DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Pam Smith, from right, and Anne Miller lead their husbands, Wayne Miller and Mike Smith, on a Segway tour from the Hilton Hawaiian Village to Diamond Head Lookout on Segways. They cruised around the fountain at Kapiolani Park.
Segway tour won’t wear you out walking
Four years ago, Alan Rice flipped on the "Today" show as he was getting ready for work and watched a segment that featured host Matt Lauer riding a Segway on the Plaza in New York City by the NBC studio where the show is taped.
"I thought, 'I want to try that!'" said Rice, who was a successful marketing and entertainment industry executive in Hollywood at the time.
He got his chance a year later when his son Justin saw a young man riding a Segway on UCLA's campus.
The man turned out to be the owner of a company that offered Segway tours in Beverly Hills. Justin passed his card to Rice, who contacted him to arrange a trial ride for himself, wife Jeanne and son Michael.
"As we glided around celebrities' homes, I remember pointing out the newest Lamborghinis, Maseratis and Porsches, and the owners were pointing back and telling us that the Segway was cool," said Rice. "It was a blast!"
Intrigued, he learned the Segway runs on electricity, so it doesn't release pollutants into the environment. Maintenance costs are nil because the self-balancing personal transporter doesn't require oil, gas, filters, a safety check, licensing, insurance or registration fees, and it doesn't have expensive parts such as brake pads and timing belts.
"It runs up to 24 miles, six to eight hours, on a single charge," said Rice. "It's quiet, it doesn't contribute to traffic congestion and it only costs about 10 cents to fully charge it."
Inspiration struck: Why not offer Segway tours through Waikiki and downtown Honolulu?
RICE MADE his first trip to Hawaii more than 20 years ago and fell in love with the state. Jeanne had worked on Oahu for nearly that long.
They met in California when she made a career move there in 1994, but visited the islands every year thereafter, becoming increasingly serious about finding a venture that would allow them to live here permanently.
Segway of Hawaii was the answer; it opened in 2006, with Rice as its owner and operator.
Each tour begins with a 30-minute training session at the company's headquarters at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa in Waikiki. Following this, participants have ample time to practice their new skills before embarking on their tour.
The three-hour Waikiki, Kapiolani Park & Diamond Head Tour travels down Kalakaua Avenue to 200-acre Kapiolani Park, which King Kalakaua dedicated in June 1877 and named after his beloved wife.
You'll then cruise up Diamond Head Road, past Diamond Head Lighthouse and multimillion-dollar mansions, to a lookout that opens to breathtaking views of Kahala, Koko Head and the Pacific. (This time of year, you're likely to spot humpback whales cavorting offshore.)
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Anne Miller leads Mike Smith and Wayne Miller past a surfer up a path at a lookout on Diamond Head Road.
After a leisurely photo break, you'll head back toward the Hilton, gliding past landmarks such as the Natatorium, the Waikiki Aquarium and the statue of Duke Kahanamoku, the legendary beachboy who won five Olympic medals, including golds in the 1912 and 1920 100-meter freestyle swimming events.
"A Segway tour is up close and personal, like a walking tour, but it's much easier on your feet," said Rice. "You also can cover more ground in less time, which can be a real advantage if you're on a tight schedule, and just about everyone can do it."
That was recently demonstrated when a young visitor signed up for a private Segway tour.
He had researched the device in depth for a good reason; he wanted to do a lot of sightseeing on his Oahu vacation, but because he had a prosthetic leg, walking long distances was difficult for him.
"Being in his early 20s, a wheelchair or motorized scooter weren't ideal options," said Rice. "To be honest, I was a little leery at first, but he got the hang of the Segway really fast; in fact, within minutes he was gliding around our training area like he'd been doing it for years.
"He was wearing shorts that day, and as we made our way to Magic Island, many people stopped to watch him with their jaws dropped. You could tell they were impressed by how easy it was for him to get around."
Rice uses his Segway as often as he can to run errands, attend meetings, go for coffee breaks and do light shopping.
And he still occasionally leads Segway of Hawaii tours.
"I can't give that up; I love it too much," he said. "The views are so special, as is the opportunity to meet people and make friends from all around the world."
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If you go ...
Segway of Hawaii
Waikiki, Kapiolani Park & Diamond Head Tour
» Meet at: Segway of Hawaii's kiosk at the Mini Mart in the Tapa Tower, Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa, 2005 Kalia Road, Waikiki
» Offered: Daily at 8:30 and 11:30 a.m., and 3 p.m.
» Cost: $125 per person. All participants must be at least 16 years old and weigh between 100 and 260 pounds. Riders under 18 must be accompanied by an adult guardian. Kamaaina receive 15 percent off all tours. From April 15 through May 15 and Oct. 1 through 31, the kamaaina discount is 50 percent. Must show valid ID.
» Call: 941-3151
» E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
» Web site: www.segwayofhawaii.com
» Notes: Wear comfortable, flat shoes and sunscreen. Bring your camera and a bottle of water. Segway of Hawaii also offers the Honolulu Scenic History & Culture Tour, the Waikiki Fireworks Tour and the Sunset on Waikiki Beach Tour. Call for details. Children 14 and older can participate in the "Introduction to the Segway: An Orientation Tour," which traverses the Hilton Hawaiian Village beach path. Ask about custom tours, corporate team-building programs, private events and purchasing, leasing or renting a Segway.
How Segway works
The Segway Human Transporter is the result of years of research and development led by New Hampshire inventor and entrepreneur Dean Kamen. Its revolutionary balancing technology monitors a rider's center of gravity 100 times a second. When the rider leans slightly forward, the Segway moves forward. When the rider leans slightly back, it moves backward.
Segway is derived from "segue," which means "to transition smoothly from one state to another."
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer and Society of American Travel Writers award winner.