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Trade golf greens for ocean blue and sandy brown beaches to find fun on Oahu in Hawaii

Jason Scott DeeganBy Jason Scott Deegan,
Senior Staff Writer
Turtle Bay Resort - Hans Hedemann Surf School
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The Hans Hedemann Surf School at Turtle Bay Resort can teach people of any age to surf the legendary North Shore of Oahu. (Courtesy of Turtle Bay Resort)

KAHUKU, Hawaii -- Surfing seemed so easy on land.

The instructors of the Hans Hedemann Surf School of Oahu at Turtle Bay Resort gave me all the proper tools to ride my first wave. But practicing on a sandy beach in a secluded cove near the resort turned out to be way different than tackling the roaring surf. As I paddled out, I was more nervous about what was under the water than I was about standing up on my surf board. My imagination ran wild with visions of hungry sharks and a jagged reef.

My anxiety turned out to be unfounded. I only saw sea turtles and the blue beauty of the ocean. And once I solved the timing aspect of catching a wave, I was walking on water, conquering the famed North Shore.

The best parts of taking a golf vacation to a tropical paradise such as Oahu are the thrills available off the golf course. You can't get a world-class surfing lesson or experience a true Hawaiian luau in Michigan or Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Oahu is big enough and diverse enough to satisfy golfers on buddy trips or even those, like me, with children in tow. The golf at places such as Turtle Bay Resort and Ko Olina Golf Club and Ewa Beach Golf Club is great, but be sure to savor the island life away from the game as well.

Oahu 'musts'

Some tourist stops are too good to pass up, no matter how overexposed they are. Hiking Diamond Head and touring Pearl Harbor are the "musts" of Oahu. Hiking up the volcanic crater of Diamond Head takes a couple hours, but the reward is the panoramic view of the Honolulu skyline.

It's a fun, mostly sweat-free jaunt. A couple tips: Be sure to bring some water and do it early in the morning to beat the crowds and the midday heat.

My first visit to the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument at Pearl Harbor 15 years ago was an emotional one. This time I took in the new and improved exhibits through the eyes of my children, ages 8 and 10.

My son was especially fascinated with the history behind the surprise Japanese attack. It all hit home standing on the USS Arizona Memorial, seeing the oil that still seeps from the sunken vessel.

Water sports on Oahu

If braving the waves of the North Shore isn't your thing, there's plenty of great ways to explore the ocean. Laying on the beach soaking up the sun is certainly an option, but where's the sense of adventure?

My family's two-hour sail on the Makani catamaran in January led to the discovery of sea turtles and a humpback whale. This low-key sail is one of the 35 attractions available on the Go Oahu Card, a great guide to interesting attractions around the island. Other Go Card excursions we wanted to try but couldn't for lack of time included a paddle board and snorkel gear rental on Waikiki and a day snorkeling in Hanauma Bay, a sea turtle haven located on the windward side of the island.

Of course, swimming in the hotel pool or at the beach will keep most children happy for much of their vacation.

Family fun for children

Ko Olina, anchored by the JW Marriott Ihilani Ko Olina Resort & Spa and the new Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, has blossomed into a great family destination. Both fabulous hotels share a secluded ocean cove with a beach safe for swimming.

The Marriott's unique design features several salt-water pools stocked with sharks and stingrays just off the lobby. Children can feed the sea creatures during an interactive program called the Reef and Ray Adventure. The baby stingrays sucked dead fish right from my daughter's hand, a memory she won't soon forget.

Two other great kid friendly attractions are nearby. It's just a short walk to Paradise Cove for a traditional Hawaiian luau. All ages can paddle an outrigger canoe at sunset, throw wooden spears and learn the hula before the buffet and the show. Wet'n'Wild, an outdoor water park just 10 minutes away in Kapolei, is home to multiple water slides, a wave pool and surf simulator not found at the beach.

On the opposite side of the island sits Sea Life Park Hawaii, another Go Card attraction. This small, outdoor marine park sits in a stunning locale sandwiched on either side by the Koolau Mountains and the ocean.

Only the people willing to splurge get to swim with the dolphins, a pricey extra. The interactive exhibits are priceless educational experiences, however. My children fed sea turtles and got to "pet" sea urchins and starfish.

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Sailing on the Makani catamaran off WaikikiParadise Cove luau Diamond Head

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

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