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Obama's Hawaiian Getaway

Heidi Chang

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Obama on Kailua Beach
(Mike Burley, The Honolulu Star-Bulletin)
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Barack Obama Bodysurfing

In the midst of non-stop campaigning, presidential candidates need a place to rest and recharge. John McCain has his family's large cabin outside Sedona, Arizona. Barack Obama's campaign says the candidate's family doesn't own a second home - but for them, the Hawaiian island of Oahu serves that function. Obama was born on the island and spent much of his youth there. He says it's important for him to check in and rejuvenate there. Only now, he does it with an entourage of media, something that certainly wouldn't change if he became president.


Barack Obama usually visits his family in Hawaii each Christmas. But he didn't make it back this past holiday season because of the long primary campaign. Instead, Obama took a weeklong break over the summer, just before the Democratic convention. And he had his trip all planned out.

"I'm going to go get a plate lunch, I'm going to go get some shave ice. I'm going to go bodysurfing at an undisclosed location," he laughed at a rally after he arrived.

First, Obama visited his grandmother in Honolulu. He calls her "tutu," the Hawaiian word for grandma. His sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, also lives on Oahu, the island of his birth.

"This is a place where Barack can be very much himself, he doesn't have to be 'on,'" she says. "He can recline into a place that is more serene and more reflective. And I think he enjoys that. But I also think that beyond that, it's sort of vital that he have the space to rest in Hawaii, to rest mentally and spirituality, and in all ways."

But now, when the Obamas come here to relax, the media follow them everywhere. The family rented a home on Kailua Beach, on the other side of the island. Mike Burley is a photographer for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. He was put on "Obama watch" the first day of the senator's vacation. He snapped a front-page photo of Obama.

"He had this great big smile on his face," Burley recalls. "You know, I could imagine after a long primary season, a long brutal season at that, just being able to finally relax and feel the sand between your toes, and feel the cool breeze coming off the Kailua Beach, it would make me smile, too. He looked like he was very relieved and just had a huge weight taken off his shoulders."

Burley says he tried not to be too intrusive. He kept at a distance and used a really long lens. He was lucky to be the only photographer around that morning. Later that week, when Obama went bodysurfing on another part of the island, the media was out in full force.

"Well, I definitely didn't think when I showed up for work, I'd be jumping in the water with Barack Obama," says Peter Erwin, a lifeguard at Sandy Beach. The popular bodysurfing spot is open to the public, as are all beaches in Hawaii.

But that day in August, some Secret Service agents approached Erwin, and he ended up bodysurfing with them and Obama.

"I'd say he's a pretty good bodysurfer. I've actually seen a lot more people that have come down here regularly that don't look as good as him in the water for sure," Erwin says.

That praise means a lot. It's a challenge to bodysurf at Sandy Beach if you don't know what you're doing. Erwin has been bodysurfing here since he was a kid.

"We joke around with the lifeguards and say we all have gills behind our ears. You know, you get out of the water too long, your gills start to dry out. So you want to get back in the water and get them wet again," he says.

I ask why he thinks Barack Obama loves to bodysurf.

"I think his gills were drying out," Erwin laughs. "He wanted to get back in the water."

And within hours, the whole world was watching Erwin and Obama catch the waves on YouTube.


  • Comment | Refresh

  • By Lukas D. DD

    From Arizona, CA, 03/02/2009

    President-elect Barack Obama offered the most detailed statement yet of his economic recovery plan, sketching out broad-based spending proposals and tax incentives aimed at reviving an economy mired in recession. The main goal of his plan: to create 3 million new jobs. Most would come from the private sector. I don’t know if it will have any effect on payday loans, but details about President-elect Barack Obama’s stimulus plan are starting to come out. He calls it the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.” He says he is going to provide assistance for middle and low-income Americans, who are the ones who typically take out payday loans, in the form of tax cuts and invest in infrastructure such as bridges, roads and water mains. He also plans to help states with faltering revenues. Maybe with a little luck his plan will turn the economy around, and Americans will only need Installment Loans for emergencies, not just to make ends meet.

    By joe cohen

    From Fort Lauderdale, FL, 10/10/2008

    Does anyone know Obama's Hawaiian name? Most Kamaaina's seem to have them. thx

    By Bessie Outman

    From Florissant, MO, 09/24/2008

    Raised on the Florida East Coast, we did this "body surfing"--there were no surf boards at that time, and we just used our bodies. What fun! One more reason I support him.

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