February 22-February 28, 2020

February 23, 2020

7:10 am

M– needed to surf before dawn today and C– couldn’t head out until after 10:00, so I made my own way down the east side. The wind was light, almost nonexistent, no clouds anywhere. Waiʻaleʻale was crystal clear looming over us all, the morning sun lighting up each of its countless folds and crevices, like the definition on life had been turned up too high, like watching someone you love in the moment that you love them. The tide was high early today, well before dawn, and was dropping towards the low at 10:17, bottoming out at .17 feet.

Since the winds were light I decided to check Anchors which looked surfable but a bit mixed up, not settled yet after all the winds earlier in the week. My next stop was Kitchens. Similar situation: surfable but not organized, like maybe the sandbars weren’t set up right. I decided to head to Mahaʻulepu to take advantage of the light winds and the dependability of reef, but made a last minute decision to check Playgrounds and I am glad I did. I haven’t surfed here in over a year and today was the perfect Playgrounds day. The waves were perfectly glassy, dreamy, the early morning sun turning every watery surface into liquid silver, all glare and sparkles. I paddled out with a few other guys I have seen around and we shared the next two hours of waves together with some dolphins and about a half dozen sea birds, themselves seeming to surf back and forth with the swell. I know the birds were fishing, looking for food, for survival, but they certainly looked to be enjoying their rides, dipping their wing tips into the wave faces as they made little radical turns, just like a surfer letting her fingers slide through the water as she heads down the perfect line, also looking for survival I suppose.

It took me a while to get settled and find the spot, but after 15-20 minutes, I was locked in, picking off the set waves breaking straight out from the pavilion. A few were well over head and all the sections connected, giving me those classic fun Playgrounds rides, waves like dirt bike tracks. Of course, long rides mean long paddles, but the tired arms are well worth it. Eventually I slid south to join the small pack I paddled out with, surfing the rights coming off the shallower end of the reef. No barrels today, just fun, dreamy rides with one or two critical sections adding a touch of adrenalin, like the big floater I pulled off over the steep section of an inside runner.

On my wave in, I found each next section (and donʻt we wish life was like that?) before finally laying down on my belly for the last stretch. Surprisingly, the wave started to stand up again, and so did I, pumping a few times and finding another spot to hack, before I belly surfed it the rest of the way, opting to slide up onto the ledge instead of fighting through the keyhole. I sat on a log to finish my coffee and watch the ocean and those still out, still beautiful but not like the early morning before the light winds came onshore. As I watched, a whale jumped, twisted, and landed back with a huge splash.

February 23, 2020

10:01 am

Tired from my sunrise session, I called Erin to see about her plans. She had a whole morning out sketched out for her and the kids and their friend, apparently, so I headed back up the east side, wondering now about squeezing in a second session. Anchors looked much better on my way back up, but was crowded (four bodyboarders…not my scene). I headed for Kealia and watched the waves as I ate a tangerine.

Again, conditions were beautiful. Silky smooth water, all the shades of all the blues. Landings, in the north corner, was breaking big and mushy, perfect for the handful of SUPs out there. Down the beach were maybe three or four sandbars at various distances from shore, all looking mellow, smooth, and fun. I made up my mind to head out to the closest sandbar, just in front of the lifeguard tower, pretty close to shore, for a second session.

The tide was just at its peak low as I paddled out. I noticed a strong rip on the north edge of the break and filed that info away. The crowd was friendly; a mix of groms, moms, local shredders, and classic uncles. I felt crowded in at first but the groms ended up sticking to the inside, the moms just outside them, the uncles over on the other edge of the sandbar and there were plenty of waves to go around. 

At some point I noticed a tourist on a bodyboard paddle straight into the impact zone. He eventually floated past me and I saw that he had no fins on. I filed this info away as well. A few waves later, I noticed him two or three times as far out as any breaking wave, hands clutching the front corners of his board, kicking straight to shore, going nowhere. I watched him for a while and after a few waves with him still stuck out there, I decided to paddle out. 

“How’s it going?”

“Great,” he smiled.

“What’re you doing way out here?”

“Not catching waves. This board is too small,” he smiled some more.

“Do you have fins on?”

“No,” his smile faded a bit.

“You’re paddling straight back into the rip, which is why you aren’t going anywhere.”

“…” he smiled. “So…?”

“Head that way or that way, not into the rip. Do you need help?”

“No…” and he kicked off towards Landings, his face red from sun and shame, maybe. I watched him out of the corner of my eye to be sure he made it in, which he did eventually, but not before I was nearly bumped into by another bodyboarder sans fins also way too far out also caught in the rip they did not know existed that I could see from the shore. Through a language barrier, I convinced this guy to head in as well. 

Apart from ushering these tourists to safety, the session was mellow and lots of fun. I spent the second half closer to shore, off the shoulder of the sandbar, waiting for the larger sets that were swinging wide. These had more power and shape. The last wave of the day was the epitome of both, a wall of water rushing up off the sand as I stood up taking the first drop. I pumped down the line watching where I knew the second drop was coming, watching the oncoming section from the north. The second drop and the pit appeared just in front of the closeout barrel from the north. I decided to go high, hit the oncoming lip, and the whole exploding wave gobbled me up and spit me out of the foam. Smiling, I let the white wash roll me up to the sands.

Back on shore, the lifeguards gave me a head nod and a shaka and I headed home, tired from a rare double session, but happy.

February 15-February 21, 2020

February 16, 2020

I planned to meet M– at Mahaʻulepu this morning, at 8:00. High tide was a few minutes before midnight last night and low tide bottomed out just below 0 feet around 1:30 this afternoon. The moon is disappearing again, passed half, on its way to new. I didn’t even see it today. Venus made the clouds glow while I showered last night in the February winds, which remained strong all day.

There was a wave at Mahaʻulepu, but the wind was strong, sideshore, blowing it down, causing the wave to simply crumble. A few big ones were breaking well outside the rock pile and as we watched from the cliff, we were certain the current matched or bested the winds. M– wasn’t interested in battling that current for a few crumbly hills of water, so we stopped at Keoneloa Bay (Shipwrecks, in front of the Hyatt, though there is no ship wrecked there). I had checked it at sunrise so I knew it was cleaner than Mahaʻulepu, a dubious distinction at best. M– was not much interested in surfing here either.

“I can’t make that wave,” quickly followed by “What wave are you even looking at?”

I talked him in to paddling out by agreeing to head over to the east side of the bay, under the cliff, ostensibly to catch some mellower lefts, but really just to stay away from the pits closer to the rocky point in the middle of the beach. We spent about an hour over there, paddling, talking. I caught a few strange lefts, connecting the step down to the inside section once or twice. M– eventually found one, took it all the way in, and headed home. I think he waved.

I spent the next hour or so in the proper spot, just east of the lava rock bench that juts out, separating the surf break from the tide pools and submerged reef. Here, the sets were big, well overhead, easily three times what we were paddling around in the other corner. The size, and general wildness, kept the crowd down, and friendly. I talked with a young kid and a couple of the older guys, smiled at the old lady on her little beater board. She found a few proper barrels herself, surprising us all.

Over the hour, I was able to paddle into a number of nice rights, one or two allowing me to stall into a barrel, all fast as hell. I found one huge left, a screamer that left me just in front of the lava bench with a set wave headed my way. I made it under the lip and out the back, but barely.

Before heading in, the session was marred by a father/son duo of body boarders, huge local guys, the son maybe approaching 300 pounds. He was screaming on and off at his father, who was clearly nervous. One of the large sets caught them, convincing the father he had made a mistake. Most of us paddled for the horizon, scraping over the top of a huge wave, calling out as we went, “Whoa,” or “Woooo!” with a few “That was yours!” thrown in. This wave was met with smiles and excitement by most of us, but the father/son team used it as fuel for their panic. The next set wave caught them both too far inside, the son ducked well, his great bulk pushing him easily under the crashing wave, but the father simply bailed. He came up clawing the water, searching for air, then yelling that he was scared. His son just screamed back.

“Fuck you! You’re worthless!”

“I scared! I wanna go. I goin die!”

The rejoinder from his son: “Good.” And he paddled away, farther out.

If I’m in the water, or even simply near it, I always have my eyes out, responsible to the ocean for the safety of others. Today was the same. I could tell instantly, before the meltdown, that this man was not ready for the day. After the panic, the wave, the screaming match, he tried to head in. As he made his poor decision to paddle west, towards Poʻipū, to try to get in over the dry reef and ledge, I kept my eyes on him. Another surfer and I floated behind him, close enough to see him and help without being too close to endanger ourselves. He made it in on his own, which made me happy, since that meant I wouldn’t be pulling a huge body and his board across the rocks.

Everyone safe, I found two or three more fun rights, touching the wave faces gently as they curled over me. I headed in as the rain came down, no rainbow.

Makaleha after the rains

February 8-February 14, 2020

February 8, 2020

S– decided to stay on the east side and M– was putting shingles on the roof of his rapidly emerging ʻohana unit so I headed to Mahaʻulepu by myself. I made it to my spot under the trees by 10:45, very near the bottom of todayʻs low tide, which was an even 0.0 ft. The winds were light offshore to non-existent. The waves were smaller than last week but even more perfectly shaped.

I paddled out, expecting to enjoy the calm and some mellow waves. The waters were crystal clear, still cold by Kauaʻi standards. No current today, rare for Mahaʻulepu, a result of the light winds and small swell. Despite their small size, the waves proved to be more fun than expected (I should just expect more fun, by now). When the wind is down and the tide is right, the waves here have a near perfect shape, a nice bowl and beautiful curve all the way down the line. The last thing I expected out of today were any clean barrels but I found a few, lit up from the inside as the sun reflected off every molecule of h2o spinning across the reef. Everything above me was bright and blues and whites, everything below was bright and greens and pinks and blues, a kaleidoscope of sea and land and sky.

I eventually pushed my luck too far dipping into the last section of the wave, ducking under the lip for one more sweet barrel, cut short. My right fin clipped the reef, only inches below the surface, spilling me off and out of the wave, pulling the fin halfway out of the board and popping the fin plug. Strangely, my body never touched reef until I stood up in the ankle deep water. With a sigh and a shrug, I paddled back out, shaking my head, determined to catch a few more despite the spill and the fin damage, which I did.

I ended the session by paddling around the outside of the rock pile to explore the left over there, a wave that no one surfs as far as I can tell. There is a spot there where the water sucks of the rocks. I sat there then paddled into a thick slab and enjoyed a fun, much more powerful ride out into the channel before heading to shore.

February 9, 2020

Iʻm on Maui today, out in Hāna for a WASC visit. The conditions on Kauaʻi were beautiful this morning. The flight was smooth, with great views of Kauaʻi, Oahu, Molokaʻi, and Maui. The approach into the central valley was especially nice. The water there on the south side looked smooth as glass and deep blue. Whales were everywhere as the plane dipped lower and turned north towards Kahului.

The drive to Hāna was uneventful, though beautiful. The wind was up at Hoʻokipa but things were eerily calm by the time we parked at the hotel. As we checked into the Hana Kai, I could see the bay in the background, smooth and black. A sweet little A-frame was peeling about halfway down the curve of the bay. I asked around for hidden boards, but none were present, or no one wanted to share. I made up my mind to walk out to the break anyway, and just swim, body surf a bit, secretly holding out hope for some cast off soft top in the bushes.

Finding no hidden boards, I instead had a great time swimming and body surfing. It turns out the wave I saw from up on the hillside was setting up off a shallow spot fronting a small river that doesn’t quite make it to open ocean, trapped behind a large dune of black sand and pebbles. The floor of the bay is made up of black and dark grey pebbles and rocks, ranging in size from small fists to beachballs. No sandy bottom here. The water was clear, the wind was down, and the sky was bright blue, but the water was the color of black tea, reflecting the hues of the rocks below.

The waves were just as pleasant as they looked, maybe two feet, peeling left and right, lazily. I caught a few long rides, pulling my body into bright shiny little barrels, then swimming back out for more. I swam and bodysurfed for 45 minutes or so, trying to tire myself out before I had to head off for the first of many meetings over the next few days. Hoping for a free hour or two tomorrow eve to maybe get a board out there.

***

Anytime I surf, one of the waves is wave of the day, which is reason enough to head out. Eventually, one of those waves will be the last wave I surf, which is reason enough to keep going out.

February 13, 2020

Institute Day.

C– backed out of surfing today to stay close to home and get some work done. S– never texted me back. So, I again made my own way down to Maha’ulepu, looking for some of the east swell that I saw rising on the forecast. The tide peaked at 1.4 ft just before 7:00 this morning, and I was paddling out by 8:15. The winds were up, not overwhelming at all, and the current was relentless but manageable.

As I paddled out, a huge set came through, nearly connecting the outside left to the wide corner of the rights. I briefly headed out in the direction of the outside reef with my eye on those massive lefts but was distracted by the main break, which is where I spent the next two+ hours, constantly paddling east on a dropping tide, into the treadmill that is Mahaʻulepu’s main feature.

A few showers passed over, flickering a rainbow to life over the west end of the bay, light briefly riding water droplets from sea to sky to shore before the whole thing flickered out again.

That first set turned out to be an anomaly. The others were just head high, but still plenty of fun on my 7’ single fin. I found a few clean bright barrels on the inside, one after a nice fade back to the foam. After an hour or so, another out of the ordinary set rolled in; really it was a set meant for that outside eastern reef but it just brushed past the shelf and rushed across the to the main break. I ducked under the first wave and scratched for the outside corner of the back up, bigger than the first. I turned, paddled, and got to my feet just as the lip exploded behind me, spitting my hair around my eyes. I made the drop, but my single fin slid out at the bottom turn and I bailed. My head just above bubbling white water, I watched the wave of the day roll into shore, smiling.

All in all, this was a good institute day. I am glad to carry on the tradition of surfing while the others sit in a cafeteria or conference room. I think I learned more this way.

February 1-February 7, 2020

And the days lengthen,

The sun is crawling back up the sky,

But darkness still creeps into morning

And stretches down into afternoon.

***

When the Romans’ year was divided into 10, the winter existed of course but was blank, an unmarked span of time, too dark to think about, too cold to see on a calendar. This time of the year was just blank space, outside their doors, in the fields, on the calendars, time to be passed through until the real time started in March. 

When Pleiades rises in the night sky, Hawaiians marked an end to war and changes to their daily routines in keeping with what the season brings: wet weather, stronger storms, rough seas, monster north swells. Seasonal kapu are instituted and time is spent in other ways, in competition, in game, in celebration and ritual, in community building. The end of February, the month of purification, roughly marks the beginning of the end of Makahiki, perhaps an end to the rough seas of winter, but that is still at least a month away.

February 2, 2020

The tides are strange today. The typical two peaks and two valleys have been replaced or filled in and so today we had a large high tide near midnight of February 1, creeping down through a flat tide most of the day, then finally bottoming out around 2:40 p.m. at .2 feet. The wind, however, was perfect, back to variables and clear skies. I scrapped my original plan of an early morning trip to Mahaʻulepu to let Erin hike in peace and to wait out the tide. I stopped at Playgrounds for a quick check in, after seeing that Makaʻiwa and Flat Rock were still going off, picking up leftover north swell as a monster storm drifted away towards Alaska.

Playgrounds was fine, but I decided to follow my gut and head to Mahaʻulepu, hoping that any of this strange, phantom swell was showing down there. I was not disappointed. The water was crystal clear, sparkling like broken glass on blue greens. Dreamy. The waves were shoulder high with thick head high sets. The wind was just a gentle puff, though it held winter’s tropical chill, enough to ripple the water and hold back the February sun’s slanted heat. Between waves, I watched whales breach; a few turtles stopped by for a visit, one getting quite close before lunging away, and I paddled lazily against the ever present current. The wave walls, especially on the best sets, were tall and long and a few bowled over just perfectly, giving me a rare gift: a barrel at Mahaʻulepu.

The sky today was that winter shade of light blue and was fringed with white and lavender clouds. Eventually, the half moon distinguished itself from the clouds in the eastern sky and I realized it had been there the whole time, nearly the same color as the water vapor in the sky.

A strange thing to realize because of course it is always there, above us or below, pulling all the water. And all our waves are water.

February 4, 2020

C– said he had to stay at work to grade papers. After the meeting for I–, and despite needing to be off island Thursday through Tuesday, I also needed to just not be at school. I was debating between a long bike ride and a surf, hoping that the wind had stayed down. Erin and the girls decided to go for a hike and I chose the water, wishing for it to wash away the details of a student’s life that I cannot change but which change me.

I made it to the tower at Kealia at 4:00 and the wind was up, brisk from the east south east, and cool. With the wind on it, Kealia is a different place, all churning water and sand, browns and dark greens. The sand flecked sea foam floats over leaves and limu suspended in the water, ripped up from the exposed sea floor.

The sand bar C– and I surfed last time, south of the tower, was still there, but everything was bumpy and the wave was flattening out in the middle, not connecting to the inside. The tide was low by 4:00, and dropping to -.08 ft at 5:45 pm. The moon was fatter, just more than half, but still low in the eastern sky.

I ran into J– out in the lineup. We talked school a bit, but also talked kids and surfing. Mostly we just enjoyed the wildness of a windy Kealia afternoon. 

Eventually I settled into a peak closer to shore, directly in front of the tower. This spot was not as consistent, burlier, bumpier, but also was connecting to the inside where I was able to find some ramps, some hollow spots, and a few backwash widened barrels. One wave allowed me a nice top turn against the oncoming closeout. My tail slid out perfectly, well past the lip, and I brought the board back under me as everything exploded in the nearshore.

Two sea birds visited, an ā and an ʻiwa, silently surfing just above the water, searching for fish, I suppose, but Iʻm not totally sure. They looked like they were just enjoying the afternoon like the rest of us out there.

January 29-January 31, 2020

January 30 2020

The crescent moon has been waxing all week, hanging low in the dusky sky, Venus shining brightly just below it. The second low tide today was shortly before 2:00 p.m. and bottomed out at .18 ft. We didn’t make it into the water until 3:00, riding the waves as we rode the other wave that is the rising tide.

C– and I planned to leave school at the bell and head to directly to Anchors, to take advantage of the still light winds and the surprising swell. A few things made this plan difficult. One is that I had to stop at home before I surfed so I could get Erin’s anniversary present out of the back of the truck. Hopefully she enjoys the newest appliance in her life, a compact clothes dryer. We do love to use the sun and salt wind to dry our clothes, but nothing is worse than clothes that don’t quite dry.

As I drove past Maka’iwa, I saw that the wind, absent all week, was back, putting Anchors in doubt. I waited for C– there, trying not to listen to the young mother yell at her kids on the bike path, while also trying not to listen to the impeachment trial. Once he arrived, we looked at the surf, the guy on the kite, the crossed up waves, and talked a bit but quickly headed for our back up plan, Kealia, which was a bit bumpy, not the glassy perfection of the days prior, but still all swimming pool greens and blues, with whales jumping out the back.

We paddled out for a distant, crumbly peak south of the tower. A kid asked me for wax on the way out and I dodged shore break while waiting for him to wax up. The waves were bigger than I thought, maybe 6 to 8 foot faces, the peak farther out than normal. I made it only halfway out at first, swinging around for a quick ride. The second paddle out took me all the way out the back just in time for a set. That wave was beefy, fast, but flat in the middle. I made it to the inside where the wave bowled up again and showed that classic Kealia sandy barrel. Seconds later, I was paddling out again. That was the session on repeat. A few lefts found their way in, lighting up silver in the setting sun, where the rights stayed translucent blue and green. One stands out, a bit bigger than the others, a great drop, a steep face the whole way in. I cut back just right as the wave made its double up on the inside and as I turned back again, a slab of backwash rolled up the face, redoubling the drop into the pocket, setting me under the lip of the sandy, yellow and white barrel. I could see the parking lot out the end, for a second, and then the wave swallowed me and slammed me down.

The last half hour of the session slowed down a bit as the tide kept rising off the sand bar, pushing the wave farther and farther south. A woman in a barely staying on bikini bailed her board as I rode by, nailing me in the side. No real damage. After one more decent right, I floated through the inside section for a last shore break closeout. I showered off near the tower as the woman with a wavestorm in the perfectly cut blue and yellow one-piece walked out of her own day in her own almanac, her black hair curly and still dripping sunshine.

January 31, 2020

Happy anniversary, Erin.

No surfing today, but Erin and I celebrated with a bike ride up and down the path, first into the wind and towering gray clouds, stopping to watch the whales. Then we rode into the blue and the sun, stopping again to watch whales. We had a drink and a snack at Oasis as the skies darkened and went to JO2 for a proper dinner. All of this was filled with the brilliant conversation and companionship of Erin.

January 22-January 28, 2020

January 26, 2020

This has been a week of epic surf conditions but no time for surf, at least for me. Anchors was going off all week, but all I could do was glance makai as I drove by. The little lefts inside the rocky cove below the Kealia lookout were peeling like dream waves that I have still never seen ridden. If that spot was Oahu or Cali, it would be crowded daily.

This morning, after helping get some things ready for Evoraʻs Cupcake Wars party, I ran down the hill for a quick surf at Kealia, knowing the conditions were not great. The tide was a bit high, the sand was mostly gone, exposing the usually submerged ancient reef at the north end of the beach, the normal sandbars washed away for now. As I parked, I saw a decent but crumbly wave far out between the tower and the river, but there were a dozen fishing lines in the water there. I decided on the warbly lefts and rights running across those menacing rocks on the north side. As I was getting my board ready, I realized I had locked my key in my truck along with my cell. Nothing to do but paddle out anyway. I figured I could walk home or awkwardly borrow someone’s cell phone. As luck would have it, I saw A– and her family of boys out for a morning walk on the path. I paddled in and asked her to text Erin for me. With that worked out, I paddled back out for an hour or two.

The air was perfect, the water was clear, and no one was out, a rarity for Kealia. The lefts were pitching up nicely but then fading out fast, not making it to the inside section. The rights were faster, rushing out across those shallows, boils and dry rock poking up, as the wave lurched its way towards the inside. I found a few, tucked under the lip once or twice, and generally just enjoyed the blues and greens, the sky-blue mints of the undersides of the waves.

After Evoraʻs party, and the epic cupcake battle clean up (holy shit), we all went back down to Kealia so Erin could walk and watch whales and I could get the girls out in the water. They were not convinced at first but soon warmed up. I paddled them out on the wavestorm, way over to the far corner, an adventure in itself. We bobbed around over there, dodging rocks and enjoying the water. Eventually, we headed back towards the crowd and body surfed for a while. Evora and Violet love jumping over or diving under the swells. When they were worn out, I paddled the board the rest of the way back to the towels while they walked. I found one little bowling right, over those gnarly rocks, and had a last fun ride before being unceremoniously dismounted in the shallows and rolled across the flat stones.

***

Everything is under the moon

And behind it.

It drags us, I think,

Or we canʻt stop following it.

The tide is under the moon.

And the tide is everything.

***

January 27, 2020

S– suggested meeting at Kealia at 6:45 a.m., just before sunrise, for a quick surf before our work day at school. The tide peaked at about 5:30 this morning and it was still high when I parked in the barely-light of predawn. I could just make out the black water moving in disorganized lines. The conditions were a bit worse than yesterday, with just enough wind to mix everything up. The higher tide also helped the water slosh around quite a bit. After S– and I talked a bit about the conditions, we decided to head out to the main break, north of the tower.

As soon as I got in, I was struck by water and also by how much water was moving. The waves were bigger than I anticipated, though not actually big, just unruly in the dusky dawn light. I had decided to bring the sushi board, expecting very small, clean conditions. This was not the right board for today, but it is what I now had, no leash, no rails, all skatey bottoms and squirely turns. I lost my board on the first two waves, causing me to swim to shore and sprint back out to the line up. Eventually, I found a spot where the wave was bowling up, I settled into the weirdness of the swell and the board, and found a few fun rights and a left or two that connected to the inside closeout section.

All in all, this is the way to start a day. Salty, sandy, tired from paddling and trying to catch as many waves as possible in a short 40 minutes.

January 15-January 21, 2020

January 19, 2020

We were on Hawaiʻi island this long weekend, as a birthday present for the girls. I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to find time to really surf with how packed our days were, not to mention that I had no board. Nearly every time I looked at the sea, which was often, I saw waves to be surfed. On this day, we drove to Spencer Beach Park in Kohala, south of Kawaihae, to hike down the coast line to Mauna Kea beach, named for the hotel named for the mauna, erasing what this shoreline might have been called and why.

The walk was amazing, the trail taking us over crumbling lava fields, across a beautiful stream with water the color of clear breakfast tea, past countless tiny coves and crevices. There are a few proper beaches along the way, but we didn’t stop for long until Mauna Kea beach, fronting the resort. Along the way, mongoose dashed through the dust and dolphins danced just off the rocky shores.

The bay, our destination for midmorning, is spectacular despite the hotel and golf course. As we crested a small hill at the edge of the bay, I could see a right that wanted to break off a shallow reef near the north point, and there were little right hand peelers, knee high but perfect, on the inside. Across the middle a sand bar had set up and the swell, small as it was, broke there, sometimes in a nice a-frame. Further down the curve of the beach, where more of the energy was showing up, the waves were just dumping over, none of them big, but all of them fun looking. 

With no board on me, I settled for a short bodysurfing session with my daughters. I pulled Violet into a few with me and then had fun watching her, under water, repeatedly dive under the larger waves as they crashed over her head. She is a natural under the water, as is Evora, who stuck around a bit longer to catch a few waves as well. Most of them were small, crumbly, and fun, but a few rose up and showed clean blue faces down the line.

Time was short, its temper is always to speed along, and we still had to hike back to the car, drive up for shave ice and lunch before heading up and around Kohala mountain, so I headed in, showered and enjoyed a snack with the family.

January 8-January 14, 2020

January 10, 2020

The wind has been howling for most of the week, well beyond the normal trades. The east side is huge, wild, unsurfable in most spots. Kealia, the salt encrustation living up to its name, is all the shades of blue from white to black, every breath is filled with salt air and every surface is bejeweled with salt crystals. S– and I planned to try Wailua today, but he called in sick. The waves were still rolling in there, across a mean looking rip. “Probably not worth it,” I mumbled as I continued my drive to work. Sidewalks is an option for the weekend.

***

The tide is under the moon.

It pushes us

And pulls.

***

January 12, 2020

A surfer’s nature, maybe just human nature exposed by water, is to check. We crane our necks at every glimpse or flash of ocean, even as we drive. We struggle not to stop at every potential break on the way to where we know we will surf, pulled by where we might surf. M– always pushes against this tendency, insisting that we drive all the way to the end, to Waikokos or Hideaways or Polihale, before checking spots on the way back. A–, on the other hand, has me walking down cliff sides and scrambling over boulders at nearly every turn. This need to check alters our behavior even in the water, as we paddle. 9 times out of 10, if a surfer sees what might be a wave on their paddle out to the main break, that surfer will stop to explore, to check, just to see, is this a wave?

M– and I planned to meet this morning at 8:00 at the far corner of Kalapakī, in an attempt to get out of the wind, still howling, and find something rideable. The tide was well over 2 feet at 5:34 a.m. The skies have been dark for days. I had a suspicion we might find a reprieve from the wind and maybe a wave out at Sidewalks, at the end of the cliff under the little light house. I was right about the wind, but the waves hauling around the corner of the cliff did not look promising. Mostly, they just exploded on the rock and then crumbled out into surging brown water. I could see other huge waves rushing straight into the bay, towards Amonias, that shallow jumble of rock and reef and rebar mere feet in front of the break water and ocean liners. Some swell rushed in towards middle of the main break, but nothing seemed to be working very well once the wave arrived at their respective lineups, fizzling out or exploding on rock, the tide probably still too high.

As I waited for M–, the only decent wave I saw was on the inside, glorified beach break in front of the activity hut with the red awning. I pointed all this out to M– once he made it down. He was not impressed by my analysis and decided to go to the dump and to Home Depot instead while I decided to give the little beach break runners a try. 

As soon as I paddled out, I noticed that the waves were much larger than we had anticipated and the current was hauling faster than Mahaʻulepu on a big day. It was all I could do to make it over to the corner to find the lefts I had seen. The waves were shifty, the current was terrible, and there was a lot of water moving, but by paddling nonstop, I kept myself in position for a few fun rides. As I paddled to stay in place, I had time to realize that this was some mystery sandbar and all the energy rushing into the bay was running out right here off the back of the bar.

Over the next few hours, a few people paddled out: an older guy on a rented stand up, a local guy with an old broken nosed longboard, C–F–, and a young guy on an epoxy rental, but no one stuck around long. The wild conditions and the current were regulating the lineup today. C–F– greeted me with his usual cool-guy-who-downplays-everything tone, “It’s exercise, I guess,” and later “This is the definition of insane.” The conditions were not ideal, but the waves were beefy, brutal, long, and some of the lefts ended in a nice bowling, spinning wall before a close out barrel.

“Was it good?” No, but I possess so little cool that I can say “This is fun,” as a smile creeps over my face.

January 1-January 7, 2020

“I hope I don’t sound too insane when I say there is darkness all around us…”

This time of year was once unnamed, an empty space between the end of the beginnings of winter and the first hints of spring. January gets its name from the Romans, related to Janus, the god that guarded doors, beginnings, and endings, a fitting moniker for where this journal starts and ends.

January 1, 2020

I met M– at Maha’ulepu for an afternoon session. As is now normal during this winter break, cars lined the stable road nearly out to the junction. I parked, with some difficulty, halfway down the last hill and then sat to watch the waves for a minute or two. The tide was low, rising just a bit, slowly. The winds were light and variable and the waves were consistent, with head high+ sets. After waiting and watching, I impatiently ran down the hill and paddled out around 2:45, before M– made it out. I had time to notice the rescue ski cruising in and out of the break, buzzing ominously around the edges before speeding away, something I have never seen out here. 

The current was extremely strong but not visible from shore today, pulsing even stronger after larger sets pushed across the far east side of the reef. We are used to calling Maha’ulepu a treadmill but today was different. The current was so strong this afternoon that I had to paddle nearly nonstop to stay in position and not get sucked too deep. The water was clear even though the stream was still swollen and deep red brown with muck after the christmas storm. The waves were clean, fast, and strong by Maha’ulepu standards, though many of them were breaking farther east than normal, leading to shorter rides. M– left to tend to his modern family and diffuse any new cat related issues and I stayed out until about 5:15, paddling the entire time.

I am still tired.

January 2, 2020

I tried to meet M– at Maha’ulepu again today, shooting for 2:00, but the Kapa’a bypass road was completely backed up. I decided not to waste patience and gas in the traffic and turned around as soon as I could. After running an errand, I parked at Anchors. The wind was from the north, brisk but just light enough to groom the rights nicely. The tide was low again, rising slightly into the evening, with the top of the anchor peeking out between waves. The water on the east side has still not fully cleared from the christmas storm, leaving the waves at Anchors greenish today. Clouds obscured the sun, causing the green water to seem even darker. I could tell that the waves were bigger than the other times I had surfed here and with the added wind and not clear waters, I was a bit nervous.  Until now, I had only surfed Anchors on extremely clear, windless days.

I planned to paddle out wide and sit on the lefts that I could see peeling through after the larger sets washed over the outside reef. As I paddled out, the true size and speed of the waves dawned on me, adding to my nerves and solidifying my plan to sit on the left, which fizzles out into a deep channel. I found my spot, using the channel markers and the bridge over the canal as guideposts.

As time passed, I was frustrated with the way the lefts kept sliding to the north, leaving almost no shoulder and very little face, after the drop. I crept out a bit farther after each wave, searching for one I could catch at the first reef, hoping that a longer ride might be more fun. Eventually I made my way outside to the first peak and paddled for a medium sized wave. As I popped up, I realized that a right was materializing in front of me and I found myself flying off down the line, against my better judgement, towards the few inches of green water that covered the reef at that end of the wave. There is no safety channel on the right, just shallow, sharp reef, and usually more waves coming. I panic paddled out the back, got slammed by the lip of the real set wave, lost ground but eventually made it back outside the takeoff zone. 

At this point, I was married to catching the rights, despite the fear pounding in my ears. I stayed well outside and north, ensuring I wouldn’t get caught too deep on a set. I bobbed around out there after that first right, just watching, feeling the waves’ energy in the water. They were green trains now, exploding across the reef, screaming past me and over whatever else was down there; much bigger and faster than I was ready for today. I settled in and found some perfect in between waves, a few feet overhead. After an hour and a half of this, a few bodyboarders paddled straight past the anchor and into the impact zone, just as the wind shifted and kicked up. I paddled over, found a left, and took the long paddle in.


January 5, 2020

After much back and forth texting, M– and I decided to meet at Maha’ulepu at 8:30. Yesterday was windy and rainy and the night was the same. I did not have high hopes but the morning dawned clear and settled to an almost calm by the time I pulled up to the stables. Working against us were the unusual tides, the low at .7 feet around 8:00 am and high tide at .9 feet around 10:30 am. Maha’ulepu works better when the tide is lower, under a half foot, but the wind swell was still big enough for some waves to roll through and break across the usual stretch of reef.

I asked M– if he had heard of the book In Waves, as I had brought him a copy as a late christmas present but of course he already owned it. I was partly relieved, somehow ashamed that the book was too on the nose. K–‘s passing was on my mind, as it always is during the first week of January. Who am I to pass around books about surfing through grief to people who actually live it?

A family pulled up as we got ready to walk down the hill. They asked if they could drive farther and I said no, as politely as possible. They then inquired about the heritage trail, which we assumed was the trail around the top of the cave. Once we had pointed them in the right direction, we headed down. I noticed two whales.

Once again, the stream was swollen and deep red brown with muck. I do not like walking through this stream at all, and I especially dislike doing so when I can’t see through the water. There are rocks, holes, tree limbs, and piles of bacteria hiding down there. The crossing today was fine except for the middle bit when I stepped into what felt like a centuries old but always dense and wet pile of crap.

“The bottom of this river isn’t sand,” I said sadly as I hopped out.

I walked over the reef to my path out and M– paddled out in front of the house. The water was clear, the sky filled with rainbows, clouds, and blue. The winds were typical trades and the current was present, strong, but not overwhelming. The waves were near constant at first. The set waves were solid, some sucking up at the take off point, some running all the way to that little bowling section over the barely submerged reef at the end. Eventually the swell direction changed or the tide inched just a bit too high, and things died down, which is just as well because it was time to head in, almost 11:00.

We spoke with another family, this one from Canada with two small children, as we packed up. They were prepared with body boards and snorkels somehow not noticing that this was not the beach for that activity. We gave them our prime spot in hale nalu and talked story for a bit, advising them against their chosen activities, pointing out some of the dangers and better ways to enjoy Maha’ulepu. How many people have we saved from a roll across that reef by now?

This Week, Last Year

On January 1, 2020, I began writing every time I partook in my favorite outdoor activity: surfing. In my mind, surfing simply means letting water move you, so I wrote whenever I spent time letting water move my body and quiet my mind. This project began as little more than a writing exercise but grew into a reflective, meditative practice. The entries are part journal, part amateur philosophy, part poetry and photo narrative, part tide calendar and moon map. I delve into the mundanities of individual surf sessions, but I also explore the names of the months and I track the way this place and our lives changed over the course of an unknowable year, 2020.

Beginning in January of 2021, I will post a weekly entry, looking back on this week, last year. Join me.