story by Rufus Kimura
photos by Sterling Kaya and David Fleetham
When I was ten, my father spent an afternoon at the flea market and came home with a scuba tank and an old double-hosed regulator. The next week, he bought a boat. And I, too young to dive, became his boatman.
Out at sea, my father would sit on the side of our inflatable Zodiac with mask and fins on. Then he would smile, turn on his air tank and splash noisily overboard. For the next forty-five minutes, I would fretfully watch the path of his rising air bubbles, panicking when the water got too rough to see them. At times, the anchor we had set off the boat would break loose, and the landmarks my father had shown me would begin to shift and change. I would imagine myself drifting for days, a young boy at the mercy of the sea, eventually marooned on some hostile shore.
I had a hammer for such occasions and with it, I would bang out a frenzied plea for help on the lower leg of the outboard engine. That staccato distress call, traveling underwater, would inevitably cause my father to resurface, still smiling. He would reassure me that I was not abandoned and that he would, of course, return from the deep. Still, I hated the separation and the ocean for diverting his attention from me and decided that there was only one thing to do: I had to join him.
By the time high school rolled around, I was cutting classes to spend days with my dad underwater. There was a vacant lot between our school and the boat harbor; its trees and dry brush provided excellent cover for eluding school security. By first recess, my father and I would be aboard the boat, loosening the mooring lines and heading out to sea. At times my mom cried, fearing I would never go away to college. But I did—to a school in Idaho, where, when I was homesick, I would sit at the bottom of the swimming pool and dream of warmer climates.
When my obligation to higher education—and my mom—was complete, I returned to the Pacific. The ocean was welcoming, and I explored it with a passion. I dove along the atoll walls of the Marshall Islands, hid in New Zealand's kelp forests, found blue ribbon eels in Indonesia, swam with sharks in Fiji's Southern Lau islands and floated through Tahitian reef passes at dusk, watching as giant tuna swam past. And I explored at home: On the Big Island, renowned for its miles of untouched coastline and finger coral beds full of fish. On Molokai, home to a wild backside protected by steep cliffs, filled with an aura of inaccessibility. On Kauai and Niihau, where the water is just cold and deep enough to hold certain species of fish usually seen only in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. I thought I had seen all of what Hawaii has to offer the diverÑuntil the call came about Kaula Rock.
"Where?" I said, not quite believing there could be a Hawaiian island I hadn't heard of. But there was. Is. Kaula is perhaps not quite an island in the fullest sense: It has no rivers, little vegetation, no natural harbor or landing and offers very little in the way of anchorage. But it is more than a rock. Some 550 feet tall, it sits atop an extensive underwater plateau surrounded by water hundreds of fathoms deep. A constant flow of nutrient-rich water wells up from the submarine shelf, and baitfish and marine life thrive there.