Underneath a churning mountain of whitewater, he realized the intensity of the situation. Hot pains flashed through his chest a desperate need to breathe. The benign tropical water went black, leaving him blind to the razor sharp coral rushing up to meet him. Pinned violently to the bottom, he felt the warm rush of blood to his back. He pushed against the reef and stroked for the surface. In the distance, he heard the rumblings of the next set wave, then he lost consciousness…
It started out just like any other glorious day in Hawaii. The sun crept lazily over Koko Head crater, shedding a neon fire orange luster over Moanalua Bay. The warm trade winds lulled mighty palm trees, stirring deep green waves through the lush vegetation that climbed Hawaii Kai’s bordering cliffs. A strong breeze wandered in from offshore, collecting quietly in the confines of Hanauma Bay, resting there, then crept up a small neighboring hill and descended upon the homes that lined the base of Oahu’s southernmost crater.
He was asleep when the breeze finally found its way through the open windows located at the back of the house. The breeze circulated around the room, teasing gently at the lampshade in the corner, ruffling the shirts that lined the inside of the closet, content to focus its final breath on the sheets that spilled over and off of the bed.
Awakened by the visitor, he sat up in bed, rubbing lazily at his eyes. The air seemed alive with a humid floral and salt aurora. He took it all in deeply through his nose and exhaled mightily. He couldn’t help but fall victim to the notion that today was going to be a day of significance. The morning did seem to have a certain electricity to it. He swung his legs off of the bed and the cool wooden floor rushed up to meet his feet. Moving gingerly around the dirty clothes scattered about his room he made his way out into the hall. The floor, in desperate need of re-finishing, creaked underfoot as he walked past a collection of pictures hanging on the wall. Countless faces and scenes that seemed distant to him, loved ones and places that seemed trivial for this morning of great destiny. He dismissed the notion and moved out into the living room.
The house was simplistic in layout. Two bedrooms sat in the rear, a long hallway with two additional rooms branching off to the left and right spilled out into an oversized living room. A countertop constructed of the finest woods and bordered by deep blue tile separated the kitchen from the living room. Light crept in from a skylight overhead and shone a metallic brilliance, bouncing off of hanging pots and utensils. A dinner table sat in the lanai (an addition made to the house some years ago when it was decided the house just wasn’t big enough with three teenage boys running rampant) along with the lady of the house’s school provisions.
He pulled a bowl from the shelf and fixed himself cereal. The first one up meant assuming the duty of retrieving the newspaper, so he walked to the screen door, unlatched it, and sped down the set of stairs at the entrance to the house. The sun, more a golden tan now than neon orange, squinted his eyes as he collected the paper and hurried back into the house.
Once settled, and thankful that his breakfast hadn’t turned to mush like most cereals left unattended, he open up the paper to the sports section. He scanned through articles of major league steroid abuse and a piece on the start of the new season for the UH rainbows till he stopped on a small cluster of numbers on the bottom right of the paper.
North Shore: 2-3ft
West Shore: 2-3ft
South Shore: 10-12ft
East Shore: 1-2ft
He dropped his spoon to the floor.
He rubbed his eyes and refocused on the page, making sure his vision hadn’t fooled him.
South Shore: 10-12ft
Though the morning was cool, sweat gathered at the base of his forehead and he reached up to brush the droplets aside with the side of his hand. His heart rate quickened and he suddenly felt awash with dizziness. He steadied himself against the counter. He was nauseas with anticipation.
Had the predicted swell actually arrived?
There was only one way to find out. He moved quickly down the hall, his board shorts swishing a nylon ballet as he walked. He threw a shirt on and grabbed for his slippers. Out the front door and up the street, past houses that looked dissimilar to his own, around the corner, past the park that served as a community gathering place, and up the hillside that was, essentially, the base of the crater, he climbed. At the summit, his eyes wandered across the tremendous sky-blue bay, to Diamond Head, then stopped at Honolulu, a mere fifteen minutes away.
Massive lines of swell ran miles out to sea. Like gigantic nautical warriors attempting to take over the island, they marched in sets of twenty to twenty-five waves per platoon. They heaved mightily upon the reefs that lined the coast, exploding thirty feet into the air, snarling beasts of punishment.
His knees almost gave. He steadied himself and gazed once more to the ocean. Every point and reef from the marina to the city lit up with swell. Miles away at Diamond Head, where the brunt of the swell focused, he could make out individual waves. Held up until the last moment by the strong trades, these waves threw outward into perfectly cylindrical barrels, massive crystal green cathedrals that peeled hundreds of yards into the distance.
The wind carried the scent of salt like some battlefield that reeked of death. The air that always seemed so comforting to him now turned, twisted, and writhed inside his stomach. Despite this new stench, he stood transfixed for what seemed like hours, unable to peel his gaze from these giant beasts in the distance. Numerous times, he had to remind himself to breathe. Turning back down the path, his pace quickened to a mad sprint, there was work to be done.
Naturally, he turned down the offer to accompany his housemate to the university. He was sure she could use his help in all of the various odd jobs that needed attention in the last few days before the fall semester began, but today destiny was beckoning, and you just don’t go to school when destiny beckons.
“But I could really use your muscles today,” she whined.
Feeling ashamed, he grabbed for the paper and pointed to the surf report, as if it was the sole reason why he couldn’t help her today.
Dismissing the paper, “So you’d rather surf than help me today, huh?”
Though her voice was rife with sarcasm, she was aware of the swell. She had noticed him shifting uneasily in his chair the night before as the local weatherman announced the chance of swell the following day. Unaccustomed to the reaction of the announcement, she had stared intently at him. Her children, raised in the islands, never responded in such a manner. But their understanding and passion for the ocean never ran as deep as the young man fidgeting in his chair a few feet from her.
She was beautiful and wise, a product of raising three promising children into the world. As she stood there, looking up at him in the kitchen, he could only shrug his shoulders to her question.
“Yea, I guess so.”
The drive from his house to Secrets took five minutes.
He marveled at the lack of activity in the shopping centers and businesses as he drove by. School started in just three days, surely there was a certain amount of last minute shopping to be attended to. But the community seemed devoid of life. Focusing on the road again, he thought when the surf’s up, everyone calls in sick.
Every so often, when there was a break in the houses to his left, he could see the ocean. Brief glimpses of waves falling over two stories made him eccentric. He had never really been out in heavy surf like this before. Apprehension made way for anticipation as he pulled into the parking lot at Secrets.
He opened the car door and rolled out in one graceful motion, careful not to allow himself a view of the water. He hadn’t come this far to chicken out. Making his way to the rear of the car, he popped the hatchback. He removed his slippers and flung them into the car, feeling for the first time the warmth of the asphalt against the bottoms of his feet. He pulled out his black rash guard, a protective lycra shirt designed to reduce both sun and wind exposure and, with a bit of luck, to protect your skin if you have a run-in with the bottom. Tugging it over his head, the shirt slid on quickly.
He pulled his surfboard out gingerly, careful not to inflict any wounds to its delicate fiberglass skin. The beautiful 6’8” shone in the midday sun, a mighty gossamer wand impervious to imperfection. He held doubts about the board’s length in larger surf, but they soon erased as he closed and locked the door and turned slowly to the ocean.
Eyes down, he walked past a gathering of locals in the far corner of the parking lot, each too busy to pay notice as he passed by them, each caught up in their own ways of preparation. He crossed the line where black and green blurred and walked over the crab grass, pass the public showers, and stopped short of the water, resting next to a mighty palm. The wind ruffled his hair as he bent over to attach his leash to his ankle. He glanced at his watch.
The swell was predicted to peak at one.
He entered the water just as the larger sets began to throw on the outer reef.
Secrets, a reef located halfway between Hawaii Kai and Diamond Head, was set up like any other South Pacific reef pass. Between the shore and the reef, a large lagoon collected. Only a couple of feet deep, sea life was abundant here. The calm waters and gentle tide played an ideal life support system for the lagoon’s inhabitants.
Contrasting the serenity was the world outside the lagoon and on the reef. There, the ocean focused all of her mad fury and hate into massive hydro bombs that exploded in water only a few feet deep. The soft sand gave way to living rock, with its jagged teeth and fang-like arms ripping up from the ground.
He paddle over the lagoon like he had done countless times before, timed the sets, and sat out a hundred yards from the main bowl. The waves broke like gaping cylinders, swallowing lighthouses whole. He was content to sit on the inside where the waves were smaller and take off on shoulders.
A set stacked up and he paddled into position. Turning his back to the wave, he paddled hard, each stroke deep and true. He felt the rush of acceleration and sprung to his feet as weightlessness overwhelmed him. Flying in a sky blue chamber as a million gallons of water poured overhead, he almost fell off in shock. He felt the sting on spray against his neck and reassured his grip on the board as he skirted the aqua glass that spread our before him. Moving faster, he buried the inside rail of his board into the face of the wave, sharply changing direction he sent spray high into the air. Satisfied the wave had been surfed to its potential, he kicked out yelling and hooting like a madman.
Another set and the process repeated itself.
Wave after wave he gained confidence. He feet were sure and strong. He stalled on sections where others would run, carving gaping trenches in the bellies of these great beasts. He couldn’t fall.
With his newfound confidence, he sat closer to the main bowl. Within a small group of other surfers, he eagerly waited for the next set to arrive. He turned toward the shore and watched the palms sway, bowing out to the ocean, bowing to him. He was the warrior who tamed the beast. He was the soldier that defeated the army.
The wind blew harder and he realized the pack had begun to paddle outside. He swung around just as the horizon went black. The others paddled furiously, kicking and screaming, trying desperately to outrace impending doom. He paddled long, deep strokes, breathing in all of the fear and intensity, consumed by the moment. As the others cleared the crest of the first massive fifteen footer he spun mid-face and sprung to his feet. The wind howled uncontrollably and the spray in his face blinded him. He felt the bottom of the wave fall out from beneath him as he leapt from his board. Flailing into the abyss, he fell.
He regained consciousness a few feet beneath the surface. Surrounded by the crystal clean water of the lagoon, he eyes opened to a ballet of light that broke the surface of the water. Ripping upward, he gagged and gasped for air, throwing up water from his lungs. The sweet air burned against the inside of his chest, he coughed madly. His rash guard had been ripped from his skin. A red haze engulfed him and he felt pain for the first time. He ran his hand down his back to examine his wound, feeling the broken flesh and warm blood. He gathered his surfboard. Thank god for leashes, he thought, and began the painful paddle back to shore.
He collected the strength to stand and moved from the water back onto land. He turned and watched the sea, her great warriors of battle still crashing against rock. With a new sense of respect, he turned away from her and started toward the car.