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A fantastic way to explore Okinawa

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-05-14

American Mark Morehouse was leading us through the flat, green water. His sleek blue kayak cut through the calm water as the outline of small mountains encircled us. Tiny islands of rock and vegetation jutted out from the water, where birds nested and flew into the air. Several sand bars extended outwards from these small islands, making them the perfect place to take a break. Our kayaks glided without effort as the land began to encircle us. The color of the water turned a deep emerald green, matching the color of the jungle that surrounded both sides, forming a small ravine. Large ferns and the orange fruit of the "Adan" tree dotted the coast, while white butterflies danced from tree to tree. The scenery looked like a jungle river somewhere in Central America, but we were not on a river. In the distance was the blue water of the South China Sea. We were kayaking around the island of Yagaji, located on the northern side of Okinawa's Motobu Peninsula. The island itself is quiet, with a small population of farmers and fisherman. Pineapple fields cover the slopes of small hills, and old Okinawan houses still remain. The southern coast of the island is separated from the peninsula by a small expanse of ocean, which looks more like a lake. This marine area is known as the Haneji Inland Sea, but is actually part of the surrounding ocean. Breaking through the narrow gap, Morehouse was the first to enter the open sea. Strong winds greeted him as the calm water turned into a rough chop. We followed, paddling hard until we reached the more protected eastern part of the coastline. Morehouse waited at the bend, keeping his kayak steady with his paddle as he waited for the trailing kayak to get through the rough conditions. From there, we were helped by the wind at our backs. The kayak trip we were on was part of a club outing that Morehouse and other kayakers schedule monthly. The group is made up of both foreigners and Okinawans, who enjoy the outdoors and combine kayaking together with snorkeling, diving, and camping. Morehouse, who is the founder of the club, explained that he began kayaking because of the opportunity it provides for seeing the remote parts of Okinawa. "It also gets you to some very beautiful reefs far from shore for snorkeling and diving," he mentioned. Before coming to Okinawa, Morehouse grew up in California where he surfed the beaches of his hometown and started scuba diving in 1968. His list of jobs reads like a cook book: sea urchin harvester, black jack dealer, bar tender, helicopter crew chief and door gunner, oil rig worker, and aircraft mechanic to name a few. Working as a contractor for the United States Military since 1986, Morehouse has been around the world. He speaks Spanish, and he has a love for traveling. Morehouse and his kayak club are planning future trips to Ie Island, Kudaka Island, and to the Keramas this summer. "We try to do at least one monthly group outing, but we also do smaller trips during the week and on weekends," Morehouse said. Members sometimes paddle around the Sunabe sea wall during sunset and they are hoping to start paddling at night during full moons. "It's a lot of fun and anyone can join. We also snorkel and have plenty of barbecues. I am looking forward to exploring the rest of the island," he continued. Other activities on Morehouse's agenda are for his kayak club to get involved with more volunteer work concerning the environment. "I wish people would take better care of the reefs and the ocean," he said. "We would like to help promote public awareness about environmental issues." The kayak club meets every third Thursday of the month in Sunabe. Morehouse encourages anyone interested in the ocean and making friends to join. For more information, please call 936-8540.

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