Every morning Reiko Sekine is up before dawn to watch the sunrise from behind Hualalai Volcano. With her googles in one hand and an underwater camera in the other, she heads to her favorite beach.
An hour later, Sekine finds herself ½-mile out at sea feeling in awe as she anxiously waits for the right moment. Then, quickly snapping a picture of a glorious illumination — an early morning glow of emerging sunrays upon a passing dolphin pod with Hualalai as the backdrop — and all while treading water to keep afloat. The photo appears in West Hawaii Today the following week.
For the last five years, Sekine’s Island Life photos from the sea has stirred quite the following from readers of West Hawaii Today. From passing dolphins pods, to curious Hawaiian green sea turtles, to a plethora of vibrant sea life along Kona’s pristine coastline, Sekine’s brilliant underwater photography captures it all.
“The ocean is different every time and even if I go to the same place, I see different sea animals,” said the 64-year old Kailua-Kona resident. “In the water I feel free, so comfortable, and I can be myself. And, I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to watch these beautiful creatures right before my eyes.”
Having such a passion for all sea life and her ease with being in the ocean on a daily basis, one would think Sekine was a natural born swimmer or perhaps, a mermaid.
“Not so,” Sekine laughed. “When I was young, I was deeply afraid of the ocean. One day the whole family went to the beach and I remember crying because I didn’t like the beach, I didn’t like the sand, and I didn’t want to go into the water. I kept crying because I couldn’t swim and I was afraid.”
Born in Fukuoka, Japan, Sekine’s family moved three times while she was growing up. Her family members also couldn’t swim.
“I didn’t like swimming until I moved from Fukuoka to Tokyo at age 10,” Sekine said. “Most people in Fukuoka didn’t know how to swim or were really bad swimmers so of course, no one could teach me. While in Tokyo, we had to take swimming as part of PE class and be able to swim 25 meters. I remember being the worst swimmer because everyone in Tokyo knew how to swim. Eventually, I learned the basics and enough to swim 25 meters.
“But then, we moved to Osaka, Japan, and I became the best swimmer in the class. Not because I was a good swimmer, but because no one there knew how to swim! So, even if I could barely make 25 meters, when compared to everyone else, I could honestly say I was the best swimmer and this happened with no practice and no effort.”
In junior high, Sekine joined a swim club and a true passion for swimming evolved. Her dislike turned into determination and a desire toward becoming a confident and skilled swimmer. By the time she attended college in Nagoya, Sekine became a certified swim coach and offered pool lessons to school aged children between five and 13 years of age.
From there, Sekine moved to Australia for a year and studied scuba diving along the Great Barrier Reef and Bondi Beach. Sekine said she swam almost every day and that’s when she felt passionate about scuba diving along with a deep respect for the ocean. She also began to dabble in underwater photography.
At age 41, Sekine moved to Kailua-Kona with her husband in 1997.
“My husband secured a job with Kealakehe Elementary as a special education teacher for the visually impaired,” she said. “His job had him traveling to different schools and he was very busy. I also learned how to drive for the first time. However, four years later he passed away from a heart attack while playing basketball at the Kailua gym.”
Feeling heartbroken, Sekine took a lifeguard training course with the legendary Hall of Fame swim coach, Steve Borowski, and also joined his popular Kona Aquatics Masters swim team in 2003.
Sekine’s aquatic endeavors continued as she competed in dozens of swim races across the island. She routinely claimed age-group podium spots at competitive races like the King’s Swim, Hapuna Rough Water Swim, Kukio Blue Water Swim, and the Cinco de Mayo Splash. She also returned to her love for underwater photography.
“I’ve been taking very bad photos for a long time,” Sekine laughed. “So, I have a long career of taking bad photos. But now, with my waterproof Nikon Coolpix, I’m able to take some descent photos. It’s an all-weather camera and allows me to go 30 meters under water.”
Now, feeling the impact of the world struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic, Sekine turns to the ocean for daily meditation and an escape into the world beneath.
“The ocean is very healing – it can heal you on the inside as well as the outside. My favorite photos are of passing dolphin pods, the honu, and the flying gurnard. You can find me at my favorite swim spots — Kaiakeakua Beach, Kahaluu Beach, and Kua Bay.”
Reiko Sekine’s brilliant underwater photography can be viewed in the Community section of West Hawaii Today. Her photos consistently appear at least once per week.