Sunday, April 7, 2002

Kayakers Kelly Harrison and Micky Sarraille pulled into Hilo's Richardson Ocean Center Monday during their three-week trip around the Big Island.

Kayaking around
Big Isle a first

Whales, dolphins and barracuda
are keeping 2 paddlers company

By Rod Thompson

HILO >> Jumping into the sea for a swim during the first days of their kayak trip around the Big Island, paddlers Kelly Harrison and Mickey Sarraille were delighted to see a humpback whale nearby.

Moments later, Sarraille was stunned to discover the gray-white mass in the water below him was the same whale, coming to the surface almost underneath him.

Reaching the surface, the whale slowly lowered a 10-foot-long flipper, almost touching Sarraille. It turned one eye toward him for a good look. Then it sped away.

"It just went whoosh one time, and then it was gone," Sarraille said.

Harrison and Sarraille came ashore at Hilo on Monday for rest and resupply. The next day, like the whale, they were gone, continuing on a never-before-attempted, three-week kayak trip around the island.

Harrison, 43, of South Kohala and Sarraille, 42, of Southern California have been buddies since sixth grade.

Both are active in adventure sports like hang gliding, bodyboarding and surfing, water-skiing and snow-skiing, and more.

True, Sarraille had never been kayaking before their current adventure. "I did sit in one in Sports Chalet (in California) to see if I fit," he said.

It's also true that Sarraile has only one leg. "When I was 17, a drunk driver hit me. They never found the guy," he said. The crash smashed his left hip as well as his leg, making it impossible for him to use an artificial limb.

Twenty-five years of using crutches of his own design put strength in his arms that enabled him to take instantly to paddling.

Sarraille says his trip with Harrison can be inspiring because of its difficulty, not because of his missing leg.

"It's inspiring to everybody, whether you have one leg or five legs," he said.

Kayak distributor Peter Bukas said coastal stretches along the Big Island of 30 to 40 miles have been kayaked before, but never the whole island.

"It's not an easy thing. It's something that's quite treacherous. It's something I tried to advise (Harrison) not to do," Bukas said.

The two paddle five to seven hours a day. "It's like a full-time job," Harrison said.

With rewards: Spinner dolphins, 30 at a time, have sped along beside them. Turtles come to visit.

They pass through schools of 30-inch barracuda, which they catch and eat if the fish don't get away. "One slipped through my hands like a banana," Sarraille said.

And as far as Hilo, at least, they saw no sharks.

The two started from Honokohau in North Kohala on March 26. Bukas says they were lucky that tradewinds, which would normally have been in their faces, died when they went around the top of the island. Going around the bottom, winds will be at their backs, but waves will be treacherous, he said.

They have to finish in three weeks. That's the longest Sarraille's girlfriend in California will let him stay away from home.

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