“The most beautiful thing in Hawaii”
There is no doubt about it; Hawaii is one of the most beautiful places on earth. There are not many places where a near desert and a rainforest exist with an hour’s drive of each other.
In some places you will find pristine sandy beaches. A few miles down the road, the waves crash against rock formations on shore. Just a few miles further and the mountains drop directly down into the water.
Flowers are everywhere, of every color and hue. A few man-made touches even add to the mystique of the place. World class restaurants sit next to world class shopping. The state is a melting pot of people from around the world as evidenced by signage in a variety of western and eastern languages.
However, there is one thing that stands out above all that I saw and experienced during my recent visit to the Aloha State. It is the first thing that comes to mind when someone asks me my favorite memory of Hawaii.
One evening I met with a vendor, Dave McClurkin. While we had spoken on the phone, we had never met in person. Our meeting was scheduled late in the afternoon so that we could both enjoy some free time on the island during the day.
Dave and his family had visited a commercial marine park that day. His son, Blake, had planned to swim with the dolphins, something he had looked forward to with the excitement typical of any 13-year-old boy.
Unfortunately, Dave’s son was turned away at the park. You see, Blake has Spina Bifida. Although he can move easily in the water, the park citied their own potential liability while crushing the young man’s dream.
Our hotel referred the family to another marine park, more private and exclusive. That park, part of another resort, not only enthusiastically welcomed the boy, they allowed a parent to swim with him at no additional cost.
The good ending of two different corporate approaches to a physically handicapped child could be the end of the story, but it’s not. The story gets even better.
The family, fresh from the euphoria of the swim with the dolphins, decided to drive to the North Shore, famous for its surfers. They found a beach and the young teen used his walker to maneuver down to the sand. It was there the family met two young men from Australia and Tahiti coming out of the water.
These two surfers spoke to the family as they passed, before turning around. The Australian asked the youngster if he would like to go surfing. His eyes, along with the eyes of his father, both widened in a look of disbelief. It turns out that back home the Aussie had taken a young acquaintance with cerebral palsy surfing. He was familiar with how to surf with a physically challenged kid and was offering that opportunity to Blake.
Before long, the parents watched as their 13-year-old paddled out on the long board with this stranger. They caught a wave and surfed towards shore; not once, not twice, but four times. The boy was euphoric, as anyone would be that had just caught their first wave.
Showing that the kindness of a stranger can occasionally exceed our wildest imagination, the surfer invited Blake back the next day, gave him a wet suit and together they surfed another hour and a half.
From shore, the parents noticed another man that appeared to be surfing with his dog. Out in the water, much closer than his parents, Blake realized that the man was, in fact, not surfing with a dog. It was a pig.
Can pigs surf, you might ask. Apparently so. Can a young boy with Spina Bifida surf? The answer to that question is also a resounding yes, thanks to the kind heart of an anonymous Australian surfer, the desire of a physically challenged young kid to do what can’t be done, and the courage of good, loving parents to let their son experience what most of us will never be able to do.
I met Blake later at the trade show we were both attending. I shook his hand and we talked about whether pigs could swim. He is a fine young man and I was proud to meet him and share just a moment of his happiness. The smile on his face as we talked about his surfing was without a doubt the most beautiful thing I saw in Hawaii.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org