Jumping into the Deep End

A long, long time ago, back when we had one-and-a-half kids less than we do now, my sweet little family and I lived on the Big Island of Hawai’i.

*Taking a moment to sigh wistfully.  Feel free to feel envy, jealousy, covetousness, resentment, what-have-you toward me for that fair bit of good fortune.*


I revisit that time of life quite often.  Out of all my memories, those two years spent on a giant hunk of lava are some of my most vivid.  I could spend hours telling(typing) all kinds of stories about a naive young family from Nebraska who sold all their worldly possessions (except what could fit into a few boxes) and moved half a continent and half an ocean away.  Sight unseen.  No clue whatsoever of what waited for us.

But I won’t.  Instead, I’ll just tell you one story.  For now.  (I reserve the right to bore you with all the other stories at a later date.  *enter evil laugh here*  It’s my blog, after all.)

Not long after our arrival, we, along with a sweet couple we’d recently met, decided to go to the beach.  Now, beaches on Big Island are different than what normally comes to mind when you think Hawaiian beaches.  Big Island is a young island, as far as islands go, and long stretches of uninterrupted white sand are a rarity there.  The few that do exist can be difficult to get to (Think 4-wheel driving across unforgiving beds of lava.  Something we weren’t keen on doing just yet, especially since we were driving about in a borrowed car).

So, we headed to a place called Two-Step.  One of the most beautiful places you’ll ever go for snorkeling.

The problem with Two-Step, though, is that it’s not really a beach.  It’s simply a shelf of lava that juts out into the ocean.  Gorgeous, mind you – the contrast of that wet, black shelf against the brilliant blue hues of the water…It’s something to look at.  But there’s no sand to speak of, and the water there isn’t child friendly.

That wasn’t going to dampen our spirits, though.  The Hubster and his new buddy took off for some snorkeling, while my sweet new friend Em and I stayed back to hang out with the kids, exploring the little nooks and crannies in the lava with my then 2-year old boy, while my little 4 month old baby slept on a blanket nearby.  I’m not gonna lie.  It was a killer way to spend the afternoon.

At some point, I decided I wanted to swim out and find the Hubster.  Em said she’d stay behind to watch the kids, so off I went, eager to splash a little.

Before I go on, there’s a little background about me you need to know:

I grew up in Kansas.  KANSAS.  A landlocked stretch of country that boasts gorgeous skies, lovely pastures, freakishly diverse weather and unforgiving wind.  Not a lot of water here, though, and nothing even laughably close to the mighty Pacific.  Even though I’d been swimming since I was little, every bit of swimming I’d ever done up to that point was in muddy pasture ponds, or State-dug lakes.  Bodies of water with no current.  No waves.  No uneven hunks of lava underneath you, teeming with things just waiting to inflict pain on you.  There’s just murky, brown water that is often shared by cows and humans alike.

Even so, I wasn’t going to let my lack of experience hinder me.  I boldly made my way to the edge of the lava shelf, where tourists and locals had gathered to step down into the ocean – the place where Two Step had gotten its name.  Here, when the waves pulled back a little, you could see the lava had formed into two ‘steps’ leading into the great blue abyss.

I waited patiently for my turn, watching as people gleefully jumped out into the warm, tropical water.  My chest was pulling tighter and tighter the closer I got.  There’s no need to freak.  It’s just water.  You know how to swim.  My little mini-pep talk was pathetic, and I knew it.  But there was no way I was going to turn back and admit my cowardice.  Pride pushed me onward.  I was a trembling but stubbornly determined mess by the time my turn came.

Gingerly, I stepped down onto the first step.  A huge wave of tsunami proportions (as it seemed to me) came rushing up at that exact moment.  My feet never touched the second step.  The wave pulled me out away from the shelf, and there was Midwestern Myndi flapping around in the water just like a fish out of water.

Ever aware that there were people around me, watching, I tried to act cool about it.  Like I’d been doing this my whole life.  I’m 100% certain no one was fooled.  For one thing, I’m a terrible actor/liar.  Everything I’m feeling in a particular moment is displayed on my face whether I want it to or not.  I’m pretty sure the expression my face carried in those moments could be described as utter-terror-I’m-too-young-to-die-oh-my-gosh-what-in-the-heck-just-brushed-by-my-leg??? .  But even if my face hadn’t given away just how out of my element I was, my skin color certainly did.  I’m what my friend Liz calls ‘an alabaster beauty’.  My skin is so fair, that when our family doctor in Omaha learned that we were moving to the Islands, he advised that I take out stock in a sunscreen company.  And he wasn’t joking.  Anybody with half a functioning eye could see that I didn’t belong.

So not only was I flapping around like a fish out of water, I looked like a fish out of water.  On top of that, I felt like a fish out of water.  It suddenly dawned on me that I was terrified of this thing called the Pacific Ocean.  I think I even hated it a little.  I may have even told it so, in the water-logged, profanity-filled language of a native Kansas cowgirl.

It was at that moment that some idiot dude in a snorkeling mask swam up to me.  Somehow I was managing to keep my head above water, but every time my breathing would begin to even out, a killer wave intent on sending me to a watery grave (Em’s hubster would later inform me through thinly masked amusement that these were hardly considered waves, but ripples) would send me back to borderline hyperventilating and hysteria.  It was at this exact moment that this idiot dude decided to hit on me.  For real.

Him:  It’s a rush, isn’t it?

Me: What?? 

Him:  The water.  It’s a rush!

Me (frantically looking around for the Hubster, barely able to comprehend that this guy was trying to talk to me):  Yeah, I guess.  

(Wave hits again.  I splash wildly trying to turn direction and swim the heck away from this moron.)

Him:  Hey, where are you going?  I thought we’d swim out together.

(Now I’m not only worrying about being drowned by an ocean that apparently hates me and wants me dead, but I’ve got some kind of aqua-stalker following me around.  My paddling becomes even more frantic, getting me absolutely nowhere.)

Me (trying to sound indignant, not panicky):  I’m going to swim with my HUSBAND.

Him:  Myndi?

Me (to self):  Oh my god, he knows my name.  How in the hell does he know my name??

Him (louder):  MYNDI!

Me: *sob* Leave me alone!

(Somehow the evil ocean has turned me around again.  I’m face to face with this weirdo, and I’m trying to figure the odds of me managing to paddle straight through him without drowning in the process.)

Him (a little more urgently):  Myndi, it’s me.  It’s Thomas!

(He pulls the goggles and snorkel off.  I stare at him in shock as he morphs from some weird-a$$ stranger to my dearly beloved Hubster, who just moments ago I was certain I’d never see again.)

Of course I immediately sea-cow lunged for him, locking my legs and arms around him in a vice grip, nearly drowning us both.  He couldn’t stop laughing as he towed his poor water-logged wife to shore.  I’d never been so happy to see him, or my kids, or dry land.

After that day, the Hubster and I had an agreement.  I wouldn’t go back to Two Step.  Ever.  And I’d never attempt snorkeling.  Ever.  I didn’t give a rats behiney how gorgeous the underwater world was.  How it was just like ‘Finding Nemo’ down there.  How the turtles would swim with you and the world would go silent around you.  Nope.  Not ever.  Not for me.  We’d seek out the few sandy beaches and stick to those – beaches where I could feel the sand gradually slope down under my toes, where I wouldn’t be afraid to pull my kids into the water.

That, my friends, was my first plunge into the Pacific Ocean.

Any other aqua-phobes (word?) out there?  Funny underwater stories that you’re dying to share?  C’mon, make me feel better about my first foray into the wide blue yonder!


37 thoughts on “Jumping into the Deep End

  1. Jennifer Jensen says:

    Awesome story, Myndi! I had one trip to Hawaii (Oahu) for a writers conference and I remember being at Hanama Bay the day after, and feeding frozen peas to the fish. BIG fish. It was fun until I ran out of peas, and then they swarmed until I felt like their next meal. I backed out of the water pretty fast! Wasn’t brave enough to swim out to the deep part where the experienced people were. Neither was I brave enough to jump down the chute called the Toilet Bowl, if memory serves me correctly. There were guys jumping in, getting sucked down as a wave pulled back, and then swirled back up to the top again with the next wave. Fun to watch, but I’ll stay on solid ground, thank you very much!

  2. rachelfunkheller says:

    Oh my dearest Myndster, we are worlds apart, and I adore you and your story. I, as you may know was born and raised on the island of Oahu, here in lovely Hawaii. My parents took me down to the beach when I was about three months old. They’d let me stumble and waddle by the GENTLE waves, so I learned to swim before I learned how to walk. If you ever get back here, I’ll take you to my gentle beach. Great, great story.

  3. Natalie Hartford says:

    O.M.G. I can picture it now. Awwww Myndi. I feel for you. On our wedding trip, hubby and I went out with a group of about 12 people from our party for a snorkelling adventure. Hubby did not fare well. First he isn’t a strong swimming coupled with the fact that he got some defective flipper. There I was sailing through the water channelling my inner dolphin when I look up to see hubby just about drowning and hyperventilating in the water. He thought it’d be like a pool. He didn’t expect the strength of the ocean and the current and he panicked. Thankfully, we got him back to the boat where he gleefully stayed until calmer waters. LOL!!!

  4. Ginger Calem says:

    Aqua-Stalking and Sea-Cow lunged? You absolutely CRACK me up!

    Ok, so I love the water but I’m more of a lake person, and I prefer to be skiing on TOP of the water or zipping along in the boat. For the ocean, I like to enjoy the sound of the waves from the deck with a glass of wine in my hand. 🙂

    Awesome story!

  5. Gloria Richard Author says:

    SNORT worthy story in retrospect, Myndi. After you survived and regained a regular heartbeat.

    I share your fear of the ocean (reworded as “healthy respect for” when around ocean lovers). I don’t like being knocked around.

    I had one experience with snorkeling off the Cayman Islands, and could not appreciate the coral reefs because I was too afraid of that wide expanse of water and what might be lurking to dine on “tourist–the other white meat.”

  6. Jillian Dodd - Glitter, Bliss and Perfect Chaos says:

    Love your story, it’s funny. Especially the part where you didn’t know it was your husband. But also…..I didn’t know you are from Nebraska!! Or are you from Kansas? I grew up near Omaha.

  7. patriciasands says:

    I can’t wait for more of your “Tales from The Big Island”. It sounds like it was quite an adventure. I love to scuba and snorkel and am so sorry the Pacific scared you off. But I understand too – the only time I ever thought I was going to drown was when I got caught in (what I thought was)a huge wave on a beach on Maui. I tumble and churned in the water, thinking I was a goner. Then the wave retreated and I opened my eyes to find myself sitting in about six inches of water, holding my nose. Exiting gracefully was difficult!

  8. janellemadigan says:

    Myndi, I grew up in Pennsylvania, where there aren’t many places to swim, and it’s usually too cold to go swimming, anyway. My husband grew up in Virginia, and he spent his childhood on the lake or the river, boating and swimming and wakeboarding and sailing. He’s the adventurous one in our marriage. I’m still squeamish about getting into water that hasn’t been chlorinated for my protection. I know a fish brushing against my leg won’t kill me, but, alas, the ridiculous fear remains. 😉

  9. Jessica O'Neal says:

    LMAO! This had me laughing so hard! I have lived on the coast of Florida my whole life, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still relate. I have never been athletic and I am not an incredible swimmer. Plus, the waves we get in Jacksonville are not exactly all that big, certainly nothing to be compared with the waves in Hawaii. As you know from my own Hawaii horror story, I had a huge gash on my leg from that awful black lava rock, so I didn’t exactly get to brave much of the Hawaiian oceans. If I had, I would have a very similar story to yours. Thanks for sharing, Myndi!

  10. Liz Rutschman says:

    Myndi, my alabaster beauty. : ) I don’t have any funny water stories about me…. but surely I’ve mentioned that Kyle can’t swim?

    In his own words, he’s a “sinker.” We once took an expense-paid vacation to Puerto Rico (he was teaching there for a week). Poor guy….surrounded by water (and a wife who REALLY wanted to swim), and he just couldn’t. I tried to teach him to float in the hotel pool, but he just can’t do it. Ah well! We still had a great time…just not in the water. : )

  11. Elen Grey says:

    My shoulders are shaking with laughter. I decided I needed to learn how to swim when Super Techlet was born. And, I did. But I like my feet planted firmly on the ground, as God intended. 😀 I love being by the water, not in it so much. Shallow is good. OTOH, Super Techlet swims like a fish. I’m a good mama! Great post.

  12. Angela Orlowski-Peart says:

    I love Hawaii but I have to admit that my comfort zone keeps my feet firmly planted on the beach. Venturing into the water is awesome but I won’t go further than the waist-level.
    You are hilarious – love the “Midwestern Myndi” nickname 🙂

  13. Karen McFarland says:

    LOL Myndi! Aqua-stalker! That’s hilarious!

    I consider myself after this post quite spoiled. I grew up along the Pacific and I like the feeling of sand in-between my toes. Now take me to a lake or a man-made pond/lake, yuck. The first time my husband who is from Cleveland took me to a lake I hated the feeling of this mucky crap on the bottom. Can’t do it. Grosses me out. So murky ponds shared by cows, uh, no way.

    Can’t wait to here more about your Hawaiian adventures! 🙂

    • Myndi Shafer...one stray sock away from insanity. says:

      Yeah, the texture down below is definitely…earthy. 🙂 Where we live in KS, very little that lives in the water is actually harmful or poisonous, so the unknown never scared me. But we learn early on that light colored swim suits wouldn’t ever be the same after the first wear. And you DON’T feel clean after!! The trick is to channel your inner-child-playing-in-a-mud-puddle mentality, then you’ll be fine. 🙂

  14. Tameri Etherton says:

    Oh. Mygosh!

    You know, having grown up with the Pacific Ocean as my own personal backyard pool, I never thought of people not knowing how to swim in an ocean, but you’re right. It’s totally different. Hmmm… now I know why I was always rescuing midwesterners from the 3′ surf that they thought were tidal waves.

    You poor thing! But it was dang funny and I really, really needed a laugh today.

    The only time I was seriously freaked out in the water happened, interestingly enough, in Hawaii. I was out swimming (by myself since my BFF could be your twin when it comes to ocean water) and all of a sudden there’s a turtle next to me. A freaking turtle! Now those we don’t have where I live. Sharks, yes, turtles, no. Scared the bejeepers out of me and while it probably wanted to play, I saw its huge mouth as nothing more than a way to take a sizable chunk out of my behind. Which, in retrospect, I should’ve let it do since my behind is a little large. Oh, well. Hindsight is 20/20.

    • Myndi Shafer...one stray sock away from insanity. says:

      Three foot waves scare the bejesus out of me. Sharks scare me even more. My one attempt at surfing was fraught with terror from 3-foot waves and the thought that a Jaws was lurking below, staring up at my freakishly white legs thinking, “mmmm….tasty!” like a Quizno’s sub ad.

      Never thought of the turtles as scary though. They’re so swift and gorgeous in the water, and slow and bemused on land. 🙂 But I never really swam out far enough to where they could surprise me from underneath. I’m sure if one had bumped me very far out I’d have shat myself. 🙂

  15. Marcy Kennedy says:

    Oh Myndi, I need to stop trying to read your blog while eating lunch. I think I may have snorted a noddle from my chicken noodle soup 😉

    I grew up swimming in Lake Huron, which has waves and currents. My husband, who loves to swim, hates open water though. For him, it’s about not knowing what’s going to come up from the bottom to bite him.

  16. David N. Walker says:

    I spent my time in Hawaii sitting comfortably on the SS Zaandam except when my wife demanded that I join her on a guided shore excursion. The ocean is beautiful from the shore or shipboard, but I don’t need to inspect it any more closely.

  17. Barb Estinson says:

    I loved reading of your Hawaiian adventure at Two Step, Myndi. Unlike my brother David, when I’ve been to Hawaii, I wanted to be IN the water. But then my experience has been mostly on Kauai on sandy beaches and more gentle areas. I’d have no doubt been scared where you were too! Nice writing! Barb

  18. Jenny Hansen says:

    Ah, Myndi, I’m with Tameri and I grew up playing in the waves on the West Coast. I remember my mama holding me in her arms and teaching me how to jump over waves. Then you progress to diving through waves.

    The interesting thing is the SoCal water is frigid compared to the Hawaii water which is warm, warm, warm (so you float, float, float). I’m a SCUBA diver so I love Hawaii water. 🙂

    But to a Kansas gal, it had to feel dreadful. While I appreciate the laugh, I’m so sorry you didn’t get a better intro to the waves!!

  19. Serena Dracis, Author says:

    You tell a good tale, Myndi. Have to admit I’m jealous of the living in Hawaii thing; one day Hub and I will make it to the islands. We may have to put Two-Step on the list of places to visit, but I have to admit I don’t know if I’d have the courage to jump off! I grew up swimming in the Pacific Ocean, but Southern California’s beaches are all nice, sandy slopes. Love reading your blog!

  20. Karen Rought says:

    I just really loved your story about this! It was both funny and a little frightening. I try to stay away from the ocean, too. I went snorkeling once and started hyperventilating when I realized just how big the ocean was. It’s a little spooky! I did see some amazing things, though, so I don’t regret that!

  21. Angela Wallace says:

    Lol. How did your Hubster feel about being mistaken for a weird-a$$ aqua stalker? Great story, Myndi. I do not swim either, though it has nothing to do with a traumatic experience. I just don’t like being wet. 😉

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