Senator leaves impressed onlookers in his wake
» Celebrating, honoring the past
At Hanauma Bay, Sandy Beach and the USS Arizona Memorial -- some of Hawaii's most popular attractions, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama became a tourist draw in his own right yesterday.
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Hanauma Bay beachgoers and staff members were surprised to see Obama swimming and relaxing under the trees with his family and friends.
"He's genuine. You can feel his aloha," said 41-year-old Sama Evaimalo, a Hanauma Bay tram dispatcher. "I never voted in my life, and I said I was going to vote if it was a woman or a black man that was running."
Soaking up the sun with a group of people -- including his daughters Malia and Sasha -- the senator refused preferential treatment, said Sarah Naone, who works at the Snorkfin Rental kiosk. He stood in line waiting to rent 14 sets of snorkeling equipment -- including masks, snorkels and fins. Each set cost $9.
"They were very polite. They insisted on paying." Naone added, "We tried to give it to them for free."
The press, including a traveling media pool, was barred from the beach while the senator was there, but curious onlookers snapped pictures of him up close. Ten-year-old Cindy Marina sought out a different keepsake.
"He was really nice. He gave me his autograph," said the California visitor, who asked Obama to sign a park brochure. "I'm going to keep it, maybe frame it."
Others opted to give Obama his privacy, watching from afar.
"We left them alone. It's not cool to walk up to him when he's on vacation," said Ron Hamamura, originally from Hawaii but visiting from Orange County, Calif. "He seems to be very family-oriented."
At Sandy Beach, Obama shed his gray T-shirt and black rubber slippers and joined bodysurfers in the 1- to 3-foot shorebreak.
"He was doing great," said lifeguard Peter Erwin, who also accompanied Obama in the water. "He got wiped out a few times just like everyone does down here. He jumped right up and went, 'Oh, that was a good one,' and went back out and caught some more."
"It is kind of a cool thing to see someone who is a presidential candidate out bodysurfing, you know, getting some good waves," said Erwin.
Around 2 p.m. at the Arizona Memorial, the sound of people chanting, "Obama, Obama," greeted John Bertrand, a fourth-grade teacher from Ontario, Canada, when he got off a city bus.
Armed with a video camera, Bertrand waited on the harbor side of the Visitor Center for Obama's party to return from the memorial near Ford Island.
"If he comes in as president, later on I'll be able to show that to my students that I saw him in person," said Bertrand. "These are things down the road it's kind of cool to have."
On the memorial, which straddles the sunken battleship, Jen Norero and a friend did not know they were standing next to the presidential hopeful. They wanted to hear the details a park ranger was sharing.
"Why is this guy getting all this good information?" she recalled wondering.
Then her friend pointed out the Illinois senator.
"He smiled," she said, adding that he seemed nice.
She heard Obama ask the ranger if the memorial was stable, and the ranger said it was, she said.
Back at the visitor center, he took a photo with the six sailors who manned the ferry that took his group to the memorial.
A crowd gathered with people taking pictures and video, surrounding Obama as he passed through.
Netherlands residents Marianna van Hees and her husband, Kees, were visiting the memorial on the last day of their monthlong Hawaii vacation when they ran into a crowd following Obama.
"We can tell it at home," her husband said. "We have probably seen the next president."
Marianna said, "It's the last day, a special day."
Thor Nielsen was on the memorial at the same time as Obama.
"Everybody seemed to be where he was," he said.
A Republican from Washington state, he said it was interesting to see the senator in person, but he would not be voting for him.
"It's nice to see him with family," he said. "Spending time with family is a good thing."
But not everyone was glowing after meeting Obama.
Carol Kauliakamoa, 63, a Kaneohe resident, shook Obama's hand as he passed through a convenience store.
"It's just another customer," said the cashier. "A little more famous than others, but he's just another customer."