Over the Rainbow Bridge | Hawaiian Airlines

Hana Hou logo

Stories from Hawaiian Airlines
About    Articles    Episodes   

Over the Rainbow Bridge

Taking the leap in Haleiwa.

young man in red swim trunks walking away down a path next to wall outside.

young men in back of grey pick-up truck with bridge in the background. "We jump into water-from bridges and rocks, from piers and pylons, from sea walls and waterfalls. We jump for the cooling. We jump for the fun. We jump for the liberation of the fall," wrote Ui and Steve Goldsberry in their 1997 book Sunday in Hawaii, which features a Haleiwa boy named Levi leaping off the Anahulu Stream Bridge. "It's the place we would gather after school or when the surf was small. We would swim up and down the river and see who could make the biggest bombs," Levi recalls today. 

The historic landmark, dubbed the "Rainbow Bridge" by surfers in the 1950s, recently turned one hundred years old, and the rite of passage persists (never mind the "no jumping" signs and the uninviting brown water beneath). Though rough-stained concrete, noisy cars, a foul stench and litter underfoot-the spot remains a local kid's playground of choice. Photographer Ryan Spencer documents the cannonballs, bellyflops, flips and gainers that go on from dawn to dusk, and until daylight disappears, there's always time for one more.

boy star jumps off bridge while friends watch on a warm day.

three young men in swim trunks and a tank top stand against the bridge in the sun. In July 1915, a twenty-two-ton tractor attempted to cross the original Anahulu Bridge on Oahu's North Shore, designed to carry horse-drawn carriages, and crashed through its wooden deck. Traffic was blocked for days. Planners recognized the need for a sturdier span, so they paid contractor George Marshall $71,000 to build a wider bridge of steel-reinforced concrete. Since 1921, the bridge has weathered gale-force winds, giant surf, tsunamis, floods, vehicle collisions and a century of pre-teen antics. The launch point is only about ten feet above the water, so "the only way to touch bottom," says one experienced sixth grader, "is if you pencil."

overhead view of person jumping into water with a big splash from the edge of the bridge.


The source of Anahulu Stream is Waipuolo, "the bubbling spring." This was also the name given to the thatch home of the Rev. John Emerson, who founded the nearby Waialua Church (now the Liliuokalani Protestant Church-Queen Liliuokalani also kept a home on the Anahulu) in 1832. "On warm days when we panted for a swim, we went up the river to a secluded spot," writes Emerson's son, Rev. Oliver Emerson, in Pioneer Days in Hawaii. "On one side where the bank was high we made running leaps into the water, resting afterwards in Huki's sugar-cane patch and chewing the sweet stalks while we talked."

one person stands leaning against edge of bridge while another boy jumps off and his friend uses his phone to capture the moment.

So alluring was this water that it was written into a verse of "Haleiwa Song," composed for the girls' school established in 1865 that became the namesake for Haleiwa town: "I love Anahulu/The peaceful stream/With its chilling water/Tingling the skin."


two young, tan boys have fun playing with another kid's hair by the bridge.


After Anahulu Bridge was built in 1921, it was the picturesque site of Island swim meets. Sampans dotted the river and greenery spilled over its banks. The water teemed with opae (shrimp), oopu (gobies), crabs, fish. For the first half of the twentieth century, trains brought Honolulu residents to the Hotel Haleiwa for staycations on the Anahulu.

When Haleiwa Harbor was constructed in 1966, Anahulu's natural flow was thwarted, and today the water is polluted. In an oral history for the University of Hawaii's North Shore Field School, Judy Miram, who was born on the Anahulu in 1942, recalled what it was like "when you could still eat stuff out of the river." Besides catching crustaceans and eating them raw, she remembers plucking long strands of limu eleele (algae)-"all over the place! Pick them up, put them on your head, you become a mermaid!" Frolicking in the clear water was a favorite pastime. Her beloved Aunt Rosie, she said, taught all the kids how to swim by throwing them off the bridge. "Swim!" she would yell. "The train coming."

boys hanging out on a sunny day on the bridge while one boy cannonball jumps off.


boy in swim trunks sits with feet on edge of bridge excited to jump. With development came more cars and a controversial proposal to replace the Rainbow Bridge. In 1970 Gerald Allison, then-president of the Hawaii chapter of the American Institute of Architects, argued for a bypass road instead. "The bridge is outdated, outmoded and long past its prime years, except for one important feature-character. The old bridge has character, from the top of its rust arches to the bottom of the massive foundation," he said. That character lives on, linking the present to a time long past. So long as the bridge stands, the kids will jump-boldly, deliberately, rebelliously-into the chilly waters of the Anahulu.


Story By Catharine Lo Griffin

Photos By Ryan Spencer

V26 №3 April - May 2023