War. Since the dawn of time. For centuries the forces of nature have been engaged in an epic battle. For ages the armies of the North and South have clashed in the Pacific Ocean. A shoving match in perfect balance. Ripples from the battleground reaching distant lands. Some reaching as far as the most remote archipelago on earth. Tiny Islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Hawaii.
Millions of years ago these lands broke through the crust of the earth miles beneath the sea. Conceived in the bowels of the earth and birthed by Mother Nature herself, growing from infancy to grandeur. Eventually rising to the heavens to stand as giant underwater mountains. Persistent pressure pushed these mountain peaks higher than any on earth. High enough to breach the ocean surface. Patiently growing over millennia, welcoming a new colonizer every few thousand years. These lands slowly became home. At the very end of this massive struggle, at the tops of these mountains reside a people in perfect harmony, little concerned with the ages of effort beneath their feet. Deeply grateful to Pele.
No Kahiki mai ka wahine `o Pele,
Mai ka `aina mai o Polapola,
Mai ka punohu a Kane,
Mai ke ao lapa i ka lani.
The woman Pele comes from Kahiki,
From the land of Polapola,
From the rising mist of Kane,
From the clouds that move in the sky.
A people in harmony with their world and the times. They see the passing storms as mood swings of the gods. Storms so great as to baffle the human mind. To the Universe simply strings in vibration. Mother Nature and Father Time’s offspring at play. The oceanic ripples resemble a rope spanning between the far North and South gently being tugged up and down. The waves reaching the Hawaiian islands inspire awe. A moment in time lends a glimpse of these forces at play. Enough to inspire a desire to enter the game.
A billion year old battle. Underground pressure push the earth to collide with the lashing teeth of the ocean. Waves of the big blue pacific crash on the reef night and day. In the midst of this torment floats a surfer. A few thousand years ago there was a soul brave enough to conquer his forefathers’ fear. The first to try and ride these forces of nature.
A fight against fear.
The best time to go is the morning. The best way to enter the water on a cold morning is to simply run at it. The best way to catch a big wave is to paddle all out for it.
The best way to success?
While sitting on the water facing away from the safety of shore, the surfer watches the open prairie of the pacific for a chance. Constantly gazing, analyzing, waiting to strike at his prey. The anticipation of the hunt and the reward of the catch triggers a primal instinct. It engages the senses completely, senses evolved for survival. In tune with the forces of nature, waiting to strike for a kill.
The point of intelligent life. The height of awareness. Where skill matches difficulty. The point of pure flow.
Suddenly distracted, the beauty of the sun glistens up the face of a curling wave, the lip becomes see-through with swirling colors of saturating light. The wave starts to break. The contrast of bright white foam against the dark belly of the wave inspires hope. All this magnificent art displayed against a back drop of endless open blue sky. Clouds of white paint scattered across its canvas. The sensory overload weaved through the thrill of the catch keeps the surfer hanging between the forces of nature until pure exhaustion. At that point, an internal negotiation, an eternal struggle… return home, or try… to catch… one more…
To strive, to seek, to find the freedom of flight. Icarus felt the sensation of flying. His father taught hubris but his desire to get higher was cut short by a heavenly fire. For centuries man has envied the elegant gift bestowed upon the bird.
The brave die young. The cautious hardly live. Those who find the line and push the boundary also push the human race to the future.
The feeling of flight has stirred many an imagination, the attempt has filled many a grave. The boundary of flight gave Emilia a platform to fight. Success propelled men and women into the ages.
Despite man’s ingenuity to reach for the stars he still failed to see the light. Despite all the trials and tribulations there was always a shortcut to the sensation. One which may have allowed Icarus to live. A way that delivers the pure joy of flight with nothing more than a piece of drift wood. Flight without the need of a Rocket or a Twin Turbo Rolls Royce engine but instead a simple piece of foam. Discovered off the shores of these ancient islands.
As a bird takes to the sky with its porous bones filled with air, the surfer takes to the seas with a body, mostly of water. Floating in the air the bird sways back and forth. On the water the surfer sways in wait for the perfect wave. When duck diving under a wave, the force of the water in the belly of the wave shears past the surfer’s face, the sensation resembles that of an Eagle in free fall off the edge of a cliff. Come up behind a wave like this and feel the rush explode. The bird hears a hissing sound when cutting through the air. The same sound produced by a board slicing through the water. When the sea bird soars past the surfer in search of a kill, their eyes meet for a brief moment in mutual respect.
It is a strange feeling being so far out at sea but here lies the surfer in wait. Hopefully just far enough to catch the perfect wave. Sitting, waiting, staring into the curvature of the earth. Wishing. Trying his best to predict the next wave. In the distance, he looks for that small sign of a wave approaching. A little bump of hope on the horizon. A white dove. A sine wave signaling a sign from above. Every wave he allows to pass grows his anxiety. A thrilling game, deciding to react. You don’t want to hesitate and paddle too late, then risk wasting energy on lost fate. Never paddle too soon, then get chased by the fury of a crashing monsoon. Better to dive under such a colossal stampede.
The best approach? A Stoic philosophy may hail heroic harmony.
The distance from shore makes a betting man excited. Sit in the right spot and catch twice as many or more. Misjudge your distance and watch every wave go by. The anticipation becomes overwhelming. Often ends in despair. Often raises one’s hairs.
It’s a game. The decision to go for the wave or let it go. It rests in a mental battle with the Big Blue Sea. A consistent sine wave with unpredictable frequency and amplitude. One fact stands in the heart of the surfer. A wave will always come. A double stacked amplitude will make the adrenaline run.
It’s one thing to get up on a wave and ride, it’s another to harness the tide, take control and glide, use the flow as a guide.
Mind over water. If only your mind is ready, ready to believe. At the very moment of being tested. The moment your timing is off. The potential to result in dire consequences. When you spot a big one, the wave of the day, no, the wave of the week. Is it safe? Still trying to decide, what may be your biggest chance may soon fade away. The pain from previous opportunity passed, pushes the will. At the last tick of a clock, give in to temptation, fight off fear to commit. It’s gonna be a huge one. You paddle with all your might. What might be a legendary wave. The water’s energy start to take over. Doubt. Suddenly you realize you may have misjudged. Belief crumbles fast as the wave picks you upward, no longer sliding down the face. Instead, it is retracting away. Suspended on the soon-to-break lip of the wave. Looking down as the wave picks you higher, fear starts to sink in deeper. Usually the impulse that follows the energy of the wave taking over is to jump up on your board. It’s a good idea if the wave starts pushing your board forward. Bad idea when being picked up skyward. The choice to try and bail or to drop in over the lip to a void of thin air hangs in a split second. The scale of experience tips away from safety, away from the comfort of the known, of stability guaranteed. Toward the unknown. The drop, the raging water inaudible, a body suspended in time above victory versus defeat. Everything quiet. Faith cracks, give in, regret. Silence. Mind over water falters in disaster. Storms from the North Atlantic collide with the tides of the South Pacific. This eternal war at the center of the heart. Leading the onslaught, a surfer in doubt. His reward? Getting crushed by the forces of nature unrealized till this very moment.
A gasp of air, may be the last. Held under, loose oxygen fast. Down under up over, this way and that. Consciousness now turning black. Save a breath. To the very last. Roll the dice, a gamble of life. Confusion crash, a virtuous vice. Last air in the lungs a floating device.
If only the mind was ready, ready to believe at the very moment of being tested. Ready to commit whole heartedly.
The other side. Cross over to the unknown. Breach the gap of resistance. Allow the road blocking boulder to become a stepping stone. Forget regret. Let the past sleep where it lies. Allow fear to propel to potential. A leap of faith is what advances the human race.
Taking a risk. Making the big drop. The unexpected result is what drives the addiction. Terrifying. Rewarding. The wave you go for but immediately regret. Since it’s too late, you convince yourself in a split second to continue. The lack of experience veers toward bravery. The drop down looks fierce, but surviving this slide down a 10 foot face and shooting out in front of the wave is what sets off fireworks in the pleasure center of the brain. Better than any vice. The reward for conquering doubt. The reward for belief in the moment of being tested. The reward for taking a leap.
The friends you make, the seals you see, the sunrise and clouds, remind us we are free.
The surf spot I visit has a substitute teacher with a streak of 1 month. He is always the first one in the water in the morning, right as the darkness starts to shrink. Known as Mark in the Dark. His daily visits to this spot has taught him the ways of this break. He taught me about a light colored bush on shore. Perpendicular to the shore line at this bush is where the reef splits the wave. Sit right there and catch waves either way. This doubles the number of waves you get. It’s an insiders secret.
A collection of advice. A military contractor, a botanical gardener, a substitute teacher, an eye doctor and a construction worker, all share a love of surfing. We meet at the break of dawn for a friendly “who can catch the next one.”
The contractor told me to inch up on the board ever so slightly. Find the center of balance. The nose of the board suddenly sunk just barely below the surface and the board came to a level halt under my chest. This is known as the sweet spot. With the board at a level angle you can gain much more ground with less energy. The board gets taken by the force of the wave and with a few strokes you are in sync with the speed of the wave.
Advise is a given but experience has to be found.
Knowing when to go for it? It comes down to that moment when you have to pull the trigger. That split second to decide. To exert maximum effort or to quit and let the wave pass. With the correct guess you can successfully catch the wave and enjoy the ride. Or the opposite, you could decide at the right moment to let it pass and save energy for the next wave. This is the surfer’s gamble. A human gamble. Like betting on the stock market, waiting for the waves of commerce to ride them into profits.
Catching a wave is just a prelude to much more demanding skills. Once up and standing the immediate goal is to turn either left or right. Go straight and simply end up in the white wash. Stay in the white wash too long and end up in the reef. Stuck in the mouth of the bowl and fight to get back behind the break. Once up on the board, look left, then right and decide. Pivot at the waist and lead with the chest. Lean into the turn. Once you turn, the goal is to get up the face of the wave, to gain the higher ground. From this vantage point you can fly back down the face of the wave or enjoy the view from the upper edge.
Fighting the forces of nature can result in disaster. The shoulder inflammation gets worse the more I fight. An intense shoulder pain right over the acromium. Worse when I lift my arm. Brought on by repetitive overhand activity like tennis or surfing, more so, fighting to catch a wave, fighting to get out of the bowl. Fighting a losing battle. Impingement Syndrome. Surfer Shoulder. The fix, physical therapy or surgery. Got me a bungee cord, pulling this way and that, surgery is one thing I can’t afford. Temporary relief from therapy. Temporary release back in the water. Permanent relief came when I stopped fighting. One with the ocean. My timing improved. No longer having to paddle all out for 10 yards. Instead I only need to paddle a few times to catch the wave. My duck diving improved. No longer getting stuck in the lions den of crashing waves. No longer shoulder pain and gnashing of teeth. The more in sync with the ocean the less of a fight.
The more inline with the ages and times the more bliss in a single glass of wine.
The elevator. When first paddling out you have decide where you will wait. Generally as you approach the deep you can somewhat guess where most waves will break. The break I frequent has a nice right or left. The waves approach the shore at a 30 degree angle with the right side of the wave closest to the shore. This angle led to the elevator. If paddling out to the right and you catch a wave on the way out it will spit you out farther from the shore and closer to the most breaks than where you started. This is known as the elevator. Nothing like making the first wave and having it work to your advantage. In sync.
The Chase. Hawaii gets a big northern swell during the Northern hemisphere winter and a southern swell during the summer. It results in a year long migration in search of the perfect wave. Water flows to the path of least resistance. Surfers flow to the opposite. They tend to clump in areas of easy access and perfect waves.
Escape the crowd. The only rule of Mahalapu, don’t tell anyone you surf Mahalapu.
The hand of God. When you truly catch your first wave it is exhilarating. First you paddle until you feel the force in the wave starting to take over, then you jump up and lean just a little to turn the board and stay on the upper part of the face of the wave (the top of the slope) then turn just slightly the other way to suddenly shoot down the slope of the wave. Whenever this happens it feels like an invisible force wraps around your backside and heaves you forward. The first time I felt this I simply collapsed in the water and floated on my back looking up at the blue sky. If anyone saw me they would have seen the exhilarating yet confused look of disbelief mixed with utter enjoyment expressed on my face.
With persistence the other surfers start to observe your technique, you get to a point where you start hearing comments on not just the surf as a whole but the very tiny intricacies of each turn or bump or slide you do. I was asked how I get up on my board. My foolish reply, “I just pop up.” The equivalent of asking a construction worker how he built a high rise and he replies “oh I just built it up.” One brick at a time. One limb at a time was the answer. There is a system to getting up. A step by step. First place your thumbs by your nipples on the board. Then bring your rear food to the back of the board. Then raise your chest. Then swing your front foot between your hands. Then get up to a semi squat. Then stand. Not just popping up. Less falls, a ratio improves. How did Edmund Hillary climb to the top? One step at a time. How did Edmund Halley discover his comet? One number at a time. Hail History.
The waves also get broken down to add to the discussion. The last blip where the right hits the reef and it creates this little bump on the wave that sometimes spill over into a tiny barrel. This is labeled a Hail Mary. If you hit it just right it will give you that last little push into the end zone.
There comes a time when you figure out how to catch enough waves to get a decent record. When you catch just one you become a statistic. One out of ten is better than none out of ten, then the ratio improves. Soon you catch about 5 out of ten. That’s a 50% success rate. It also happens to be just enough to match that of the veterans. You see, the guys that have been surfing your spot for ages rely on their average and when a new young buck comes and interferes with this average it can get ugly. In California you can get yourself in a post surf beach brawl or sometimes even in the water. In Hawaii you get a welcoming warning, a lesson on surfing and a Shakabrah from Uncle.
It so happened that one day I was catching about the same amount of waves as the veteran. The problem with reaching the 50% average is that you may very well catch the waves but don’t quite know what to do with them after that. Still trying to figure out how to pop up, turn, carve, ride the lip, stay on the smooth and staying ahead of the curl. So when you catch as many as the veteran but don’t make each wave count, meaning you get a stellar ride out of it, it can make some people mad. Think about it. The veteran sees the young buck catching waves that he could have gotten, but watching the buck waste a good wave can be infuriating. A small part in the veterans heart is satisfied when the buck crash and burn.
So the day comes when the Old lion snaps at the young cub. The warning to back off. It happened when I went for a wave, crashed and ended up in the white wash. The veteran was right behind me, paddling into a perfect wave. I didn’t know if I should veer left or right to let him pass, he didn’t show me which way he was going to go. Imagine two cars heading straight for each other on the road, one waiting for the other to choose a side to veer off in order to respond and go the other way. The veteran came rushing towards my head and at the last moment years of experience kicked in and he simply cut away and splashed a bunch of water right in my face. The way a hockey player can shoot the ice at an opponent’s head. I only laughed. The next round the veteran said hi, he acknowledged the young buck. A mutual respect. He gave me advice on popping up on my board better. Thanks Uncle.
The meeting place. There’s few other sports that bring the same characters to the same spot day after day. Surfing in the morning is like a daily reunion of the same characters. A few dare the cold dive before the sun is up. A sacred time with no wind. The morning sun has not had the chance to wake the onshore winds. The ocean wakes from a calm glass dormancy to greet the morning crew in succession. The birds have not had the chance to wake the tourists.
Kai. The old man with the grey beard. He told me about the accelerator. Each wave changes as you surf along. From a long smooth down slope it may suddenly pile up to form a sudden right angle with a steep drop face. If you anticipate this stall coming you can lean in to ride up the slope of the face of the wave to get to the top of the steep section. Almost like being at the top of a halfpipe with a skateboard. Right here is the point where you can shift your front foot slightly forward to put a little pressure on the front of the board. This will cause the board to pivot forward and with the weight of the wave behind you it will push you forward instantly. This can also be done in a mid section given that you find a little lip in the wave. When stepping on the accelerator it resembles hitting a boost pad in Mario Kart.
Kai also told me you gotta find all the little nuances of your board. Moving your feet ever so slightly around the board creates all sorts of maneuvers. I have yet to discover. I have yet to figure out where my feet are on the board.
Is it luck? When two sine waves travel in the same plain and meet, two things may happen. If their amplitude differ by a negative they will cancel. If their amplitude differ by a positive they will increase in strength. When one takes note of the frequency of ripples through the ocean and by chance the length of time between each peak decreases there should come a point when two ripples overlap and cause a much bigger wave. An outlier occurs. A randomized event in favor of excitement. The likes of hitting a triple 7 at the slots. A once in a life time event. When these sine wave peaks collide and add to massive glory, the surfer finds the reason he goes through so much trouble.
Roger. He is 85 years strong. He has surfed for 65 of those. I was astonished. He said he is more amazed that he is still alive. I asked him if all those years have taught him to predict when a wave comes. He said at this point he can’t see very well, all he sees are lines on the ocean surface. When the lines get higher he starts paddling then holds on for dear life. He doesn’t stand on his board. He stays in his knees. That way he can see the shape of the wave better. He also has limited mobility in getting up. He can’t drive so he gets a ride to his surf spot. He goes every day.
Bill reads the surf report. Today the disappointment is evident. He says the guy that wrote the report today most likely got up and did the Mexican Hat Dance on his D***. I’m still confused, but I guess that’s the point he’s trying to make
A moment of silence when the wind dies. How do the explosions inside the sun, the rotation of the earth and the capacity for water to retain heat longer affect the surfer? Wind. Moving air. Movement caused by differences in pressure. The earth tries to collect the suns energy throughout the day. Rocks and dirt accumulate heat much faster than water. The ground heats up fast in the morning sun but it only borrows for a short while. In a swift altruistic move it donates the heat back to the atmosphere. Rising temperatures over the land causes the air to ascend. This escape of air creates a void, a low pressure pocket. A need for air is created.
The cool ocean air rushes in for the job. This movement of air current creates the onshore winds. A large body of water acts like a capacitor, it slowly accumulates heat through the day. in the evening when the land has cooled the ocean starts releasing heat. Always lagging behind the air temperature. Now the warm air rises from the ocean and the opposite effect occurs. Air floods down from the valleys and hills toward the coast. This creates off shore winds. These can fluff up an approaching wave. Make it a little steeper, add a little cushion to it. To the surfer it is a little slower but loftier ride. Closer to what a bird must feel.
This happens when the air current comes to a halt. When atmospheric pressures exert the same amount of force movement ceases.