December 27-December 31, 202

December 27, 2020

The moon is approaching what many people call full, one day past Hua, the first day of fullness, Akua, and the winds have been up for a few days. I ran down to Kealia around 9:30, planning to just get in and paddle around since I haven’t surfed in a few days. As I get my board ready, I can see the swell is a mess, big, breaking way outside. I also can see the largish woman in the pink, floral, skirted suit, dancing in the shore break over at Landings. She is shaking her ass hard, her arms pumping up and down, fists near her flushed cheeks, her head bobbing side to side. Whenever a wave comes in, she smashes it with her closed hands then goes back to her dance. I look around, for music or for someone watching out for her, but maybe she is just enjoying the ocean, which is understandable.

I paddle past her, out to the peak, where a guy on a bodyboard, sporting a huge beard, is drifting around. We nod to each other.

“Some fun ones?”

“Yeah, I tryin to get one of these fuckin bombers,” and he is off as I keep paddling for the peak, much farther out than I want it to be but the waves are big today.

The waves I catch are fun, smoother than I expect, and long. I drop into a few that are well overhead and take them all the way to the sand, ducking into the yellow and gold and white closeout barrels.

A few more bodyboarders join us but keep getting batted away by the unpredictable waves. Then a few surfers make their way out.

“You caught some good ones, I had to come out. That last one pitched up and you got shacked.” Yes, these are things actual adults say to each other, even when they are strangers.

The bald local guy paddled over to me, with the familiar what’s up head nod and half shaka to ask “Did you check A-town?”

I had not.

The rest of the session was fun, big wave after big wave. I took off late on a left and didn’t make it, ended up on the bottom for a decent hold down. I climbed my leash up to air and paddled back out, chuckling as one does feeling sweet salt air after being pinned under the waves, stuck to the sand and darkness for too long.

Towards the end of the session, I noticed some disturbance on the face of a wave I was on, and then dozens of needle fish jumped all around me as I slid by. On my paddle back out, the bald guy shook his head. “Did you see those fish? Fuckers stabbed me in the face.”

I showered the sand off, sat in my truck. A woman changed in the parking lot, from tiny shorts to a tiny swimsuit, no care about showing off her naked body, and I headed to meet the family for an afternoon at the end of Anini.

December 28, 2020

The moon is Hoku tonight, the second night of fullness, and the winds are gone. I head down to Mahaʻulepu hoping to find the large wind swell I dealt with yesterday at Kealia but in cleaner conditions. The view from the cliff near the stables is epic, no clouds, the water silver blues, the sand untouched except for crab and bird tracks.

I am in the water by 8:40, two hours before low tide. The water is clear, the waves are clean, but the current is up. A butterfly passes me from the west, headed towards shore. A while later it passes me again, from shore headed back towards the cliffs. Then again, after another hour, it fluttered past me from the west headed towards the shore. I imagine it is the same one, running laps or errands, or just enjoying the day, like me. A small pod of dolphins frolics outside the break. A young honu pops up on the inside. A huge parrot fish swims just ahead of my board as I surf a particularly clear wave to the inside section. And I see whales jumping, finally.

I am eventually joined by a father and his son, Zach, who tell me I had some awesome waves and they were jealous, so they had to paddle out. They are staying at the Gillin House, which makes me wonder where they are from. They call Adam’s Reef the Twin Sisters, a name I have never heard. The father’s daughter’s boyfriend also joins us, on a wavestorm, for his first surf ever. He tries hard, gets rolled by a few waves, and never catches anything.

The waves are beautiful, slow, easy. Nothing fast today, no bowling section. Just a fun drop and then sloping shoulder into the inside shallows. Eventually the drop even fades away. I paddle over to the rock pile and sit as close as I can. I find a decent right that sucks off the dry rocks and then I drift in.

Tomorrow, Anchors, I hope.

December 29, 2020

Māhealani, the third night of fullness, hazy, like moonlight. 

I headed down to Anchors at 8:00, the winds still and the sky clear. M— is still a bit sick, and probably needs to be working. C— and S— hadn’t responded yet. I watched the waves from the bridge over the canal and I can’t tell how big the surf is then my extra coffee kicks in and I desperately try to find a spot under the bridge away from other’s eyes.

After crawling back up, I text C— and S— that the wind is still light but I can’t tell how big it is. Judging swell size from the shore can be difficult, especially at a break like this. The wave is hundreds of yards out, hidden behind smaller whitewater reforms, seeming to break below sea-level, sucking off the ledge. I know that North and South swells bend in here, funneled in and magnified onto the point of the reef and I know there is a large NW swell and I still am not sure how big it is out there.

I paddle out. As I pass the anchor on my left and then the first channel marker on my right, I can see that the peak is way outside normal. As I pass the second channel marker and start to cut over to the north, to get around to the takeoff spot, a huge set comes in and warns me off. I straighten out, scared, and paddle well outside then cut north. Confirmed: the waves are large today and the tide is dropping. Each set wave comes in rushing out of deep ocean and sucks off the reef, the sound of the lip hitting the water is a crack of thunder.

I spend the first 30 minutes nervously trying to stay outside and off the shoulder so I do not get caught out by a set. The main problem with this is that I do not want to catch a set wave today. I manage to pick off a few medium sized waves, still well over my head, thick and fast. I am on the 6’ beat up Dominator I picked up yesterday and it handles the speed and drops well. I don’t do much more then bottom turn, set my line, and outrun the barrel on my first few rides.

Eventually, after the giant honu popped up two feet from me, gasping and splashing as if it had been under for days, eliciting a full, high pitched scream from me, I settled down. I think the honu helped me shake off a bit of tension and I began paddling for more peaks. The wind picked up just a bit, then a bit more, eventually making it unsafe to stay out, but before that happened, I had 2 plus hours of high adrenaline fun. Most of the rides connected all the way through the bowling sections and out into the boils in the shallows. Over the session, I pushed the board more and more, eventually finding its sweet spots on big sweeping turns, no sharp snaps. I took off deep on one wave, ducking under the lip and then carving off the top out on the shoulder before making the second drop into another little barrel.

As the wind came up more, the swell started breaking apart making it scary again as I could not find where to safely line up. I paddled back around the peak, south, and caught a big lumpy left then made the long paddle to shore. The large NW swell was causing a pretty decent current to sweep south across the inside reef, making the paddle a bit longer today.

I checked my phone in the truck to see that S— had just said to have fun and C— had spent the morning on the phone, dealing with more family tragedy.

December 31, 2020

Today is the last day of the old 10 month calendar, before we enter that space between times that humans lived their lives outdoors. We are deep into Makahiki now, Makali’i rising above the horizon every night since the second half of November. Makahiki will take us into March, roughly aligning with the named beginning of that other calendar, the one where the number names make sense, the one with the dark whole bridging deepest winter.

Today the surf is rising as people are rising. The salt spray at Polihale is visible from miles away as we turn onto the dirt road. We sit on the cool sands of the dunes, watching the waves, thinking about Pō, thinking about the pahapaha growing offshore under those waves, thinking how the sand holds the coolness of night but warms so quickly to the day. I don’t surf today. This swell is well beyond my limits. But we watch, we feel the salt air cover us. The sea foam rushes dozens of yards up to the edge of the dunes after the bigger sets and my feet are cooled again.

Erin walking at Polihale

Today is the last day of December, of the named calendar, of 2020, and we are knocking on the door of January, of Janus, wondering what is on the other side.

December 20-December 26, 2020

December 22, 2020

The morning after Saturn and Jupiter seemed to pass each other in the evening sky dawned clear and cool and nearly windless. As soon as Erin returned from her sunrise walk, I headed down to check Anchors. I sent some texts to let C—, M—, and S— know that it was looking good, and then I paddled out into the still silver morning water, the tide high until this afternoon, which hardly matters out here.

The water was clear and almost glassy. Proper rights were coming in, as well big hollow lefts, just over head high. I enjoyed the world to myself for about an hour before I heard rumbling in the sky that seemed to circle all the way around me before I noticed the fighter jets tearing through the blue and the calm and the sunshine. C— showed up not long after. We talked about school a bit, the furloughs and the way we always get to be the ones to make society function. We talked about the lonely holidays looming at the end of the week and he asked about our plans for sabbatical but I can hardly think past Friday with time seeming to unspool into a puddle on the floor.

The waves were steady, shifting back and forth from solid rights to steep lefts. I found a few that impressed even C—, who said he wished he had a camera for one of my rights. We also talked about how different this wave is, more difficult than swell at places like Kalihiwai or Hanalei. “Those waves let you in,” he said.

I tend to agree. I have taken off on much bigger waves at places like that, even at Polihale, where the wave lets me stand up and set a line before I drop to the bottom. Anchors, though, pitches up, lunging towards the sky and shore at once, as the wave barrels quickly down the line, forcing a difficult drop even on the smallest of days. As if to prove the point of our conversation, I was lipped by the next right, then dipped the nose in on a big wave shortly after that one.

Tired and feeling the sun begin to burn, I caught a long left and headed in. I checked my phone in the truck and saw that four hours had passed, explaining my fatigued joyful muscles.

December 23, 2020

Still no wind. 
Still clear skies. 
Still the tide is six hours behind the moon, 
Over half full today.
We are salt water, mostly.
We have oceans inside us.
The moon pulls our tides, as well.

I paddled out to anchors again today, at 8:00. C— is busy with kids. S— is busy with his wife’s birthday. And M— is busy being sick, it turns out. My only visitors in the lineup today were the giant honu and the monarch butterfly, and the waves.

Yesterday out here was fun but everything about today was better. The waves were cleaner, the swell a bit larger, the wind totally gone. I think it is no use trying to describe things as singular as waves or the experience of riding ones like these. The water is almost invisible on days like today as the ocean rolls out underneath my board. The ride is intense, fluid, silent and loud at once, relaxing, instantaneous, but without time.

I do know that one wave every day is the wave of the day and one day there will be my last wave. Today I think I caught the best wave of the month, perhaps the best in months. A long left that started outside on the first peak. I faded right on the long drop to the bottom, then cut back left and saw a wall of water lining up beyond my sight. I pumped and tucked and set my line, feeling the lip curling and growling just behind my shoulders. I hit the top of the wave at each of its crazy bends, never quite stalling enough to get fully barreled, needing the speed to get all the way down the line to the flats, near the eponymous anchor, and that was it. And I can replay it again and again and I smile and paddle back.

Looking East past Kalihiwai and Kauapea

After my surf, three plus hours today, Erin and I take the girls and their friend Alana up to Tunnels for the afternoon. The day is still epic and the NW swell is rising and Tunnels is absolutely firing. If there ever was any doubt, remove it: I will not be surfing here.

We sit, we swim, we read. 

December 13-December 19, 2020

December 13, 2020

Calm again today after the brief flurry of trades. High tide was over 2 feet somewhere close to 2 a.m. with low tide around 10:45. I met M— down at Mahaʻulepu though I think we should have tried Anchors. I hesitate to suggest a drive to a spot that is so fickle, not wanting him to make the journey up here for nothing. The day was epically beautiful, no clouds, no wind, crystal blue waters and sky blue sky overhead. 

We headed down and paddled out around 7:40. The waves were smaller than I hoped, and the waits between sets were long. Even when the sets came, they were a bit gutless, half power, not uncommon for here, but I certainly wished I had brought my 7ʻ singlefin instead of the twinzer. We were visited by a few turtles, a small monk seal, and a pod of dolphins. No whales, though, after I spotted a few last week.

We talk a lot about music, the merits of seeing people play real instruments, feeling the way music feels, in your body, as it moves through the air around you. I thought about how there is a difference between enjoying a song and simply enjoying the experience of experiencing live music. Of course the virus came up, both of us dismayed by the state of things on Kauaʻi right now. R— texted yesterday that St. Catherineʻs is closing because of a student who tested positive, so she is getting tested and is quarantining. Of course all I can think about is Erinʻs cold last week, and Violetʻs random sore throat and headaches a few days earlier, and that student of mine who was on Hawaiʻi Island but then was in my classroom suddenly on Thursday. 

After our surf, sitting in the truck, watching the light on the water, I heard Roy Orbison singing with Tom Petty about the end of things. He said it is “alright, because every day is judgement day, and it is alright, at the end of the line.” And I stopped singing and just listened as the music filled up the truck and filled up my body.

December 14, 2020

I texted M—, C—, and S— that I planned to check Anchors around 7:00 this morning, hoping the wind was down again. The winds were light, maybe light enough to enjoy some surf out there, but there was almost no swell, so I checked Makaʻiwa in front of the restaurant on my way to work. The water here was cleaner, almost glassy, but the swell was not well organized. I decided to paddle out just to get salty before having to spend the day trying to learn with students behind computer screens.

The same nice, older local guy on the red longboard that was here at sunrise not long ago was out again. He asked me the same question he asked last time as I paddled over the shallow ledge, “See anything out there? Looking for waves!”

“Not much, just want to paddle before work,” was the same thing I had said last time. He laughed, talked about the dropping tide which leads to “morning sickness,” though I was hoping it would lead to at least a few hollow waves. He quickly caught a long left and headed in, leaving me alone.

The waves were small, maybe chest high at best, and there were long waits between rideable sets, though I was visited by a flurry of long fun rights. Those came in just a bit bigger and caught the reef so that I could drop in to the pocket, tuck under the lip, and then connect to the inside sections. I found a few bright close out barrels, the early sunlight illuminating the water around me, and then also one long left all the way to the rocks.

I ran up the beach and over to Lae Nani to rinse, worried about how late I might be for work. After rinsing, checking the time, and checking my emails, I changed under the tree, lingering for a moment, then headed for the classroom. I realized somewhere past the golf course that I had forgotten my surf shorts on the beach.

Sitting under the trees at Makaʻiwa

They were still there when I returned around 3:00 that afternoon.

December 18, 2020

I left school today at 11:20, after dealing with the Learning Hub and making sure some students had safe adults to talk to and were left alone. I messaged S— that I would meet him at the stables just before noon. He checked Waiohai and PKʻs but said both were pretty small. The trades were up back full force, steady and brisk, close to 20mph and the tide was dropping to .3 feet around 2:30. S— decided against fighting the wind and current and I headed down the hill, paddling out at the palindromic 12:21.

These are classic Mahaʻulepu conditions: steady trades, steady current, lots of water moving, salt spray in your eyes, nonstop paddling. I have been lucky this year, catching some east swells on glassy days, no wind, no current, and today I am lucky, catching Mahaʻulepu full of itself. The sets were easily overhead and all the rides were punchy, fast, and strong. The best waves hit the outside shelf just right, creating a nice drop and long rides. I took a few of these all the way into the last sections in the shallows, finding time and spots for three or four big snaps, sometimes a little cover up. I used the paddles back as a chance to slow my arms for a few minutes.

Eventually I was all paddled out, feeling good to feel my muscles so tired on this last day of the semester. I caught a left that closed out and then headed for the rock pile to see what I could find. After just a few minutes, a set came in, sucking the rocks dry. I paddled and popped up, happy to make it over the boils and out into the flats, then to the shore.

December 6-December 12, 2020

December 6, 2020

The tide was still high in the morning, when M— wanted to meet. C— was planning to head north around 10:00 to chase the rising NW swell. Knowing the tide would be too high for Mahaʻulepu and Playgrounds, M— and I met at Anchors at sunrise. Too many clouds on the horizon for another view of Oahu, but the water turned pink and orange, then silver and green. We decided to skip Anchors and check Kealia, with Anahola or Kahili as a back up.

Kealia was much cleaner, glassy and light blue. One guy was on the sandbar just south of the lifeguard tower, pulling into some clean, hollow rights. He was shortly joined by one more surfer, then the crowd ballooned to 20+ over the next 30 minutes. M— and I settled on the waves rolling in at Landings to avoid the crowd.

We talked about dogs and leashes, cookie decorating pirates and halloween gatherings that were designed for COVID but which turned out to be just large parties. We talked about the price of Toyota Tacomas and the car market, student loans and the potential for forgiveness, of loans and otherwise. And in between, we surfed. The waves were surprisingly fun, close to head high, with that hollow section on the inside that I love about Landings. The first few rights I found were smooth and fast but had all kinds of twists and turns and warbles on them, like flying through a dirt bike track. As the tide rose, the waves moved closer to shore and began just peeling, or closing out. I picked off a few more rights, one I took off on late, dropping in and tucking up under the lip before making it out to the shoulder for a nice snap. Later I found one or two lefts that completely pitched over for big, bright, wide open closeout barrels, the color of the sky if it was water lit up from the inside.

We headed out shortly after 9:00 so we could both be off to our various family things and the rest of our days.

December 12, 2020

The trade winds came up with the sun, followed by the tiny sliver of the moon. Erin and I used the newly acquired telescope to check it out before the morning sky fully brightened. Jupiter and Saturn are getting closer to each other each night, before they converge on solstice, and Gemini is guiding our eyes to the yearly meteor shower.

The wind made Anchors a no go after four or five days of perfect conditions but a busy schedule, so I checked Makaʻiwa, in front of the restaurant, before heading back to Kealia. I parked under a rainbow and watched the ocean for a minute. 

Rainbow at the old Kealia Schoolhouse

There was one guy out in front of the lifeguard tower, trying to make use of the sandbar. I paddled out to join him, surprised at the way the waves are always bigger right here than they look from shore.

I spent about an hour in the ocean, on the Ebert twinzer, basically popping up and ducking under the lip as the waves closed out. Every once in a while, something came in just a bit different and I found a corner that led me down a clean ride. I headed in as a few fat man-o-war floated by, stinging a young bodyboarder who had just paddled out with his buddies.

A pod of dolphins was cruising the lineup as I dried off and finished my coffee in the truck.

November 29-December 5, 2020

November 29, 2020

With his points earned from heading home early yesterday, M— wanted to try heading north. We met at Anchors just in case the wind completely disappeared…it did not. There was a dying NW swell mixing with a rising NE swell, both forecast to be 6-8 feet. The moon is full today and low tide is just before 9:00 this morning, at .51 feet. We headed from Anchors to Hideaways, hoping for some clean, head high waves. What we found was a messy, mixed up swell, but we headed down the cliff anyway. 

As we got our boards ready, watching someone paddle straight out to the center of the reef, and planned our own path out to the peaks closer to Hanalei, I noticed the large monk seal sleeping against the cliff. It was still there when we ended our session two hours later.

As soon as I started my paddle, I knew the waves were bigger and more mixed up than we thought. Often, there is a fairly thin line of white water where the sets pitch over the shallow edge of the reef, but today the zone of churning white wash and crashing waves was wide and wild. I made eye contact with a guy sitting in the middle, inside. I had seen him on our walk down and I thought maybe he had just ended a ride. I noticed him paddle in a bit, then one way and another, then he seemed to set himself and he headed back out, only to stop again. That is when he looked over at me on my way out, and he kind of shrugged and headed all the way in, giving up I suppose.

Eventually M— and I made it out and joined the two or three other guys, all searching for corners in the wild wide ocean. The first set came in fairly quickly, confirming my growing suspicions that this was a bigger swell than anticipated, easily two or three feet overhead. M— and I agreed that, though they are fun and paddle well, the Seasides were not quite enough board for today. I missed wave after wave for maybe 20 or 30 minutes before I finally scratched into a hefty right. I made the long drop, turned and just headed down the line, fast and smooth, unwilling to turn much or cut back. I wasn’t convinced the twin keel fins were enough to hold me on these beefy monsters.

After that first wave, I found a rhythm, catching a dozen or more big rights, much closer to Hanalei than we usually sit. Most were variations of that first wave: big, fast, smooth, with a nice bottom turn then just trimming down the line. I eventually was brave enough to paddle into one larger wave fairly late, just behind the peak. I dropped in straight with white water blocking my view down the line but I managed to get around that first little section to open wave. I found myself properly in the pocket now, right hand trailing on the face of the wave. This one connected to the inside section where I was able to make a few hard snaps and pull into a little closeout.

We talked between waves about the virus, the visitors still pretending this is paradise, the mayor’s attempts to keep us safe, and school, of course. Also, what does 15 tons of gravel look like? Tired and glad to have found so many fun waves despite the conditions, I caught a left in, steeper than the rights, and we called it a day.

***

December is the tenth month of the old Roman calendar. The middle of Makahiki here in Hawaiʻi Nei, with Makaliʻi rising over the horizon at sunset. The end of our old calendar, just before that nameless time, too cold and dark in higher latitudes to even name the marching of time until everything after and March comes back again, with the light.

December 2, 2020

Today there was an extreme high tide, well over 2 feet, just before sunrise, which broke on a clear day, “a bluebird day,” as C— said, and Erin and I watched Oahu appear on the horizon.

Sunrise from the deck, Oahu on the horizon

The tides were basically flat the rest of the day with the low being at .46 feet around 1:30 pm and the next high topping out at .61 feet just before 5:00. The winds were light, really nonexistent all day, and the moon was shrinking towards half. The first massive NW swell is pounding the islands, peaking this afternoon over 35 feet, but Wailua Kai was still and flat.

I brought the girls home after their day at school with me, quickly changed, and headed down to Anchors to take advantage of the light winds, hoping for just a sliver of the NW swell to wrap in. I took the Ebert twinzer out again, but this time with proper twins next to the nubs. I had time to notice the evidence of the earlier extreme high tide as I jumped three feet down to the shore, mixed with exposed gravel and a piece of an old wall, and I paddled out, through more bits of plastic and swarms of mangrove pods than I’ve noticed before.

As I sat waiting for waves, the mangrove pods swam around me, bumping under my arms, snake like the way cats can be. There was definitely swell coming in, but only chest high, and it was mixed up. Waves were running up on each other, coming from two or more directions, crumbling outside or breaking way inside, usually. Maybe one wave in five was breaking cleanly but I managed to find dozens of fun rides anyway. I am always amazed by the power of the wave out here, regardless of the size. I even managed to find one or two super long lefts that I connected through the various bowls and bends. The twinzer felt fun, biting into the wave just enough, lively under foot, fast, loose. I canʻt wait to ride it on a proper day somewhere.

***

“This is the stone that I wanna turn
These are the people that I love
These are the eyes that look above
This is the town I'm living in
This is the hard drive
This is the ocean
Have you ever felt yourself in motion”

December 5, 2020

The tide was high again, pushing just past 2 feet, peaking around 8:00 this morning. The winds were gone, the skies clear, so I ran down to check Anchors in the 90 minute window I had after my PD work was finished and before the CSA box was ready to pick up.

The water was green, scummy on the inside. A woman sat in her car with her surfboard talking loudly as I squinted out at the lineup, sipping my last sips of coffee for the day. I only looked for a few seconds, maybe 30, then got ready and paddled out. There is always a line in the water on the way out at Anchors, sometimes visible, sometimes just felt, where the ocean water takes over from the fresh water coming out of the canal. Today that line was marked with a suddenly surging current pushing north to south, stronger than I have noticed out here. The massive NW swell from a few days ago shifted as it faded but never fully disappeared and today was being reinforced by a new NW swell and an NE bump. All of this energy was pushing across the reef and out to the channel.

I made sure to stay well off the reef, aiming for the outside peaks I could see. As I made the long trek, I could see fairly large swells rolling straight in, near the channel markers, out of the ordinary. As I neared the lineup, my nervousness had built and I had basically decided to catch one left and head back in. The sea was much wilder than I could see from shore, waves easily overhead, but shifting and breaking all over the place, plus the current. I paddled all the way out, well past the outside channel marker, cut north and almost immediately paddled into an outside bomb, fat, fast, a few feet overhead. I popped up and tried to fade right, down in the pocket, thinking I could cut back left and hit the inside sections, but the wave faded as it slid off into the channel.

A monarch visited me, fluttering near my head. I saw no airplanes today.

My head was telling me to paddle in as my body paddled back out, but further north this time and a bit inside. I found a few decent lefts here and was lucky to not get caught by any surprise sets. A few sucked up as I paddled, leaving me that near vertical drop to navigate while trying to get down the line. I even picked off two big rights before I took one last long left as far in as possible. 

As is usual for me now, I paddled in towards the other anchor, closer to shore, in the middle of the bay, looking for one of those dinky waves that rolls across the shallows. I found one that was maybe chest high at the peak. It walled up nicely for a while then the bottom dropped as a section in front of me started to close out. I took a high line and had time to see the anchor popping out of the water beneath me as I floated past.

Later in the day, we took the girls and Cosmo up to Kepuhi for some family beach time. That NW swell was lighting up all the spots, from the bowl across to Middles and Waikoko. Huge, clean waves were rolling in way outside Kepuhiʻs reef. Iʻve surfed out here once before, one a clean but small day. 

Monster set at Kepuhi

November 22-November 28, 2020

November 28, 2020

After a few days of heavy winds and warning level surf on the east side, I finally had some time to jump back in the water. I assumed Mahaʻulepu would still be picking up swell but the waves died overnight, along with most of the wind. I met M— at the stables only to find beautiful but flat seas. After double checking the surf report, we headed to check Waiohai, masks on. Again, no real swell, beautiful conditions, and a big crowd of tourists on soft tops. From there, we headed to check PK’s, Centers, and Acid Drop, not expecting and not finding much. A set rolled in just as I parked, which helped me make up my mind to just paddle out. We stood outside of M—ʻs new Dodge Ram, big enough to fit the extra people and animals he has picked up over the year, and talked and watched. He decided to head home, earn some extra family points, and maybe head north tomorrow.

I paddled out into a dropping tide and a light crowd. There were a handful of people on the peaks at PK’s, a few guys on SUPs and maybe four of five people on bodyboards. They were hooting and hollering as they kept catching waves all together, enjoying the easy conditions and early morning light. As I made my way over the shallow collar at the far end of the lagoon, I watched the one guy out at Centers take off on another pretty, but small wave. He asked me if I had checked Waiohai and I gave him the report. He told me about Mahaʻulepu yesterday and the kala he caught there. We traded waves for an hour, talking story about boards and tides and winds, as a smudge of color and light over the million dollar TVRs grew into a full land-to-sea rainbow.

After he headed in, a few other people joined me, one guy sporting ridiculous booties on a bright lime green board, another older guy on a Wavestorm giving serious pieces of advice to the young woman paddling behind him, her pearly thong disappearing as she straddled her retro rental. I caught a few pieces of his high school deep philosophy about the power of “not fighting the ocean, man, you canʻt win that fight, just relax.” After he dropped in on me, they paddled away, maybe finally aware they were out of place.

Though the waves topped out at maybe chest high today, they were beautiful and fun. I found a few long rides, even dropped in under the lip on one, sliding sideways down the face before making it down the line and out into the flats. The rainbow faded, the swell deteriorated, and I headed in.

Looking towards PK’s
Faded graffiti on the bride near Kōloa Small Boat Harbor

November 15-November 21, 2020

November 15, 2020

The moon was new yesterday. High tide was around 4:40 this morning, topping out at 2.43 feet, extremely high for Kauaʻi. The sand at Wailua Kai has been washed completely under the bridge, effectively bringing the beach all the way to the mauka side of the highway. From the look of the waves out in the bay, the bar is still there, but the south side of the actual beach is basically gone, as the high tides have begun eating into the parking lot.

Today, the leftovers of a NW and NE swell tempted me to check Anahola. There was some swell showing up at Unreals, with one guy paddling out, but I decided to try my luck at Kalihiwai, which turned out to be glassy but flat. Wires looked like it might be working, but it is hard to tell from all the way across the bay and I did not want to drive up and around to check from the other side, so I headed back towards Kahili to check Rock Quarry.

The wind was completely gone by the time I parked, just before 7:30. The ocean looked disorganized and lumpy, but there were waves on the rights over the reef, some across the middle, as well as lefts over at the river mouth. Nothing looked great but there was some potential fun to be had over on the rights, so I paddled out. 

I was alone out there for a while, trying to find the right spot. The usual peak was closing out mostly, and many of the waves looked like they might break only to back off and turn into mush burgers. I paddled deeper, almost to the far corner, trying to find more reliably waves across the shallow reef. Among the many fun but short rides, two waves stayed steep and connected across three sections, giving me nice 30-40 second rides. I found a few decent close out cover ups, shining silver in the rising sun. Eventually, the place got crowded as is always true of Rock Quarry and with the crowd came S— and E— N—. She stayed on the inside but S— paddled out to my peak and chatted for a while.

After one last long right, I body boarded the white water most of the way in, past the rock out cropping, and then ducked into some shore break. I sat up on the cliff for a while after, drinking my coffee, watching a tourist get slammed in the sand on her wavestorm, watching a woman jog up and down the shore, watching the keiki practice ripping on the sandbar across the middle, watching the nene fly over our heads, all of us salty, seasoned.

Kahili in the morning

November 16, 2020

Light winds today and most of the NW and NE swell is gone. I found a 5ʻ10” tri color Ebert twinzer for sale and picked the board up on a break from work. The guy didnʻt want to sell the board with any of the fins except the tiny nubby sidebites. Iʻll have to find some FCS quads or Futures twin fins when I have a bit of money, but for now, I am excited to try out something new. The board has deep channels out the back and is only 18 ½” wide. 

After work, I decided to paddle out at Makaʻiwa, in front of the restaurant, mostly to see how the new board floated me. Low tide was just after noon, around .48 feet and rising just to .7 in the early evening, so not much change. As I got my board ready, a tourist approached me to ask where he could rent a board. My mind locked up as I tried to remember the closest rental spots and simultaneously think of how to say “Go home” in a nice way. I eventually mentioned that the shop across the street closed during the pandemic and was probably still not opened, letting my sentence trail off. He said “Oh yeah, right. Understandable…” and walked away.

As I paddled out, that large guy on the larger blue board I’ve seen before also paddled out, along with someone on a foil. They both ended up catching waves and then drifting off to the left, all the way around the heiau and kiddy pool, out of sight. I spent an hour and a half getting used to the new board, feeling it skate and slide around, like a skimboard. I thought maybe the nubs and the channels would help it hold a bit, but the board was sliding all over the place. Eventually, I dialed it in and managed to glide down the line, even pumping a bit, making a turn or two. The most fun surprise was figuring out how to do flat 360s over and over. The first one surprised me right off the board, but I managed to complete a few and keep riding. The waves were mostly waist to chest high but there were one or two rogue waves that drained across the slabs, that I missed of course. I saw a crowd starting to gather, watching, pointing, and I decided to head in.

As I was walking back to the truck, someone stopped me.

“Skeggless?”

“What?”

“Riding with no fins today?” he asked. I showed him the board and he said he saw me skating around, sliding into 360s. He then took the time to tell me the tide was dropping (it wasn’t) and that it was about to get epic.

“There were some mini bombs out there, yeah. Itʻs getting better,” I offered and headed home.

Tiny twin side bites

November 8-November 14, 2020

November 8, 2020

With the election finally called, things feel like they might change, for just a moment. Kamala Harris talked about how little black and brown girls know they can do it and I kept thinking about all the white men that need to fucking learn that lesson. Joe Biden talked about science, and empathy, and how he is the husband of his wife, the public school teacher.

And also the trade winds picked up, bringing with them east wind swell and trade showers. The moon is halfway to new and the tide is high even when it is low, about .4 feet hours before dawn rising to over 1.5 feet by 10:40. Nothing about today fit the description of good conditions, but when I met M— at the cliff over Mahaʻulepu, we saw the waves rolling in through the wind and chop and we headed down for the first surf in less than stellar conditions in quite a while.

The tide was so high, we had to walk over the rock outcropping instead of around it through the tide pools. We both paddled out in front of the house and headed over to the peak. The sets were coming in near head high, but the high tide was giving them a step on the take off. We had fun, despite the conditions. As I have said, catching waves is fun, conditions be damned. We talked about the election, our lingering paranoia, children, finding a partner in the wake of death. We talked about our puppies too and surfboard fins before we were joined by two guys on incongruous equipment. One of them, who looked like a vampire from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was on a Papa Sau gun and the other, the balding beponytailed magic juggling substitute teacher, was on a huge NSP longboard. I recognized them from earlier in the summer and they stayed out of our way, mostly inside and deep to the left.

The waves were mostly fat and crumbly but they had some power, by Mahaʻulepu standards. I had switched out the fins of my Seaside, replacing the quad set for a hatchet keel twin set, and the difference was obvious. The board was incredibly loose, easy and fast to turn but not out of control. Iʻll have to try it in steeper conditions, but I was pleased. M— found some fun ones, snapping the top off a wave or two, and I caught a handful of very fun rides on top of the dozens of other waves. I managed to land a nice air, found the inside bowling section once or twice, and generally just enjoyed the morning.

It feels colder now, suddenly winter in the tropics. And change is good.

Keel fins at Mahaʻulepu in the morning

November 1-November 7, 2020

“And after all the warmth of the summer and the fall…,” November brings a chill to us even here on Kauaʻi.

November was the ninth month when the winter still went unnamed. Before that, it was blood month, when people in England butchered their animals and prepared for a lean and nameless winter. Now it looms over us, elections and holidays on the horizon. Rain and wind and those large swells on the way like giant migrating animals from the cold and distant North Pacific.

November 1, 2020

Anchors again. Glassier today, smaller, but still so. Much. Fun.

I paddled out around 7:30 this morning. The water is often cold near shore and there is a sharp divide about halfway out when the warmer ocean takes over from the cooler river water, not gradually, but all at once. Today I noticed, for the first time I think, that the warm water line coincided with a much smoother water surface.

No dolphins visited me today but I saw one small turtle and many fish. And too many airplanes.

November 2, 2020

The day before the election.

Last week, my students and I read and discussed “Joyas Voladoras,” by Brian Doyle. Here is a snippet: “No living being is without interior liquid motion. We all churn inside…So much held in a heart in a lifetime. So much held in a heart in a day, an hour, a moment.” Many students found parts of this text moving, important to think about. They spent the week wondering about how to spend their finite amount of heartbeats, how no one knows what is in our hearts, how no one can wall their hearts up forever, how we should be careful with them, open them up perhaps.

And then today a student sent me this as his discussion of learning: “On monday I learn about your dumbass stupid quote about bitch animals, the fuck you think i going live like one humming bird…”

Ah, the fear and rage that boils out of people when they are asked to be vulnerable or simply to think. For too many people, being reflective, thinking, is the most vulnerable and scary thing they might ever do, so they wall up their hearts and run away. And though I know this student’s words, his anger, are symptoms of his fear or stress or boredom, they still seem to carry more weight than the other 15 years of students’ words.

So I decided to leave a bit early and wash off the day. I paddled out at Makaʻiwa, in front of the restaurant, at 2:20, into a rising tide. The swell was not good but that is not the ocean’s fault. Salt water is just as it is and today the water was clear and warm and glassy. A couple on longboards was messing around close to the heiau, but I sat on the shallow slab where the main wave breaks. Eventually, a guy on a SUP came out with an overweight friend on another giant, soft top, and then before I paddled in, someone came out with a foil. Strangely crowded for the conditions.

I stayed on my spot, away from the others, and just washed the day off. I even managed to find a few fun waves, all rights, some even hollow enough for a small cover up. Was it good today? It was fun, as usual.

November 3, 2020

The day that marks the end of the election. Instead of sitting around refreshing our browsers all day, we decided to take the girls and Cosmo to Pilaʻa, where we could distract ourselves while the rest of the country counted and reported and commented breathlessly.

At the lookout above Pilaʻa

There was a decent north west swell lighting up the reef spots, putting on a nice show as we hiked down the cliff to the rocks. The dog thoroughly enjoyed the adventure, happily hopping across rocks and digging in the sand. He eventually even joined the girls in the water near the little river mouth where we had made camp. I was surprised to see that the swell was big enough to bring a fun little knee high wave in across the sand bard in front of the river mouth. The girls and I body surfed a few, but mostly we just enjoyed not yet knowing about the election.

October 26-October 31, 2020

October 26, 2020

Sunrise from the deck

I took the girls to school today and checked Unreals, down in Anahola, planning to be late to work. The wind was still light, the tide lower this morning than yesterday or the day before, the moon larger. I had a hope to find the large NW swell sneaking in here, but there wasn’t much happening, so I headed towards Lihue. I checked Anchors, then Makaʻiwa, and then pulled in at Playgrounds. I had basically given up hope of a surf this morning, wishing I had time to head north instead of poking around for east side waves, but I was pleasantly surprised by what I found at Playgrounds. No wind and I immediately saw enough swell out on the reef to know I would be paddling out. The waves were not huge, nor were they well organized. Normally, there is an A-frame straight out from the bathrooms, with a left a bit north and a right off the shallow southern edge of the reef. Today these distinct peaks were lost in the swell. 

As I stood watching the water for a minute, I noticed an older guy sitting in his SUV, watching the waves, with his windows down. I casually asked “Paddling out?” which prompted him to jump out of his car and give me a detailed rundown of the winds, the tides, the swell, and yesterday and how fun it all was, and “Yes, but I’m waiting for my friend…I’m a tourist, so what do I know, though.” My smile flickered and I thought his admission to be strangely brave, particularly in this isolated parking lot.

I paddled out alone, leaving the virus vector behind me, and headed to the shallow southern end, assuming the most consistent break would be there. I found a few fun shoulder to head high peelers, glassy and quiet, before the crowd grew to include three stand ups, a long board or two and a few people on various other fun looking boards. I recognized most of them as regulars out here and though Iʻd rather be alone, the vibe was fun. As the old guy on the red twinzer said, “Every once in a while, an absolute gem rolls through.”

A cliche, sure, but truth hides in cliche and I found some great waves, a few connecting to that race track section on the inside. No real barrels today but I found the pocket a few times, leaning back and into the face of each wave, letting the lip curl just over my head. And I managed to boost three or four big airs, landing one proper.

As the sun rose up higher, I reluctantly caught my last wave and headed on to work.

October 28, 2020

No wind again this morning. I stopped at Makaʻiwa on my way to work again and paddled out at 7:15, about 30 minutes before low tide. There were two guys out on longboards, but they headed in shortly after I got out, leaving me to surf alone for the next hour or so.

The swell wasnʻt big, maybe chest high, but the conditions were nearly perfect, smooth as glass water, low tide, each wave hollow and clear. I dropped into a few behind the peak and tried to duck into the barrel back door, but both times the lip hit me in the small of my back. I eventually found some big empty pits, one or two that didnʻt close out, but mostly I just enjoyed the quiet, smooth rides before sitting at work for the rest of the day.

As I was walking to shower off, I ran into an older guy in surf shorts, no shirt, silver mullet, and his stained kitchen coffee cup in hand. He stopped me and said “I saw you at Playgrounds the other day. How is it out here?” I eventually realized he was the stand up paddler who came out with his wife while I was skipping work Monday morning. We talked about the amazing conditions lately and he mentioned Lunch Meat and Flo in his stories about Bowling Alleys and Playgrounds. 

“Too fast out there for me,” he said again before we headed on to the rest of our lives, separate but interconnected.

October 30, 2020

Today is the day before the second full moon of October. The full moon after that will mark the closing weeks of fall. Today is also the penultimate day of October. Dr. Orr taught me that word, penultimate, second to last, a uselessly perfect word, and here we are on Friday evening.

Erin is walking on the path and I am with the girls down at Kealia, at 5:00 p.m., enjoying the glassy waters and clear skies one more time. I expected completely flat conditions but decent sized sets rolled in, showing a few yards from shore but mostly just jacking up and slamming hollow barrels onto the sand. Evora, Violet, and I swam and played and ducked under the waves before we turned our attention to body surfing. I took out the beater board and caught a few bombs that exploded me onto the shore. I managed to duck into one or two clean barrels but mostly found a lot of sand.

As the sun set behind the mountains, the air chilled and we met Erin, back from her walk, and went home for dinner.

October 31, 2020

I finally talked M— into trying Anchors. We met at the parking lot at 6:45 this morning, three minutes after sunrise, about four hours before a low tide of .51 feet. Once again (what a string of beautiful conditions), the wind is light or nonexistent and the water is pure silvery glass. I can tell that M— is not convinced as we stand on the rock and I point and remind him that “It’s always better than it looks” and “Even waist high out here is powerful and fun.” He looked at me dubiously when I suggested that to me, it looked like maybe chest to shoulder high, but he got his board and we made the long paddle out.

I almost never see animals out here but today a huge turtle popped its head up next to me as soon as I made it out. Minutes later I noticed a large pod of dark grey dolphins playing nearby. The turtle never came back but the dolphins stayed with us for the next two and half hours, splashing, jumping, spinning, swarming in and out of the channel, coming fairly close a few times. And on top of this, the waves were fun, as I predicted.

The sets were rolling in chest to shoulder high, reeling off beautiful, long, powerful lefts mostly. I managed to find a few rights worth riding, one was a little peeler with a small tube for me to duck under, and the other was one of the larger waves of the day. The bottom dropped out as the top jacked up, I dropped in, made my bottom turn and pumped up the face, leaning in tight to the wave when suddenly all the light around me turned green as I was enveloped in a perfect barrel lit up from behind by the early morning sun. I couldn’t help but holler as I shot out of the barrel and off the back of the wave, a smile plastered on my face.

M— was finding left after left, snapping the tops off of more than a few waves. We chatted, paddled, bullshitted, and enjoyed the clean and quiet swell. On the paddle in, the tide had dropped enough to expose a large portion of the anchor. “There it is!” I shouted gleefully as M— rolled his eyes again.