Published May 26, 1997 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©1997 Susan Scott
The first day of summer has arrived. I know it’s not official, but traditionally, Memorial Day weekend kicks off the summer season. I, for one, am glad it’s here.
Most visitors laugh when we Hawaii residents talk about summer and winter, like it’s some kind of joke. But those of us who live here feel seasons as acutely as people everywhere else.
Take the water temperature. Last week, I went windsurfing in Kailua and as I backed my gear out through the shorebreak, the water felt warm on my legs. Ah, what a relief it was compared to the chicken-skin water of winter. And it’s going to get even warmer.
At the extremes, the highest water temperature in Kaneohe Bay in August is 84 degrees F. Compare that to its lowest of 68 degrees F in February. The average temperature difference of Hawaii’s summer and winter water is less, about 10 degrees (approximately 80 in summer and 70 in winter). But even those few degrees can make all the difference. It’s what keeps many Hawaii residents out of the water in winter.
Hawaii summer is heralded by other signs. I can tell it’s summer because the shorebirds are gone. By Memorial Day, our beaches and parks are empty of golden plovers, ruddy turnstones, wandering tattlers and sanderlings that so brighten our lives all winter. These migratory birds have flown north by now, to find mates and raise families.
Our humpback whales also have gone north for the summer, taking their new calves with them to feed on the abundant krill of the nutrient-rich northern waters.
I’m glad the birds and whales are gone because of the thrill they give me when they return.
Spotting the first shorebird in late summer is the Hawaii equivalent of the first leaves turning color; seeing a humpback is like the first snowfall.
The departure of these north-feeding animals means the breeding of others. Hawaiian monk seals are having their pups about now and roly-poly albatross chicks at Kaena Point are getting ready to fledge.
Even with the whales gone, I enjoy gazing out at the summer ocean from my North Shore home. It’s flat and calm there now, a sharp contrast from the boisterous surf that dominates the community in winter and deposits salt onto everything.
During the summer I can explore Oahu’s north shore waters in peace. I enjoy walking the wide beaches and snorkeling the tranquil reefs.
I do miss the big surf and the scene it creates, but I know where to go for my summer surf fix: I visit my boat in the Ala Wai Boat Harbor. While there recently, I noticed the boat rocking in its slip and straining on its mooring lines to the rhythm of storm surf from the south. And the commotion in the parking lot told me that the surfers have migrated south for the summer.
Probably the best thing about summer in Hawaii for me is the strong and steady tradewinds. I’m tired of all those Kona winds from last winter that raised the humidity and dumped rain on so many of our beach outings.
June, July and August, Hawaii’s famous northeast tradewinds blow from 91 percent to 95 percent of the time.
The joys of summer ride on these winds. They make channel crossings a true adventure, and windsurfing a challenge. They send warm breezes through our homes during the day and cool our nights for sound sleeping.
Summer in Hawaii does have its drawbacks. Here, at about 21 degrees latitude, the sun passes directly overhead twice each summer, once about now and another time in July. During these close encounters with the sun, our UV exposure is at the max and we burn more easily than any other time of the year.
The feel and smell of sunscreen goes with summertime in Hawaii. And the livin’ is easy.