this dive.
When standing at the boundary where the ocean meets the land, we were about to enter the ocean at Mokuleia beach. I looked at Chad as we were about to enter. We could see intimidating rollers and white water in the distance that pushed forward toward us and breaking at our feet. We were about to turn around and try another dive site, but I said, “Let’s go!” and we had one of the most heart-stirring and unforgettable dives that we had ever experienced together! In the middle of diving, we were rewarded with the sight of a pod of dolphins! There must have been at least 20 dolphins that swam over our heads!
Mokuleia beach also known as “Slaughterhouse beach” is just a little north from where we live in Napili. We dove this site a little less than a year ago. It is situated in the northwest part of Maui. The parking is limited at Mokuleia beach, so we left early in the morning. It was about 9:30am when we arrived, and we managed to get a good parking spot at the lookout point along the cliffside right next to the highway. From where we parked, we could see that the visibility of the ocean was clear, and it seemed like the waves were not so bad. We could see people in the water boogie boarding. There were also two catamarans anchored in the bay giving snorkel tours. So, we decided to gear up and go for it.
There is a long stairway that leads down to the beach that is quite a distance. Chad helped carry my BCD and tank down to the beach. That is one of the reasons why I wouldn’t have been able to do this dive without Chad. He had to make a couple trips up and down the stairs. I carried small stuff like fins, masks, water bottle, etc. The steps snake down through the thick vegetation and in between a gap within the cliffs that surrounds the beach. As I proceeded down the steps to the beach, I noticed big boulders and crevices covered by bushes and vines. I began to wonder if there might be treasure or artifacts hidden within cliffside.
At the base of the steps, the pathway transitions into a sloping and uneven rock trail. I had to step carefully to not lose my footing. I could see where Chad had set down my tank and BCD. It rested in a shady area right next to the cliffs not far from the steps. As I waited for Chad, I noticed rugged chickens wandering around me, looking for food. Many people were lounging on the beach; couples and families laying on towels under umbrellas or sitting on Tommy Bahama chairs wearing big sun hats. I could smell the smoke of a small bonfire slowly dying out. At sea level I could see that the waves had begun to look more daunting.
Chad soon joined me with his BCD and tank on his back. Chad helped me put on my gear by setting the equipment on a boulder. I put my arms through the straps of the BCD and buckled in.
“Hey, look at the pod of dolphins out there!” said Chad pointing to the horizon. I looked over to where he was pointing, and just out part the anchored catamarans, I could see dolphins jumping out of the water! I crossed my fingers and hoped that we would be able to see them up close.
We did a buddy check, making sure our gear worked properly. Chad handed me my fins. Chad picked up his fins and the dive flag, and we continued to the entry point just in the middle of the beach. We could see that the waves looked intimidating the closer we got to the edge of the ocean.
“There are some big rollers out there, you sure you want to do this?” asked Chad.
“I am starting to freak out,” I said as I backed away a little as the waves broke at our feet. We had entered worse conditions when we were traveling in Southeast Asia. I had once been thrown down by the waves when I exited the shore after a dive in Indonesia. I knew there would be a break from the waves soon and if we just timed our entry with the waves, it would be ok.
“Should we dive Kahekili beach instead?” asked Chad seeing my hesitation.
At that moment, just where we were standing, a small turtle popped its head out of the ocean to take a breath. We watched the turtle get thrown about by the waves, but it didn’t seem to mind. I watched the turtle as it happily floated away. I could see kids and people having fun in the water and I wanted an adventure. I wanted to see those dolphins.
I looked at Chad and then squinted out into the horizon. My trust in Chad gave me the courage to challenge myself. Great adventures are always challenging. There is nothing more that I want or need except Chad and the ocean. I could see that the waves were pausing. It was our chance to enter.
“Let’s go,” I said.
We committed and entered into the ocean, bracing ourselves as the surge pushed and pulled at us. We put our regulators in our mouths and fully inflated our BCD. We managed to put on our fins and then kicked out into the open ocean. I followed Chad as he veered to the right, where the most coral and rock formations are located.
At first the waves were coming over our heads, but the further we kicked out the visibility improved, and the height of the waves lessened. However, we were bobbing up and down on the surface considerably. I started to feel a little seasick and wished I had taken some Dramamine.
We stopped our surface swim at the point where we were going to descend. Chad slowly ushered the weight attached to dive flag down to the shallow sandy bottom which was about 6 meters down. I kicked my legs to orientate myself and floated on my back. I could feel the surge and swell of the ocean as I bobbed up and down at the surface. From here I could see the anchored catamarans and snorkelers.
Chad took out his regulator and said, “Stay away from the catamarans and we are going to stay to the right and swim along the edge of the bay like last time.” Chad then gave me the “ok” and “descend” signal and I returned the signal with my right hand and with my left hand lifted my LPI hose over my head and pressed the deflator button releasing air from my BCD. It made a hissing sound, and I sank into the ocean. I equalized my ears as I felt the pressure squeeze and watched as Chad did the same. I could see another small turtle hovering over a big boulder the size of a small car getting pushed around by the surge of the ocean. The turtle was taking bites at the sea algae growing on the rock.
I tapped on my inflator button on my LPI hose to stabilize my buoyancy and followed Chad toward the coral and rock formations. We swam past a school of yellow stripe goatfish hovering over the sandy bottom. Above us we could see the outlines of the catamarans and the snorkelers. From here I could see the stunning rock formations. Colorful coral surrounds the rocks, and the white oxygenated ocean creates this ethereal environment that is just epic and beautiful to look at. We could see many sea stars and crustaceans clinging to the rocks and countless number of fish, such as butterfly fish, parrot fish, surgeon fish and more. This dive site makes you feel like you are in an underwater paradise. The towering rock formations reminded me of the time when I was on a liveaboard in Thailand with Chad, and we dove around the Similan islands.
There is this one rock formation that is very unusual at the point dividing Mokuelia Beach from Honolua beach. It looks like a rock shelter that you would see on land. It is interesting how the sand dips down around the indentation creating a bowl shape around the overhang of rock. Leaves, branches, and other sediment collect within this little pocket. Chad and I always contemplate on this geologic phenomenon and wonder how it was created over time.
During the entire dive, we could hear the dolphins. The sounds of their chirps, whistles and clicks were loud, and we kept looking around to catch a glimpse of them. We were lucky enough to see the dolphins swim right over our heads 30 minutes into the dive. At least 20 of them swam past us! We could see baby dolphins as well. The last time we saw dolphins up close like that was when we were traveling abroad together in Southeast Asia. It was amazing!
(It is hard to see the dolphins in this video, you got to look closely)
When we were running low on air, we began to make our way back to the shoreline. Chad collected the dive flag and we slowly kicked back to the point where we had entered the ocean. I started to feel a little panicky when I realized that it was going to be a challenge exiting the water. I could feel the surge become stronger the closer we got to the shoreline. I had to mentally calm myself. I just had to relax and not fight the waves.
Chad gave me the “ok” signal and “ascend” signal. I returned the signal with my right hand and with my left hand, I pressed the deflator button on my LPI hose to release the air from my BCD so I would not ascend too quickly. I extended my right hand to the surface as I slowly kicked upward. Once I reached the surface, I inflated my BCD so I could float. At the surface the waves had become more aggressive. Chad made a muffled laugh through his regulator as he looked at the shoreline. He could see that it was going to be a challenge exiting. Chad took out his regulator and said, “Just follow me, I will be with you the whole time, just try to time the waves and if you have to crawl on your hands and knees to get out you can but I don’t recommend it. If you want to take off your BCD before you get out of the water just wait for me to get out first and then I will get you.”
I looked at the shoreline and nodded nervously. I followed Chad to the exit point and the waves continued to come up just a little over our heads. The waves became stronger as we neared the shoreline and I had to maneuver around the rocks so I wouldn’t bump up against them. I could hear myself breathing hard into the regulator as we made our surface swim. As I was kicking and breathing, the realization of how fragile my life became evident.
We took off our fins when it became shallow enough for us to touch the bottom with our feet. I tried to orientate myself upright so I could walk out of the shore break. Waves continued to pull me back and push me forward and the white water obscured my vision making it hard to avoid rocks. I tripped over a rock and righted myself again. I prayed that my mask and regulator would stay secure, and I wouldn’t fall over and get tumbled.
When I was just a few feet from the beach, the water was at my waist, I felt myself being pulled back again. I looked back and I could see a wave rising about four feet over my head. I forced myself to relax and let the momentum of the water push me up onto the beach. I put one foot in front of the other and trekked up the sand onto the beach. I spit out my regulator and looked back as Chad also made his way out of the water. I laughed out loud as I was feeling the adrenaline and my heart pounding in my chest. If it wasn’t for all my experience diving, I wouldn’t have done as well as I did. It felt good to conquer something challenging. Next time though, we are going to think twice about diving when the waves look rough. We were lucky this time.
Overall, this dive was one of the most amazing dives that I have had while living here on Maui, because not only did we see a huge pod of dolphins, but I had also challenged myself and gained more confidence in the water. Chad and the ocean are the two things I want most in life, and every time I dive with Chad, I have courage to take on adventurous situations. This dive at Mokuleia beach reminded me of what it means to be alive.