KAILUA-KONA — Seated atop stand-up paddleboards, Kathy Daly and a small group of SUP devotees bobbed up and down in waters a mile and a half due west of Kailua Pier singing praises of the good fortune and simple taste that led them there.
They couldn’t have known it, and in the communal gratitude of the moment perhaps they couldn’t have even believed it possible, but the day’s luck was about to improve.
“It was just the biggest adrenaline rush,” said Daly, recalling the sunny Sunday morning events of Feb. 17. “I was screaming with joy.”
By Daly’s off-the-cuff calculations, some 25 yards directly in front of the group and at just that moment, a colossal humpback hoisted itself from the depths, spun around in the air and crashed thunderously backwards into the Pacific blue.
No one could believe what they were seeing, Daly remembered.
But the show was only beginning.
Awe struck and shrieking with glee, Daly scrambled to start recording with her waterproof phone. Mounted in her strong hand and already swiped to the video setting, she raised her camera lens toward the general area of the magnificence just witnessed and pressed play. Moments later, the first humpback’s companion opened the second act.
Closer this time, a second whale rose almost completely out of the water, twisting and arching tens of thousands of pounds of heft with a seemingly choreographed grace as it, too, fell harmlessly backwards away from Daly and company.
Finally, as an encore to what its audience believes was a deliberate staging by the mammoth marine performers — and perhaps spurred on by the paddle boarders’ frenzied delight — came Act III.
“A third one jumped even closer. I’m getting goosebumps talking about it,” Daly said. “We were all just freaking because it was right there.”
Humpback the third also directed its descent away from the isolated group of five idling in the middle of open ocean.
George Kaimana Yasuda, a witness to the impromptu show and a 15-year stand-up paddleboard veteran, has had his share of encounters with breaching whales. He believes how the trio of mammals chose to fall was anything but accidental.
“The whales … how many atrocities we (inflict) on them, how much we pollute the earth with debris that they get entangled in, they could have a lot of animosity toward us. But they’re so kind to us,” Yasuda said. “When they see us, they actually slow down. They could have jumped and scared us, but no. They calculate everything. Even the splash, we didn’t get one drop of water on us.”
Daly expressed a similar sentiment, adding the entire display seemed meant for the group.
“The whales found us,” she said. “That was the amazing thing. We were just out there chilling.”
But it wasn’t the only amazing thing. Daly posted the video online to her private Facebook account later that day. At the behest of her niece and a few others, she made the post public and shareable later on that evening.
By Monday morning, a few state-level news outlets came calling looking to air the footage. By Tuesday morning, a media marketing firm contacted Daly requesting an agreement for rights to shop the footage to news outlets across the world.
By her last check, more than 25 organizations had bit, as video from her hand-held camera has been broadcast in prime time on ABC and by other major networks, publications and websites across the globe.
“George (Yasuda) and Linda (Bailey) take amazing photos with underwater cameras,” Daly said of two of her four companions on the water that day. “There I was out there with my little iPhone, and I just got lucky.”
Daly’s video of the breaching humpbacks is complete with sound. And the internet being the internet, commenters from all over the world, including a handful of Fox News hosts, have taken to ridiculing her reaction to the rare experience she says she’d remember all her life even were it not captured on camera.
But she’s not letting the trolls get her down.
“If somebody is going to make fun of me because I’m screaming, I really don’t care,” Daly said.
She added she’d like viewers of the video to take away a message of majesty in regards to the whales themselves, as well as a message of the aloha showed by not only the humpbacks but by an operator with UFO Parasail of Kailua-Kona named Jonathon. The boat captain, Daly said, directed his vessel immediately over to the group after witnessing the breaches from afar to make sure everyone nearby was unharmed.
Yasuda said he hopes the intrinsic message of the video takes a step even beyond that.
“I hope the message to people could be … that hopefully we could take care of these magnificent animals rather than what we do to them,” he said.