For one Florida family, full ocean emersion has become a way of life. Michael, Marie and Keiley Gregory emit every bit the image of a family that dwells close to the water. Residing in Sanford, Fla., just outside of Orlando, the Gregory's own a beach condo on the coastline (45 minutes away) that sees action every weekend.
Daughter, Keiley, 13, is Florida's number 1 ranked youth surfer – she competes with a regularity that hovers between two and three competitions per month.
Her father, Mike, began surfing when he moved to Florida in high school. Since, he's globetrotted for a successful career in the hospitality-timeshare business. But recent developments – all for the positive – have allowed him to spend more time in the water, paddling with his daughter.
"We had Keileyon a board when she was 3, maybe 4 years old," he says, seated in the chic Sunrise Pool lounge at THE MODERN HONOLULU.
"It's funny, it's not something I ever thought I would do. Like, competitively," Keiley interjects. "I just didn't really think about it."
"Until she saw the Bethany Hamilton movie, Soul Surfer," her father interjects. "It was like a light went off. She just came to me one day and said: 'Dad, I want to surf!' I thought someone had put her up to it. But she really had a renewed passion."
"When I saw her speak at a local high school, right after the movie came out, it sealed the deal. I knew I wanted to get really good," Keiley finishes.
At the time, she was 9 years old. Since then, Mike shifted annual snowboarding vacations from Colorado or Park City to Thanksgivings in Rincon, Puerto Rico, so Keiley could practice surfing different waters, learn new breaks and techniques. Mom (Marie) is also no stranger to the water. She dives, paddles on occasion and can frequently be found navigating waves right next to her daughter.
Here in Honolulu, the Gregory's haven't settled with the calm, pre-winter surf. Day 1 included a full tour of the legendary North Shore spots they'd read about and seen in footage for years.
"We were in really good contact with THE MODERN HONOLULU's concierge team weeks before the trip. After a few calls, they actually linked us up with one of their employees, named Andrew; he offered to take us up north for the day. He was the perfect guide," Mike Gregory says.
Keiley was able to catch some waist-high waves in the places she'd only read about and seen in YouTube videos. She was able to absorb the power and magnificence of the churning energy in those hallowed waters, even though the winter swells haven't yet arrived.
"I also managed to get chased out of the water by a big, big shark," she says skeptically.
"We just spend so much time outdoors," Gregory adds. "Hawaii, even though it was so far from Florida, just fits our lifestyle so well. Everyone here is so involved with multiple sports and activities."
"And you just don't get any sort of surf vibe in the Caribbean," adds Keiley.
Following their surf tour, they drove the East of the island, and couldn't believe the scenery.
"Towering cliffs right up to the ocean...the highway hugging the shoreline...it was spectacular," Gregory adds. They also headed out to the isle's west side for a snorkel tour past the Waianae Mountain Range.
"I just can't believe that here –" Marie Gregory points over her shoulder, past the shimmering pool at THE MODERN HONOLULU and the boat harbor, to the perfectly cresting South Shore waters in view –"There is an unbelievable shopping within a five minutes' walk in either direction. I mean, I went out yesterday and couldn't believe the luxury shops, how busy they were, and the cool local finds I came back with."
For Keiley, the allure of surfing in the legendary waters of Hawaii isn't just the fulfillment of a dream; putting her on the radar on the top surf retailers – did we mention she's ranker #1 in her age group in Florida? – doesn't hurt. Challenging herself in more diverse waves will only up her game on the competitive circuit back home.
Before heading out to Kauai in the morning – where they'll stay in a friend's house and surf the legendary Hanalei Bay – Mike and Kailey will paddle out for a dawn patrol session in Waikiki one last time. They'll grab their boards from THE MODERN HONOLULU valet, walk across the harbor and past Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon, slipping into the waters that front this legendary mecca of surf.
"We'll be back. I can't wait to return," says Keiley.