By Richard MacPherson
Thirty years ago, I was starting my summer break from teaching in Hawaii. I liked to celebrate by exploring a new section of beach along Waikiki. There’s a small park just below Diamond Head that has stone stairs that lead to the ocean. That’s where I put my toes in the sand and my adventure began.
The shoreline to the right juts out into the surf forming a barrier above the reef. I righted my sea legs and decided to see how far out I could wade past the rocks to catch a glimpse of the other side. The water was up to my waist when I cleared the wall and saw with my own two eyes a deserted half moon shaped beach on the other side. Seduced, I ventured to the shore like that shipwrecked sailor Robinson Crusoe. It felt like an island within an island and I noticed that everywhere I stepped, the sand glistened with green, white, brown and turquoise speckles of sand polished glass. What a discovery! The beach was ringed with sea glass.
Now when you find such shiny objects in the surf for the first time, the sensation is like finding gold nuggets in a California stream. Yes, I had glass fever. These smooth shadowed objects are the perfect mixture of sand and color that have somehow been shanghaied back to their ancestral home in the ocean. Excitedly, I stuffed handfuls of glass into my swimsuit pockets and plunged back into the surf retracing my steps in the water hoping no one had seen my secret passage.
Once home, every sailor knows you must make a map. So in the tradition of Kidnapped and Treasure Island, I set out to craft one using my new found glass bounty. I unleashed my artist self and feverishly stuck colored glass on glass like a true pirate, concocting mystery and menace adding a few snakes to scare off any lily-livered scoundrels.
Now hooked, I was desperate to return to my secret beach to scavenge more loot. I went to where X marks the spot but where I had easily waded before, this time I was in a full stroke swim, and, shiver me trunks, the beach had disappeared. Water had completely engulfed Sea Glass Beach. Drifting back to the park, I steadied myself and realized that I would have to obey the rules that guide the rise and fall of the ocean or I’d be number seventeen on a dead man’s chest.
Carefully studying the tides, I found the most advantageous times to return. Just like Crusoe, my Friday low tide arrived and casually looking over my shoulder to make sure no one saw, I slipped behind the coral to my Mystery Beach. My backpack contained a small bucket and even an improvised strainer to separate the sand from the glass in the surf. I had become a miner prospecting on the world’s most famous stretch of sand and surf. Each time I returned, I would find my beach replenished as the rolling waves churned and polished these precious pieces and—yo, ho, ho—maybe even a broken bottle of rum.
Soon my home was filled with jars of green, brown, and white glass. They came in all shapes each unique and in my mind a missing piece of some festive or somber time when they had been bottles held for a passing moment or celebration in Hawaii. Although I recognized their fate was caused because someone had carelessly tossed them in the surf, the ocean was great enough to smooth their sharp edges and make them a gift to me.
What happened next still sends a chill, but one day I discovered that there was a land entrance to my fantasy island. Since the beach is tucked into an alcove, I noticed mauka (mountain side) a separate sea wall with stairs that led along another stretch of shore. Bravely I climbed the incline and inched along a narrow wall like a pirate walking the plank. Waves crashed against the wall sending salty spray into my face but I clung to the guardrail.
Finally I emerged in a small alleyway with flip flops strewn along the side as if poor souls had met their fate in Davey Jones Locker. Should I cry out? Then two surfers came down the path, kicked off their slippers and melted into the ocean. There indeed was another passage to Sea Glass Beach.
Alright lads and lasses, there’s still plenty of buried treasure to be found in Waikiki. So chart your course to the famous Tonggs surf spot, hang a left and be ready to walk the plank. Just be sure and check those tides. Oh, and you might want to bring your spyglass, mateys.
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine January/February 2021 issue.