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Hawaiian Fire

A band of off-duty firemen give the best beginner surfing lessons on the island of Oahu



OK Grace. OK Steve.

Get ready dudes.

Now, paddle, paddle, paddle.

Now, stand up. Ride!

It's a chorus my 11-year-old daughter and I hear repeatedly from Hawaiian Fire surfing instructor Sean Iida during our 90-minute lesson in the easy waves at Kalaeloa Beach, just west of Honolulu, on the island of Oahu.

And, as promised, Iida's careful wave selection, chant, push and our ability to follow simple directions means, all of a sudden, we've caught the perfect daddy-daughter wave.

Grace and I are riding a metre-high rush of Pacific side-by-side on our surfboards, smiling like we're at the world championships.

"For beginners to get up on their first lesson it's key to have the instructor right in the water with you," says Iida.

"We take three of the four parts of surfing out of the equation for you. We hold onto your board and pick the right wave for you, give you a push, tell you when to paddle and when to stand up. All you have to do is actually stand up and balance on the board for a while."

The process works like a charm.

All eight tourists in our group get up, albeit with awkward stances, for short rides with comedic wipeouts.

We've all chosen Hawaiian Fire Surf School because it's become famous on Oahu as the best for beginners.

There's also the added cachet that it's run by off-duty firemen from the Honolulu Department.

"Ya, we've become quite the brand," admits Iida.

"Firemen can pretty much do anything."

There's also a Hawaiian Fire store in nearby Ko Olina selling all the logoed gear and accessories.

The company was started in 2000 by two firemen friends, Kevin Miller and John Prejil, after they responded to one too many emergency calls for rookie surfers who weren't getting proper instruction.

The founders are still firefighters and surf instructors, and have recruited 25 others from the department to help out.

My daughter and I are picked up at Disney's Aulani Resort, where we are staying, by the "other" Sean fireman, Sean Kelly, in a white van with massive black signage: HawaiianFire.com.

"We're not subtle," he says.

"You can't miss us in this van."

By the way, Kelly pads around and drives in his bare feet, something very Hawaiian for a transplanted Washingtonian to do.

In 15 minutes we're at the beach, outfitted with the requisite Hawaiian Fire surf shirts, picking out our boards, hearing the safety blurb and getting dry land instruction before hitting the water.

With a two-to-one student-instructor ratio and the aforementioned process, surfing success is more or less guaranteed.

Plus, it's just so quintessentially Hawaiian to be surfing.

To check out the surfers who can handle the 10-metre waves, a road trip to the fabled North Shore is in order.

They indeed are impressive, riding crashing surf in a symphony of blue water, white foam and incredible agility on a piece of foam and fibreglass.

A jaunt to the North Shore isn't complete without stopping at Giovanni's Shrimp Truck for the island's signature garlic scampi and rice; followed by shaved ice at Matsumoto's, voted best on Oahu; and then shopping for everything pineapple at the Dole Plantation.

The base for our Oahu adventures is Aulani, Disney's first foray into Hawaii with a stand-alone resort.

The two-and-a-half-year old, 1,100-room complex in Ko Olina, just west of Honolulu, has already undergone an expansion, adding an infinity pool, adults-only pool, new children's areas and restaurants.

Disney has done a phenomenal job of translating the company's quality and service into a Hawaiian setting.

"Aulani is about Hawaii first and Disney second," says cultural greeter Manako Tanaka.

Mickey and Minnie do make appearances at the character breakfasts and Starlit Hui, otherwise Aulani is a five-star resort with Oahu-inspired rooms and suites, expansive pools, beach, kids' clubs, spa, storytelling and dining, all with nods to its Hawaiian location.

Check out DisneyAulani.com, WestJet.com/Vacations and HawaiianFire.com.