“SUNSET CRUISES! Twenty dollars! Suuunset cruises!”
A woman wearing a yellow polo shirt is standing in the sand of Waikiki Beach in front of a rainbow-sailed catamaran, bellowing her pitch out into the sunbathing crowd. Most of them ignore her, turning back to their books or children or game of sand badminton. Some, however, seem interested.
There are a few boats with colorful sails meandering along just past the beach's break walls. The people on them are perhaps enjoying watching people taking surfing lessons out where the waves break small and gentle.
I'm enjoying watching them, too. People on big surfboards, paddle boards, boogie boards… you name it, they're all out there, halfway between beach and horizon, waiting to catch that perfect wave. When the sun begins to set, their silhouettes stand out against the sea like little buoys bobbing along in the current.
Closer to shore, families of all shapes and sizes are splashing in the shallow water. Little kids are wearing floating tubes and cute little swim suits. Some are building sandcastles, or simply using small plastic shovels to slap at the wet sand.
The beach itself is littered with plastic beach chairs, beach towels, and colorful umbrellas during the sunny afternoon. Rows upon rows of surf boards and lounge chairs are up for rental from laid-back men in swim trunks and sun hats, and plenty of people take advantage.
Behind me, once the sand gives way to pavement, a palm tree-lined road is bustling with buses and cars; the sidewalks are bustling with aloha shirt-wearing tourists, smiling and enjoying the tropical weather. Most are undoubtedly staying in the high-rise hotels and timeshare rentals that tower over the beach.
Many hotels offer guests their very own beach-view balconies as well, so I know I'm not alone taking in the scene or the sun at Waikiki as an observer.
As the afternoon wears on, the beachgoers begin packing up their towels and sunscreen. They put away their sunglasses and rinse off their feet (and their children) in warm water showers dotted here and there along the public beach.
The beach begins to clear, and it begins to get even quieter. The waves lapping at the sand become the loudest sound.
Further down the beach, away from the hotels and closer to Diamond Head, the sand is almost empty. Most people have gone back to their hotels to get ready for dinner, and the stragglers enjoy Hawaii's most popular beach in a different, much less crowded way.
I like Waikiki Beach at this time of day. It's that quiet, almost sleepy time before sunset when the light is warm on the sand and the colors seem to pop. The palm trees are greener; the water is bluer. It's calm.
As I stroll out onto a stone pier, a dog catches a wave on a bodyboard and rides it in to shore. Yes, in Hawaii, even the dogs go surfing.
Sitting on the pier, I do some people-watching. There are a few lone swimmers and some determined surfers still out in the water. On the pier, older couples walk slowly hand-in-hand, clearly in no rush to go anywhere. Many, like me, are taking photos of Waikiki in the warm pre-sunset light.
The sun eventually begins to creep closer toward the horizon, bathing the sea and beach in a golden glow. Everyone on the pier comments on how beautiful Hawaii is. And, right now, I have to agree.
I wait until it's almost dark. Until the tiki torches along the beach and the street lamps on the street are providing most of the light. Then I get up, and head away from the sand and the sound of the lapping waves. I want to hold this last vision of Waikiki Beach in my mind, knowing that, soon, it will become the spot where the homeless come to make their beds.
Though, to be honest, I can't think of a much better place to fall asleep, either.
Have you been to Waikiki Beach before? If so, did you find it crowded and touristy, or sort of charming like I did?