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July 9, 2008

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Where's Sarah?                                          Working Out In Hawaii!


Getting in shape in Hawaii
A fitness vacation in Oahu is the perfect way to exercise and energize.
By Sarah Kozer

Los Angeles in general and the entertainment industry in particular do not tolerate fat. In fact, because of the great weather, you are expected to stay in bathing-suit shape year round! Being an east coast girl, I'm used to a reprieve during the cold sweater season ... and accordingly, I tend to put on a few pounds during the "winter" in LA ... old habits die hard, I suppose. I usually have several photo shoots booked in the spring and summer, and we all know the camera adds 10 pounds, so every spring, I jumpstart my fitness regime by going to Oahu with my trainer, Sonki Hong to participate in his annual Hawaii Fitness Vacation. Here's the deal: it kind of sucks when you're working hard to get back in shape, but both the beauty and the energy of Hawaii inspire you to get fit. Sonki has planned an itinerary with activities that are so much fun that you feel more like you're playing than working out. Don't get me wrong -- this trip can be tailored to challenge every fitness level; the beginner will go home inspired with a new sense of confidence while the seasoned pro will find new ways to test his or her skills and endurance. Some might shy away from a fitness vacation, but there's enough R&R to remind you that you are indeed on vacation, and it really does feel great to come home from a trip in better shape than when you left.

Given the general downgrading of customer service and the increase in expense of air travel these days, I don't have much to report other than the expected: What a pain in the ___. I always try to book my ticket to Hawaii using whichever mileage program I have the highest balance with at the time. FYI: Hawaii is actually the destination most frequented using mileage tickets. Usually, I end up flying American and I've never had any problems. Unfortunately, this time it was Delta, and I had nothing but problems from the beginning. First, I made an online "holding" reservation so that I could coordinate my flight with a friend. When I went back to actually book the ticket, they had no reservation in their system for me, and even though I had an email confirmation, they wouldn't honor it because the flight had a partner connection with Northwest (which is sadly merging with Delta); I had to book an entirely different flight with a red-eye return. I spent hours on the phone with their customer service agent and even a manager, but not only were they unhelpful, they were rude. My standard advice when dealing with unhelpful airline personnel on the phone is to hang up and keep trying until you get someone who is having a better day. They can help you if they want to. I've had agents do the impossible for me, but often they don't seem to care. Once, I called back a few times, trying to pin down a more agreeable agent, and had the same agent disguise his voice! (Though to be honest, by that point, I wouldn't have wanted to talk to me either ...) It can be so frustrating! They also tried to charge me to check a second bag on the way home even though that rule went into effect a month after I bought the ticket and while I was IN Hawaii.

I highly recommend renting a car in Honolulu, since there is so much to see on the other sides of Oahu. I also highly recommend renting one from a company other than Avis. The shuttle was slow, the cars were in bad shape and I realized when returning the car that I could have had an upgrade if I'd been standing in the correct line, which I had been misinformed of when I asked the Avis rep. Next time, I will get a cab or a shuttle from the airport and rent a car from any number of the mom-and-pop places along the sidewalks of Honolulu. They are cheap and no-hassle; just make sure you have secondary insurance to cover any unforeseen problems.

When I come to Honolulu, I usually stay at the Sheraton Moana Surfrider (2365 Kalakaua Ave., Tel: 808-500-8313). Built in 1901, this colonial-inspired resort has one of the best beach locations. The Surfrider has always had a bit of an identity crisis though, and half of the hotel was old-school colonial and half was new and modern. While planning my travel this year, I learned that the hotel had undergone renovations and had significantly raised its rates, which were already high. So I decided instead to try out Aqua Resort's new luxury designer boutique elite hotel, Hotel Renew (129 Paoakalani Ave., Tel: 808-687-7700). This nine-story, smoke-free property is conveniently located one-half block from Waikiki Beach and Kapioloni Park. The hotel started renovations last October, so they still have a couple of things to finish like new elevators and corridors. But the goal of the renovation was to create a small and intimate, service-oriented sanctuary to rest and rejuvenate amidst the hustle and bustle of busy Honolulu. Perfect for some pampering and recuperation after a hard workout!

The lobby and rooms are gorgeous, but it takes a day or so to really notice the finer points and subtleties of Hotel Renew that make guests feel so at ease. The glory of this hotel is in the details, ones you would usually only find at a much pricier hotel. The beds and linens are exquisite. They can even personalize the mattress for you if you have a firmness preference. The subtle lighting is set with an energy-efficient Leutron dimmer system, which can be controlled from the bed. Each room has a flat-screen TV and some rooms even have a projection option that allows you to recreate a movie theater in-room, or connect your laptop in case you want to see your MySpace page on the entire wall. These rooms are seriously teched-out, which makes Hotel Renew not only a great option for honeymooners and vacationers but also for those trying to keep up with business while in Waikiki.

Leonor Wong, the executive housekeeper, is a huge part of their attitude of elite customer service. Each day during the free continental breakfast, she milled around, meeting the guests, asking for any special requests, helping people with their day's plans and generally making sure everyone was in a great mood. She seemed to always be on hand to assist with anything and everything. She and the entire staff have a great attitude and make you feel as though you are the most important guest there. This hotel is a class act; I would definitely stay here again. At Hotel Renew, it's "all about YOU!" Rates start at $173 a night and go up to about $300 for the best room, and they often offer special packages and discounts offered on the website,

Sonki's fitness week always starts with a hike to the top of Diamond Head Crater. This is a great intro hike: hard enough to make you sweat, but not so hard that you want to go home. Virtually everyone in Honolulu does this climb; it's one of the most famous views in Oahu. The trail was built in 1908 as part of the U.S. Army's coastal defense system. The 560-foot climb consists of a lot of switchbacks, rough terrain and finishes with a tunnel and steep staircase that pretty much finish me off. By this time, I usually have to stop to one side to catch my breath and wonder why I bothered when I hear the encouragement from the people passing me on the way back down: You're almost there! It's totally worth it! The view is gorgeous! And then I remember: it REALLY is! Just a few more steps and I am rewarded with an amazing view of leeward Oahu. Remember to bring water, sunscreen and go early to avoid the heat and crowded parking lots. To get there, take Kalalaua down to Monsarrat for a mile to the entrance on the right (Monsarrat changes to Diamond Head Road.)

The key to any good fitness routine is rewarding yourself for your hard work. After a day of hiking and swimming, I meet the rest of my group at Duke's Canoe Club (2335 Kalakaua Ave., Tel: 808-922-2268) for dinner, drinks and some live music. Duke's is right on the beach in Waikiki and is an easy favorite for American fare. It's very casual, moderately priced for Hawaii ($20-$30) and has an awesome twilight, so go early enough to see it and hear the music. The hula pie is beyond description but the portion size is as big as your head so I usually share it or plan on doing a few extra sit-ups during my next morning's workout. Make reservations ahead as there is usually a pretty decent wait to get seated.

Fort Derussey Park is an open area behind Derussey Beach and the perfect place for morning calisthenics. Sonki leads a boot camp-style workout there three times during the week for those who really want to push hard (or work off the hula pie). Next on the day's agenda is the Manauwilli Falls hike. This is a relatively easy three-mile hike with a beautiful waterfall at the top. It's a good idea to wear a bathing suit under hiking shorts because by the time you get to the top, you're likely to be hot enough to want to jump in the refreshing water. Locals and daredevil tourists climb the falls and jump from the top. I've done this once and although exhilarating, the rocks are really slippery from the water and moss so be careful if you want to try it. This hike is in the rainforest section of the island and is often muddy so I pack a pair of water sandals that I don't mind trashing. Also, there are often a lot of insects so I usually rub on a coating of Skin-So-Soft or bug spray. The trailhead starts at the intersection of Maunawili Road and Kelewina Road in Kailua.

Sonki plans a lot of scrumptious dinners and evenings out dancing. Some of them are hosted as part of the cost of the trip and are all are optional. As I am actually trying to lose weight on this trip, I eat many of my meals in the room or on the beach: protein bars, fruit and healthy snacks. A couple of the dinners are too good to miss, though. Sansei is rated one of the top Japanese/Asian fusion restaurants in the country. Entrees run from $19- $28. Their sushi is comparatively priced and won't leave you disappointed. Located in the Waikiki Marriot (2552 Kalakaua Ave.), it's just a one-minute walk from Hotel Renew. Although I really enjoy their wine list, the drink of the night here is the sake bomb, or the Sonki Bomb as we have affectionately renamed it.

With a well-earned hangover the next morning, I was determined to sweat it out during my workout, though this hike was a new addition to Sonki's roster, so I wasn't sure what to expect. It ended up being my favorite hike. If you head up highway 72 towards Hanauma Bay (you'll see signs) and pass the easternmost part of the island, you'll come to Makapu'u, a steep summit with a lighthouse at the top overlooking the ocean. There's an abandoned road next to the 647-foot summit, which is a really popular morning hike with the locals. It didn't look so bad. We drove a little further up to a parking lot pullout above Makapu'u Beach. On the left is a beautiful overview of the beach below and on the right is the cliff face of the summit, towering straight up volcanic rock as far as the eye can see. I thought we were stopping to admire the view, but Sonki started climbing it! The rest of us looked at each other in dismay, a few turn around and opt for the paved road path on the other side, but the brave ones follow. I can't brag, though ... with my hangover and fear of heights, I was probably last or second to last the entire trek. But I felt like a superhero, nonetheless. You are literally climbing straight up the cliff with the wind so strong it is actually pushing your body against the rock as you climb. A head's turn to the left reminds you that it is a LONG drop down to the beautiful crashing waves and rock bed below. Talk about exhilarating!

After the hike, the group makes its way to Kailua Beach for an afternoon of swimming, kayaking and sunbathing. (Continue on highway 72 N to 61 N/E). This is a really postcard-perfect beach near a suburban-esque town. What I always remember about Kailua Beach is that it tends to be very windy here. I always bring a jacket and use tanning cream instead of oil or I come home coated in sand. The good part about the wind, though, is it makes perfect surf for boogie boarding, windsurfing and kayaking. Don't bother to snorkel here, though; you won't see much. After working up an appetite, there's a great little Mexican place nearby for lunch, called Los Garcia's. It's nothing fancy, but the food is fresh, the beers are cold and the prices aren't bad: $8-$20 for entrees. Los Garcia's, 14 Oneawa St. near Kailua Road, Tel: 808-261-0306.

If you take the Pali Highway (61) back towards Waikiki, you can stop at the Pali Lookout. The last major Hawaiian battle took place here. In his attempt to conquer all the islands, King Kamehameha cornered his enemy army here and many of them plummeted off the cliffs to avoid capture. The panoramic view is breathtaking, but it's freezing so wear something warm if you plan on stopping here.

We spent the later part of the afternoon and early evening back towards Makapu'u at Sandy Beach. The waves here are spectacular, and the bodysurfing is wildly popular with the locals. The shoreline is steep and the waves have an unbelievably powerful shore break. I would not recommend a tourist hitting these waters, but it sure is fun to spend some time watching the amazing skill and courage on the waves (OK, it's also fun to watch the ocean eat people up and spit them out. We saw some gut-wrenching wipeouts!). Keep your eyes open for hang gliders and paragliders sailing off the cliffs overhead at Makapu'u.

The weather in Hawaii is notoriously mercurial. You're bound to get at least one rainy overcast day. Usually this will only last for a few hours, but we didn't mind skipping the beach because we were sunburned from the day before and the jellyfish were out (Oahu has a bit of a jellyfish infestation once a month, nine or 10 days after a full moon ... weird). We decided to spend the day relaxing and browsing the shops and getting excited about the evening's big event: The Paradise Cove Luau. This is a Sonki Fitness tradition and one of the highlights of my week, even if it is the most "touristy" thing we do on the trip. The luau is included in the price of the trip but tickets can be purchased individually for $75-$100, and kids and seniors get a discount. For $10 more, you can catch a shuttle near your hotel and I definitely recommend this as the Luau is about an hour away, near Ko' Olina Resort at the southwest corner of the island. Also, drink coupons are included in the ticket price and you don't want to worry about having to drive after a couple mai tais. The grounds of the luau are seductively pretty. You feel like you are at a friend's party on a private beach. I could do without the pig-roasting ceremony, but the show is spectacular and the food isn't bad (not great, but traditional Hawaiian-style picnic food ... poi and all). The sunset on this side of the island isn't to be missed and the evening fills you with a romantic quintessential Hawaiian mood.

Alternatively, if you're on the North Shore of Oahu, be sure to check out one of the most popular Hawaii luaus at the Polynesian Cultural Center.

I've got to tell you: Koko Crater is my favorite part of the trip every year. Not necessarily because it's so amazing (which it is), but because it's the hardest hike I've ever done in my life. On the East Coast, Koko Crater is a cinder cone remaining from the last active volcano that occurred on Oahu approximately 10,000 years ago. This crater is the tallest tuff ring in Hawaii, measuring 1,207 feet in height, and this mountain-high stairmaster is actually an old abandoned railroad track that has approximately 1,200 steps to the top. It makes the stairs of Diamond Head look like a cakewalk. At one point, there's even a section like a bridge with boards missing ... very Indiana Jones-ish. From Waikiki, take H1 eastbound and you will see Koko Crater on the left side. If you have the guts to hike to the top, start behind the Hawaii Job Corps Training Center across from Hanauma Bay; just follow the road past the rifle range and park at the training center. It's a little tricky to find the trailhead but just keep heading towards the giant mountain in front of you and look for other exhausted hikers coming down.

I scheduled the rest of the vacation with another of Aqua's hotel properties so that I could compare for future reference. So after recovering from the hike, I packed up and moved to the Waikiki Wave in a busier section of town near the International Market Place. (2299 Kuhio Ave, Tel: 808-922-1262). Waikiki Wave is a comfortable hotel with large, newly decorated rooms, but it is more of a budget hotel and was a little hard to get used to after the luxury of Hotel Renew. In retrospect, it might have been better to start at Waikiki Wave the first half of the week and then upgrade to The Renew. That being said, Waikiki Wave is an excellent place to stay in Honolulu if you want to save some money and be closer to the party scene. The rooms are inexpensive and the staff seems willing and able to upgrade you to a junior suite if they have the availability. The suites are where it's at: the rooms are enormous and have private lanais (our room had two), microwaves and refrigerators. Honestly, you get way more than you pay for at this hotel, like WiFi and flat-screen TVs. Rates are from $105-$217+, but you can usually get a deal or package on the Aqua website.

When traveling to Oahu, definitely try to trek out to the North Shore at least once. If you are itching to leave the city and commercialism of Waikiki and Honolulu, hop in your car and get ready for the prettiest drive on the island! Seriously, it's like somehow all the developers and restaurant chains haven't realized there IS a North Shore. I think the best way to do a daytrip there is to make your way up the windward coast on Kamehameha Highway (Highway 83), then come home inland on the 99/ Highway 1 headed towards Waikiki. This way, you can see all the glorious beaches on the way there (and maybe check out the Polynesian Cultural Center) but have the option to stop at the Dole Plantation or Pearl Harbor on the way home. Generally, surfers consider the North Shore to be the seven miles of surf from Sunset Point to Hale'iwa town. Keep in mind, though, that this spot usually only produces the giant waves it's known for during the winter. The first time I went to the North Shore was during the spring and I kept thinking I must be in the wrong place because I didn't see any Hawaii 5-0 style waves!

Chances are, you'll end up stopping at pretty much whichever beach catches your fancy along the way. I usually get that "I gotta jump out of the car and get on THAT beach" feeling long before I reach my originally planned destination. If you must go on recommendation, however, I suggest (from north to south) Shark's Cove, Waimea Bay, and Turtle Beach. The world-renowned Banzai Pipeline is really only worth seeing in the winter surf season, as it's a rather unremarkable beach otherwise.

Not on Sonki's itinerary, Hanauma Bay is a great place to go in your free time for snorkeling. It's off Highway 72 near Koko Head (Tel: 808-396-4229, for more information: With shady palm trees and sparkling blue water, Hanauma Bay is a crescent-shaped sea life bonanza. It is literally overpopulated with fish that are so used to being ogled, they don't mind the snorkelers swimming right up to them. With snorkeling generally being a hit or miss activity, Hanauma Bay is a sure thing. It's very user-friendly; there are showers, a concession stand, gear rental and lockers all available for a nominal fee. It costs $1 per car and $5 per person to get in. Newcomers have to watch a nine-minute conservation video that's actually kind of interesting. If you don't want to watch it again on return trips, sign your name on the register. The bay is open from 6am to 6 pm, closed Tuesdays.

After snorkeling (or hiking nearby Koko Crater), the closest restaurants are in Hawai'i Kai. My favorite is the Kona Brewpub in Koko Marina, which I discovered on this trip. We went back twice. I miss it. The Kona Brewing Company specializes in fresh, local island brews and handspun pizzas. They also have a wonderful selection of appetizers, local organic salads, fresh fish and sandwiches (priced from $6-$14). Entrees range from traditional to eclectic and are moderately priced from $16-$20, though I never had one as I was too busy with the beer and pizza. There really is something on the menu for every taste and if you can score a table outside, you can also enjoy the Koko Marina waterfront along with the view of the Ko'olau Mountain range. Hiking and snorkeling work up an appetite and burn calories, so splurging on a meal here is well earned and appreciated! The kitchen is open till 9pm on weekdays and stays open till 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays. The bar inside features happy hour specials and live music on select nights and generally stays open a bit longer. Kona Brewpub, 7192 Kalaniana'ole Highway, Tel: 808-394-5662.

Every time I vacation to Hawaii, I find myself wondering, Why don't I live here? or at least, Why didn't I plan a longer stay? Oahu seems to get overlooked by a lot of Hawaii-bound tourists, but I really love it and everything it has to offer. There's the ease and convenience of the commercialized Waikiki, the beauty and serenity of the North Shore and enough activities to keep everyone in your party content. Sonki's fitness vacation has become an annual tradition for me and there are few other vacations that I look forward to as much. Even for a veteran traveler like myself, it's just nice to have someone else handling all the details while also motivating you to be active. The group dynamic makes it even more fun and I've brought various friends on this trip with me and not one has been disappointed. It feels great to come home not only with a killer tan, but also a little less fat and more muscle tone than you left with. Sonki sometimes takes group trips to Maui, Tahiti and Costa Rica, so stay tuned for the next one! Aloha!

The youngest of two children, Sarah Ann Kozer grew up in Hunker, Pennsylvania, a small town of 340 residents near Pittsburgh. Raised in a traditional and loving family, her upbringing lead Sarah to a life of curiosity, intellect and adventure. After High School, Sarah attended George Mason University where she graduated with degrees in Communications/Broadcast Journalism, Philosophy and Women’s Studies. Her thirst for knowledge and discovery has also taken her abroad, having studied and lived in Spain, sojourning to the British West Indies and back-packing through Morocco. After graduating college, Sarah’s aspiration to become a lawyer lead her to Los Angeles where she pursued law at prestigious Southwestern University. Though after a year of law school, she realized that this career path really did not fulfill her desires in life and she quickly turned to look for more.

Sarah went on to explore several different opportunities including modeling, acting, working at an advertising agency and a mortgage company while attaining her Real Estate license. All of this came to a halt when Sarah was invited to try out for what is now known as FOX’s TV phenomenon, “Joe Millionaire”. Going on to participate for adventures’ sake, Sarah took a plunge into something that would change her life forever, bringing both notoriety, new challenges and opportunities.

Prior to “Joe Millionaire”, Kozer had begun working on several side projects including work on a cookbook and a novel which are now due for release later this year. Along with her current projects, Sarah has hosted for various television entertainment news programs including her notable segments for the popular TV show Extra! She has also writen for USWeekly Magazine, allowing her to utilize her degree and expand her career in the fields of print and broadcast journalism.

Sarah crossed the pond recently to appear in a principal role on the United Kingdom’s television series, “Back To Reality”, which garnered much international media attention.

Also on the horizon are prospects for her own clothing line, as well as several proposed television and feature film roles.

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All information presented here is accurate at the time of publication but prices, dates and other details are all subject to change. Please confirm all information before making any travel arrangements.

Pics From The Trip


Sonki Hawaii Fitness Group 2008


Me and my trainer


Lobby of Hotel Renew


Serenity in Hotel Renew


Hiking Daimond Head


The view from the top


Group shot at Diamond Head


Morning workout


Maauwilli Falls


Rainforest Waterfall




Best fusion food in Hawaii


Magnum PI Lighthouse


The View


Mediation on the Mountain


Kailua Beach


From Here to Eternity Beach


Paradise Cove Luau


Sunset at Paradise Cove


The Daunting Koko Crater


Koko Crater Midway


The Wave Breakfast


The Beach in Waikiki


Huge rooms at the Wave


North Shore


Cliff diving at Waimea Bay


Turtles at North Shore


Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve


Sunset near the airport


Kona Brewing Company


Sarah Kozer In Hawaii


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