I have only ventured out to the store once or twice, taken the girls on flash flood watching drives, we all made it to the path a few times, we’ve walked Ea and Lani Roads to no end, I even took a drizzly bike ride on my 45 minute loop up Kawaihau and Kahuna Roads, but today was the first time since the quarantine that I have ventured farther afield than Kapaʻa town.
The weather has been pleasant since Thursday, since the kona storm finally drifted off. I had tentative plans to meet M– at Mahaʻulepu this morning but he couldn’t make it. I briefly thought about Anchors and Nukoliʻi as I packed up the truck, but the wind was too brisk. I thought the north shore would certainly have better waves but I was worried Kalihiwai would still be too muddy, so I made the drive south.
I pulled up to the cliff around 8:10 and just watched for a while. Low tide was close to 9:30 a.m., bottoming out at 0.01 feet but much of the near shore reef was already dry. The near side of the bay was dirty, red orange, frothy, but a sharp line separated the mud from the surf break, showing the hard edge and direction of Mahaʻulepuʻs dependable current. The waves were small, crumbly, but frequent enough for me to head down the hill, across a newly minted sand flat that had completely buried the tide pools in front of the stream. The river itself was a brighter dirty red, headed for the open ocean via the sandy spot right in front of the house, instead of straight out across the rocks, impeded by all the new sand. I walked across all this and sat under the trees to watch some more.
The skies were classic, blue and white, the air was bright, saturated, the sun warm but the breeze cool. The water was a beautiful green across the surf break, but the outside peak of the outside wave sparkled translucent blue as it pitched over. As I stood on the edge of the reef, waiting for a wave to deepen the water enough, I noticed the inside section was the color of tea, fading to that brilliant green I saw from above.
I wasn’t hoping for much more than just a quiet few hours paddling in the sea. And at first, the waves met my low expectations. Over the course of the two hours, I found some fun ones, a few shoulder high runners. I even found myself dropping into a section that just opened up and curled right over my back, perfectly.
When the sun was high enough to tell me how long I had been out, I found a left and headed in, through the stinking red water in front of the house. The water felt thick on my skin, like rinsing a butter knife in cold water, like a film of sea foam mixed with the island mud coating me. A quick rinse from the canteen, and I sat to finish my coffee, looking at all the waves that I could have ridden.
I had plans, hatched last week, to meet M– and S– for a surf Sunday morning, before the Kona storm made its way over us, wiping out the rest of the week. Instead we have all spent the past few days adjusting and readjusting to current realities of pandemics while dealing with Erinʻs emergency room visit. She woke up early Saturday, maybe 1:00 in the morning, not being able to breathe, her throat swollen shut. She spent the next 36 hours in the hospital getting tests, retests, steroids, Benadryl, and I spent the time trying to keep the kids worry free while they wondered why they were not allowed in the hospital to see mom.
I spent Saturday morning at North Aliomanu with the girls, just playing in the rocks and tide pools while Erin was slowly breathing better in a hospital room. A large NW swell was wrapping around the island, closing out the little surf spot just to the south of us in a break between dry reef. Someone was out there for a while, catching some in-betweeners while dodging the sets. I just enjoyed the sun and clear water and the sights of Evora and Violet getting lost in salt air imagination.
Erin was out of the hospital by Sunday afternoon and we walked slowly on the path, north of Donkeys, to take last advantage of the sun. The field at the end of the path, overlooking the tiny rocky cove, was beyond pleasant and we spent an hour there, just sitting together. And now here we are, self-quarantined from the world, from the virus, from the rain, though that always makes its way into our home.
This is not a day for surfing. Maybe after the storm passes.
*edit – 12 months later and we are still riding out that storm and it is raining again, still.
Today is just past the full moon, the tide is high around 3:30 in the afternoon, over 1.5 feet. The winds lightened up again and the sky stayed clear most of the day. By the time I was leaving school, the mountains had been obscured by those towering grey-black clouds that have almost no definition and hang over everything like another mountain, above the mountain, like a shadow.
I pulled up to Kitchens, thinking that Playgrounds might not be working on this high tide and questionable swell. S– decided to head to Kahili, which I didn’t have time for today. Kitchens, Bluffs we called it my whole life, back when it was barely more than a four wheel drive track through ironwood, mud, and sand. We used to drive the landcruiser around one of the bluffs, punching through to the coastline, to post up for the weekends. I wasn’t there to surf back then. We were fishing, laying net, then bodyboarding away the hours between the work of checking the nets and hauling the nets and cleaning the fish. I have never met anyone else who calls that place Bluffs, just us and the Venturas, maybe.
ʻAlio is the stretch of sand from Hikinaʻakalā all the way to Hanamaʻulu. This place is huge, vast, always windswept and littered with drift wood, still wild looking despite the keiki swim ponds, the bike path, the camp sites, the golf course, and the hotel. Kitchens is the surf break just off the edge of the shallow reef where I spent my childhood fishing. It is usually a wind blown mess of peaks but sometimes the sand bars set up just right and the winds die down, and it is becomes one of the best spots around.
Today, the waves were glassy, blue but clear like resin, sparkling from below, and I could see a few peaks sucking off the sand bars, not well organized. I also saw a wave breaking another hundred yards farther out and not quite connecting. Honestly, the set up was a mess today, with swell racing across the edge of the reef and across the sand bars, from all directions, crisscrossing, piling up on top of each other, combining and doubling and separating seemingly randomly. I decided I could pick off a few lefts coming off the reef or maybe some rights coming off the first sandbar, so I headed out, never an easy paddle at Kitchens, always farther to go than you think. I ignored the Portuguese man o’wars lining the edges of the wet sand, feeling still protected by my tattoo and my wet suit top but also feeling silly for feeling that way.
Though the sets and wave directions were not orderly, every single ride was smooth as glass, surprisingly so. The rides were fast, some were even tipping past very good. I watched as one near perfect wave showed up in the midst of the mess and peel right in front of me, spitting as I paddled over. I later found one of those, maybe two, navigating the drops with the 7ʻ single fin, then stalling into the pocket as the wave curled over my back. Those two connected to fun inside sections with some great carvable faces.
No one was out and my arms got tired and I thought about L– and K–, crowding out my older memories now, their ashes out here somewhere, their families and smiles still tangled in the iron woods on shore.
March 11, 2020
Today was similar to yesterday. Light winds, clear skies all morning with clouds building up over the mountains by the afternoon. Today those clouds were just a bit darker and taller, spilling rain by 3:30, for just a bit, and fully obscuring the sun.
My voice was going by the end of the day, my throat felt scratchy, and Erin was strangely fatigued and sick all week and that virus is on the radio every day. I debated taking a nap when I got home to an empty house but forced myself to head down to Kealia to take advantage of the free hour, knowing that rains are always on the way, this afternoon or later this week or maybe all year.
Kealia was beautiful, glassy, super smooth and organized. There was a dreamy little peak between the tower and the river month, crowded by surfers. I decided to sit just off shore, right in front of the lifeguard tower, looking for the strange peelers I saw breaking closer in. I sat under a SUPer and a long boarder who were set up farther out than me but who were also too far out for the waves I was after. My choice paid off as I found ride after ride of glassy, beefy, chest high waves that spilled right up on to the sand. There wasn’t much face to work with, no little barrels to find or lips to duck under or bounce off, just racing down the line to the sand. Fun enough for a while.
Eventually I paddled over to the edge of the main peak, farther south, and found two near perfect waves despite the crowds. One ride in particular was long enough and full of enough turns and snaps to make my legs burn. From there I headed back to my shore break spot for a few more, all the while eyeing the break at Landings.
I decided to paddle up there for a last wave after seeing a few beauties roll through empty waters. As I sat there waiting, the water roll around me, silver then blue then green, invisible, translucent, glowing, then opaque and back again. Kealia is rarely this calm and you almost never get to see the sea floor here with any clarity but today it was a pleasure. Finally that last wave rolled in, peaking up and sucking down at the same time, and it was worth the wait, small but perfectly steep. I rode the wave well which is all I ever want, to ride the wave I am on the way I should, not like I wished it was something else. By the end, I was just moving on moving water until it was moving sand and I was moving feet, running up the shore, smiling.
March 13, 2020
No surf today. Just more news piling up, more clouds piling up. And I said goodbye to my students, asking them to be safe, to take care, to ride the wave they are on, and to not wish for something else. I reminded them that, despite all the rumors and other indications, I care about them and that they are worth caring about.
And then the drive home, as the skies opened, and Erin’s throat closed, and the rainy weekend beginning in the dark of the ER and ending in the setting Sunday cloud-dimmed sun.
March was the first month of the old Roman calendar, our first moments of coming spring, not yet the cruelest month, and October marked the end of the year set out for Mars, marching across the way we decided to divide time.
March: a borderland, the action of making measured steps, a footprint. What is between the fall and spring, besides the shortening days?
March 4, 2020
The first few days of March have been marked by one thing: wind. Sunday and Monday were well past breezy, with gusts reaching beyond 40mph. Finally though, Tuesday morning dawned with no wind and crystal clear skies, but the seas still surging. The winds stayed light and variable all day, the swell down only a foot or two.
I checked Amonias after school and almost jumped in there after seeing a glassy chest high wave roll through but I thought Nukoliʻi (usually called Playgrounds despite the dearth of any play equipment near by) might be good in these conditions, my lack of experience with Amonias pushing me on down the road.
As I turned down the long drive to the parking lot at Nukoliʻi, I noticed the flags whipping a bit more than I expected, but the water was still calm. I watched the waves for a bit. No one was out yet, but there were sets peeling off the outside of the reef, much bigger than the last time I was out. A large set, combined with my limited time and the long paddle, convinced me to again move on and check Kitchens. The sand bar there wasn’t set up right and the waves were doubling up, pinching off too fast. The inside bar was much smaller than Nukoliʻi and the outside break was twice as far out as normal and crumbly. I moved on once more.
Five minutes up the coast and I parked at Wailua to check the sand bars out in the middle of the wide bay, where I spent much of my childhood before hurricane Iniki erased most of the shallow sandy bottom. The water wasn’t as brown as yesterday and I saw one guy out on the north corner of the sandbar catching a few fun waves, so I headed out, picking my way up the beach through a maze of tree trucks, logs, and sticks. The waves were much more fun than I expected, glassy, powerful, with bowling sections, barrels, large faces, and ramps on the inside. I set up a bit north, looking for the waves coming in wide, rushing off the bar like trains. Two long boarders joined us and posted up at the apex, a little south and much farther out, finding longer but softer rides. I stayed in the water for about 90 minutes, paddling against a surprising current the entire time. Eventually a grom came out, joining me at my spot, and a woman on a longboard paddled out past us all. She went left, south, and I lost track of her as I wondered about how people surf in such small thongs.
As I paddled around, enjoying the straining of my muscles as much as the water and the waves, I was able to find a few head high rides along with many that were chest to shoulder high. Each wave grew bigger as they lunged up off the sandbar, the bottoms dropping out. The barrels let me in but never out, and were all still fun, especially in that slow moment in the silence that exists at the middle of a barreling wave just before it all explodes.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.