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.
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.
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.
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
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.
“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?
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.