Sunday, August 14, 2011

Dive With Hammerheads (Galápagos Islands, Ecuador)

If it weren’t for Darwin, the Galápagos Islands might have remained in obscurity with their wealth of odd, indigenous, and fearless wildlife. His evolutionary theories helped land the archipelago on the tourist map, but the great scientist missed out on one of the most stunning landscapes of the Galápagos: its underwater realms. The islands, 600 miles (966 kilometers) from the coast of Ecuador, receive both warm and cold currents, with the Antarctic upswelling, sending a smorgasbord of marine nutrients, attracting a gold mine of marine life.

Here divers see penguins next to tropical reef fish, families of sea lions, and the rare red-lipped batfish in the hundreds. Most divers come, however, to see the preponderance of megafauna. During prime viewing season (July to October), divers swim with hundreds of scalloped hammerhead sharks and spot dozens of bus-size whale sharks. (And yes, they're both harmless.) Live-aboard boats are the best mode of transportation, and the Galápagos Aggressor is one of the few that offers both dives and land-based stops. In the morning, passengers spot blue-footed boobies and prehistoric-looking tortoises on these remote islands; by afternoon, they Zen out amid a panoply of sharks, their jagged bodies silhouetted against the glowing blue of the sea beyond.

The Galápagos Aggressor offers seven-night live-aboard boat trips that stop for land visits on three islands and dives off five islands (from $4,495 per person;

Surf the North Shore (Hawaii, United States)

Hawaiians know that riding the ocean requires the rare combination of calm, confidence, and utter respect for the power of the sea. That's how the best surfers in the world ride down the face of waves that, every now and then, reach 40 feet (12 meters) at the mother of big-wave breaks: Waimea Bay (pictured) on the North Shore of Oahu. It's warmer and more predictable than other breaks of its size, which makes it a favorite among pro surfers. But it also forms a perfect stadium for aspirants looking for a glimpse of some of the world's biggest rides.

Surfing was born on these shores, and many of its biggest competitions, like the Triple Crown, still feature here, which is why Oahu is perhaps the one place where surfers of all levels pilgrimage. It has breaks of every shape and size and offshore winds that create perfectly shaped and unusually long rides. Local surfer Bryan Suratt, whose family has ridden these swells for four generations, coaches such greats as Andy Irons but also offers lessons for all levels. Suratt's laid-back aloha vibe helps even first timers feel the high that every surfer, at one point, feels: a humble gratitude for the timeless power of the ocean.

Sunset Suratt Surf School offers surf lessons on many of Oahu's North Shore breaks ($100 for two hours, including equipment;
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