Zipping Along The North Shore
A new multi-zipline operation traverses some of the most amazing scenery on the North Shore, and you’ll learn something about local farming too, at the Keana Farms Zipline Tour
To hear Aaron Campbell speak, one would think he is a community activist and not co-owner of an adventure tour company. Both, of course, are correct.
Campbell and his partner Al Gardner opened CLIMB Works Keana Farms zipline tour in July to augment the revenue generated by the property’s 11 farms. Further developments may include mountain bike tours and other adrenaline-pumping activities, but that’s beside the point. The Kahuku High School graduate wants to turn the 60-plus acre property into an economic and cultural driver of the community. As it is, the company is helping to support the Kahuku High green team and its athletic department, and has a foundation that provides scholarships to Kahuku students attending BYU-Hawaii.
“Most of what we are trying to do is to create opportunity for our area, for our kids and our area’s institutions and schools,” explains Campbell.
Ziplining and farming seem an odd pairing, but it works.
The three-hour tour (usually finishes in less time) takes customers through and over some of the most lush landscapes on the island. Along the way, customers will pass a number of small farms, where future guests might sample and purchase produce from the 1 million pounds of fresh products the farms produce each year. Such an opportunity would fit perfectly within the Keana Farms business model.
“I don’t think there is much awareness about what it takes to be a successful farmer,” says Campbell. “I want to bridge the disconnect between local people, tourists and the farmers.”
But first they have to get adventure-seekers to the farm. That shouldn’t be a problem. The ziplining itself is perhaps the best in the state.
From the 11 platforms, guests can rappel, ascend and fly at speeds up to 45 mph. It’s wicked fun.
The day begins by getting suited up in a complex harness-and-rope contraption capable of supporting 5,000 pounds. After a quick stop at the practice platform, where you will slide 400 feet from the 25-foot-tall tower, it’s a 2.5-mile ride past farms and through green-covered rainforest.
At various stops, the guides provide a running commentary on the farm, the area’s history and even the birth of the shaka. As is typical of this type of employment, the guides are hardly wallflowers.
Once there, you will climb the first platform and be greeted by stunning views of the North Shore. The ride is smooth and takes you to No. 2, a rappelling platform that acts as a slow rope elevator. It’s easy.
Stop No. 3 zips 150 feet above the ground, while No. 4 is all about speed. After such easy rides, it’s time to work.
No. 5 is the ascension platform. It’s not much of a climb, just 25 feet, but hoisting yourself hand-over-hand is tiring, though not difficult. Your reward follows with No. 6, a 1,500-foot ride, the longest of the tour, and culminates with fresh apple bananas.
No. 7 is taken backward and No. 8 upside down. The day finishes with a second rappel and typically photos with staff and other zipliners.
While the guides clearly have fun, theirs is a serious profession. Even though the cables are capable of holding 65,000 pounds, and the trolleys (the wheels that roll along the cable) hold 19,000 pounds, safety is key.
“The staff is critical,” says Campbell. “I’m old-school Hawaii, and I want people to feel aloha from the time you step in to when you leave. But most important is safety. There is no point where you are not harnessed to the platform.”
Guides begin as “senders,” who hook up clients and get them on their way.
“Receivers,” the more senior employees, act as catchers, who carefully bring in speeding zipliners to a soft and safe landing.
No receiver is more comforting than former UH line-backer Paipai Falemalu, who wears two work gloves, each bearing the mathematical Pi symbol. One just feels safer when the 245-pound former defender has a hold of the harness.
Falemalu has worked at the tour company since it opened, and in some ways has become the star of the show. He’s having fun while saving money for his upcoming wedding to Nana Napaa. After that, he is going to give pro football one last shot.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Paipai. He’s a great athlete, but he’s very humble, very approachable, very friendly and very knowledgeable,” says Campbell.
Keana Farms partnered with CLIMB Works, a Tennessee-based company that builds and operates zipline tours. CLIMB Works staff traveled to Kahuku, installed the platforms along the rugged terrain, trained the staff and is running the daily operations. Campbell says that, after speaking with a number of operators, CLIMB Works stood out for its safety record and common mission. CLIMB stands for Challenge. Learn. Inspire. Master. Believe.
“Their philosophy matched what we are trying to do here,” says Campbell.
After two-and-a-half years of permitting, nine months of construction and three months of training, the zipline tour opened for business. But no matter the thrills provided, the main business always will be farming and connecting people back to the aina.
“We want to combine the ‘aha’ of the zipline with the ‘aha’ of what it takes for a cucumber to grow. We hope that the entire experience encapsulates the idea that, No. 1, I can do more than I thought I could and, No. 2, I need to support local agriculture because it’s not easy.”
Keana Farms Oahu is located at 56-452 Kamehameha Hwy. Cost is $169, but there are kamaaina and military discounts. Call 200-7906 or go to climbworks.com/keana_farms.