The waves on south shore Oahu are limp during the winter months.
Adrenalized surfing doesn’t take place until April (really mid-May), when surprise swells from the Tasman Sea rip into the bays of Waikiki and Ala Moana. Sudden waves barrel on top of longboards, chipping them against the coral heads exposed during low tide.
And such a surprise swell last April!
One day small knee-high waves, the kinds we had to paddle all our strength to catch. Next day, waves that launched us nose-forward, lifting at such an angle we were looking straight down to the ocean floor. On such a day in April, Sarah and I walked with our surfboards to a break called “Threes”, accessible by a long paddle from the pier near Fort Derussy beach. This spot is known for being either barely surfable, or way too surfable.
This day the latter reigned, massive overhead sets, one after another.
If you went for a wave and you didn’t catch it, you found yourself in the terrifying position of exposure to the breaking of the next wave. Sarah died at least two times, never to return. My count was somewhere around four. Our bodies thrashed around the salty water, the powerful waves breaking into our noses and lungs. Once I nearly ran out of air and fought my way to the surface, only to be caught underneath my board. Another for my hair to be pulled into my gaping mouth along with oxygen.
We stayed out there for a long time, considering our beatings. When we made our way back to shore, we were the kind of exhausted that doesn’t allow you to pull yourself up on your board anymore. Fatigue from the shoulder joints. Fatigue from the synapses. When I straddled my board and bowed my head, water dripped like a faucet from my nose.
Back to the shallow warmth of the shore, little waves ebbing and flowing, pushing and pulling us together and apart. Neither of us had caught a good wave. This is the kind of day that saps your strength and confidence.
Hugging my board to my chest and letting my feet float to the surface, I saw an older man wearing a buoyant surf vest attaching the leash from his shortboard to his ankle. “Good day for that,” I said, gesturing to the yellow helmet that he wore. “You know,” he said, grinning his white teeth, pulling us into his confidence. “I’ve had four concussions, you know. One time I was surfing west side and a wave broke on my ribs, shattering three of them.” Jesus!
“Been surfing north shore since I was ten, 50 years or so.” He said this matter of fact. It made sense he would be on south shore today, as the spring season brings death to the barreling North Shore waves. “You want to hear my three rules of surf?” He asked, buckling his yellow helmet.
“One: the best surfer is the one who is having the most fun. Period.
“Surfing can be a sport if you want it to be, but the best surfer is out there playing a game with herself and the ocean, not competing. That’s number two. This is not a competition. No one cares how good you are. Just wait your turn and don’t drop in on anyone.
“Last: don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most of those surfers out there are strong swimmers. If you get caught and can’t get back, call out to them and someone will help you. When I broke my ribs, I couldn’t breathe, let alone get back on my board and paddle in. Four surfers towed me in. I didn’t know a single one of them.”
He threw up a wobbly shaka and paddled away, towards lunging giants beyond the Fort Derussy pier. We could have cried, what balm to our wearied souls!
Over the days that followed, I’ve realized how Surf Guru’s three rules extend past surfing. Far past.
They extend to work. My job as a vet technician is founded on fun. I’m here because it’s so much fun to work with dogs, to learn the science of animal medicine, to learn how to be useful to something I care so much about. I’m not supposed to be in competition with my coworkers, I’m not going to be good at the expense of someone else. No one cares how good I am, only that I contribute and learn every day, that I ask for help when I need it.
If I’m going to spend my life working, it’s going to be doing something that’s enjoyable. Maybe that’s privilege talking, or the ability to make fun out of dredging work.
Preparing for this cycle tour, feeling at odds with “Bike Shop Guys” who I let make me feel ill prepared, I have been reminded often of Surf Guru’s rules. His rules for surf. His rules for travel. His rules for doing scary, new things.
I’m cycling because it’s fun. It’s fun to live simply, to wake up fresh in a tent to a chilly dawn, to meet crazy small-town homesteaders in no-where Montana. It’s not a competition. I’m not Collin O’Brady. I’m not setting records, doing “firsts”, or out for FKTs. It’s not about being better than anyone or anything.
I foresee lonely nights, stressful situations, flat tires with no spares. In these instances, I’ve got to remember to ask for help. That I don’t have to do it all on my own.
Imagine how far these three rules extend, to life, to relationships, to meaning and purpose itself! “Fun” in the hands of mental discipline can be a long run on a hot day. Could mean building something for someone who can’t. Could mean creating something for the joy of it.
My own sense of competitiveness often finds me at odds with myself. As if I am my own rival; who I used to be vs. who I want to be.
It’s easy to get caught in hyper-individualism, that no one can possibly understand the “I” that I am. Or that it’s a dock to competence to allow others in. How lonely, how much effort is wasted in not asking for help.
Peace and blessings to you, Surf Guru.