Shave ice in hand, President Obama greeted well-wishers last week at Island Snow, near his vacation rental in Kailua, Hawaii.
By ASHLEY PARKER
Published: January 4, 2014
For Obama, a Real and Rare Vacation in Hawaii
By ASHLEY PARKER
KAILUA, Hawaii — After a two-week vacation on the windward side of Oahu, ensconced with his family in a private beachfront rental, President Obama prepared on Saturday to return to the chillier clime — both politically and weather-wise — of the nation’s capital.
In an end-of-year news conference before he left Washington, the president said he hoped that his annual tropical getaway would leave him refreshed and ready for the challenges of 2014. “I am sure,” he said, “that I will have even better ideas after a couple days of sleep and sun.”
He may have gotten his wish. As the people around here say, “Mahalo!” (Thank you!)
No News Is Good News
Air Force One was barely off the ground for the 10-hour flight when White House aides began making bold predictions: They expected no urgent news to break during the trip. And this year — for the first time since Mr. Obama took office and began making a regular Christmas sojourn to Hawaii, where he lived as a teenager — they were right.
Mr. Obama’s winter vacation has often been delayed, cut short or interrupted by the demands of the Oval Office — in 2009 by the fight over the health care law; in 2010 by the question of extending President George W. Bush’s tax cuts; and in 2011 by the extension of unemployment insurance and a reduction in payroll taxes. (Mr. Obama was also in Hawaii in 2009 when a terrorist tried to bring down a trans-Atlantic flight bound for Detroit with a bomb concealed in his underwear.)
Last year, Mr. Obama returned to Washington in the middle of his vacation to deal with a fiscal showdown before flying back to Hawaii.
By comparison, this trip was tranquil, if not drowsy. White House aides could be found pecking away at their email by the pool or floating in the ocean. Some members of the news corps, this reporter included, were even able to sneak away for a surfing lesson or two.
A Creature of Habit
Mr. Obama’s vacation schedule was nothing if not routine.
He went to the gym at Marine Corps Base Hawaii for a sunrise workout. He played golf eight out of 14 days. And he and the first lady, Michelle Obama, stepped out for dinner at a few of their favorite restaurants: Alan Wong’s, Morimoto Waikiki (twice!) and Nobu Waikiki.
Island Snow, the president’s favorite spot for shave ice — the island’s syrupy, brightly colored and refreshingly sweet version of the snow cone — even had a message board in its back room reminding its employees to “wear Island Snow T-shirts all week long while the president is here!!”
Last week, Mr. Obama finally joined his daughters, who had been making solo shave ice runs for most of the trip, at the shop, emerging with a cherry and lemon-lime confection in a paper cone.
The president wished the crowd a “great 2014” and flashed the Hawaiian “shaka” greeting — an extended thumb and little finger often associated with surf culture — before wandering outside to enjoy his treat.
“It’s really a warm feeling every time he comes around,” said Brockton Kodama, the director of operations at the family-owned shop.
The president seemed determined to keep his trip assiduously low key.
The family’s rental home was a 45-minute drive from the tourist-packed shores of Waikiki Beach. Mr. Obama’s public appearances were infrequent. He largely steered clear of the press, and even limited the time he spent mingling with islanders.
When the Obamas went on a snorkeling expedition at the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, they chose a day when the reef, normally heavily trafficked, was closed to the public. Similarly, when the president took his daughters to the Honolulu Zoo, they arrived shortly after closing time.
Mr. Obama did take a break from opening gifts on Christmas Day to greet 580 military troops, thanking them for their service and posing for pictures. “Mele Kalikimaka,” he said, using the Hawaiian greeting for “Merry Christmas.”
And, of course, he encountered some residents, as well as tourists, during his trips around Oahu. He attended a Diamond Head Classic basketball game between the University of Akron and Oregon State, where Mrs. Obama’s brother is the head coach; took his family on hikes; shook hands with fellow golfers at the pro shop; and waved at the polite crowds gathered outside the restaurants he visited.
But for the most part, Hawaiians seemed willing to leave Mr. Obama alone, and he seemed to want a truly quiet vacation.
“Personally, I feel like we’re trying to navigate away from where he’s going, because traffic is already terrible,” said Aileen Tanaka, 26, a medical student at the University of Hawaii. “If we ran into him, it would be exciting. But he’s been doing it for so many years, we’re kind of used to it.”
Explaining why the president’s presence in Hawaii did not create much of a paparazzi-friendly frenzy, Gov. Neil Abercrombie said: “The way we look at it is, celebrities aren’t doing us any favors. We’re doing them the favor.”
For Mr. Obama, that is probably part of the state’s appeal.
“One of the reasons that the president, I think, likes it here is that he can have a sense of normalcy, even within his security bubble,” said Senator Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii. “He can still feel, perhaps, like he did when he was a teenager, just for a few moments at a time.”