Wednesday, October 12, 2005

No One Rides Twinnies in Hawaii

Kauai, HB, Big Sur, new boards, leashes...where do I even begin?

Let's start with the Aloha State.

This was the 2nd year in a row I've taken the family to Hawaii. We rent a little bungalow on the beach near Poipu right across the street from "Baby Beach". The idea originally was to keep it all about the kids - no surfing. But last year, as I was sitting in a tide pool with my 1 1/2 year old son, watching him huck rocks and splash himself in the face, I noticed waves breaking about 200 yards west of us off the tip of the Lawa'i Beach House restaurant.

GOOD WAVES. Reeling barrels and perfect offshore conditions.

After 5 or 6 days of this, I gave my wife yet another of those pathetic puppy dog looks, she rolled her eyes, and said, "Oh my GOD, stop giving me those looks and go rent a board already!"


Well, kind of...

As most anyone reading this can attest to, renting a board - whether you've done it or not - does not hold a lot of appeal, for a variety of reasons. Even if the waves are firing.

First, surfboards are very personal things. There's a reason most of us get them custom shaped. Every board suits a different sized person, a different type of wave, and a different style of waveriding. The chances of finding the right board at a rental shop are about 20 to 1.

Second, even if you do find the right board, it's probably beat to shit. Rental boards are like rented horses. They look like crap, they don't respond terribly well, and they get treated badly.

Third, good surfers - or at least serious surfers anyway - don't rent boards. They BRING their boards with them in big expensive carrying cases with big expensive shipping charges. While you have to be a pretty damn good golfer to cart your clubs around in those giant kevlar tuba cases, even average surfers bring their own equipment. Which means that the very act of walking into a surf shop and saying, "Hi, I'd like to rent a board" is akin to stamping "KOOK" on your forehead.

So walking into the Aloha Surf Shop in Old Koloa Town, desperate to get some of the action I'd seen up the beach from our bungalow, I swallowed my pride and told the 40 something lady at the counter that I'd like to rent a board. And then followed it up with some of the most rambling, pathetic attempts to save face you've ever seen. Ellen Degeneres herself would have shaken her head and thought, "Kook."

"Hi, I'd like to rent a board."

"Ok, do you want lessons too?"

"Um, no thanks, I've actually been surfing for close to 20 years. This was, uh, supposed to be a family wife and I, we've got a kid...he's 1 1/2...and uh, I wasn't going to bring boards. But then I saw how good the waves were and decided to come rent a board, which is, uh, kind of embarrassing."

"Where are you going to surf?"

"Um, not sure what it's called...we're staying at Baby know, with the baby and all...and I saw some waves breaking near there. Looks really fun."

"Oh, that's dangerous. Acid Drops and PKs. My daughter surfs there every day."

"How old is your daughter?"

"She's 11...she's so good. She rips."

"Nice. Well, yeah, I can't wait to get out there."

"It's pretty dangerous. Maybe we get you some go surf in Poipu? Mellow waves there. Good for learning."

"No, uh, like I said, I've been surfing since I was 13. We live in Huntington Beach."

"Where you surf in Huntington?"

"Uh, where? Um, kind of...well usually, kind of north of the you know Huntington?"

"My daughter, she surf at the pier. For contests, you know."

"Right, right...well, um, so I'd like to get that hybrid board out on the porch. That 7'0" right there. How much is that?"

"Oh, you want that board? How about this board instead? It's a shortboard."

"Um, yeah, it's kind of small and I might be too big for it, I think I'll go with that hybrid egg thing."


"Okay, if that's what you want. You sure you no want to look out back? We got some good boards out there. Pick any one you like."

"Um, okay, sure...I'll go take a look."


"Um, yeah, those are all soft-top boards."

"Yeah, good boards. Good for learning. My daughter learn to surf on those. She really good now."

"I'll just take that hybrid board."

"Ok, you be careful. Acid Drops and PKs only for good surfers. I don't want you to get hurt."

"Don't sweat it...I know what I'm doing. Promise."

An hour later I was sitting outside the lineup at PKs on my rented surfboard, and sure as shit did NOT know what I was doing.

The waves were even faster and juicier than I'd thought - overhead, high tide peaks jacking on the reef into reeling barrels. This so-I'd-thought hybrid was really just a badly designed "fun board" that had all the drawbacks of a longboard, a shortboard, and a pintail gun, with none of the benefits. Big fat nose, narrow was like someone had taken a 1960's era noserider, sawed off the nose and attached it to Gerry Lopez' 1976 Pipe gun. It didn't' paddle, it didn't catch waves, it didn't duck dive, and it sure as shit didn't turn.

After 45 minutes of flapping and clawing into any leftover that rolled my way, I finally locked into a slow-rolling mushburger that I hoped would reform on the inside. It didn't. And when I finally accepted defeat and started paddling back out, I ran smack into the set of the day, feathering and growling 20 feet in front of me.


This was like a bad Indo flashback. I didn't know whether to try and push through, turn turtle, or bail. Frozen with indecision, I tried some spastic hybrid of all 3 and just got fucking WHOMPED. Just drilled into the reef, feet first, with my right ankle taking the brunt of it on a rock custom designed by volcanic craftsmen to tear flesh and chip bone.

I came up gasping and holding my ankle, the rented "hybrid" finally revealing its true function: doing a remarkable job of tombstoning and anchoring me in the impact zone.

Two waves on the head and 10 minutes later I limped up onto the beach, inspected the so-deep-they're-white gashes on my feet and ankles, and walked back to our Baby Beach Bungalow, schooled, bleeding, and humiliated.

Okay, now that was last year. This year there would be no such kooking out. I was going to pack a board - "MY board, Alex" - and get some of that Hawaiian juice the proper way.

(BTW, for those who remember my last post, there was some confusion about airline board charges. American Airlines revised their board charge fees a few years ago. It's $80, each way, PER BOARD. Not per bag. They're very specific about that now. Even if you're a Platinum member. Fuckers.)

I also hedged my bet this year and brought along a friend (charging foreign waves is always better with a bro). Web and his wife - we all went to SDSU together - and their two kids, also the same age as our two kids, rented the bungalow next door.

The nice thing about Web is that he's a charger - tons of energy. He'll surf twice a day if he can, and this is on top of midnight diaper changes, 5 AM Barney videos, late night beers and game after game of Yahtzee on the porch. When we go on our yearly Mex trip, he never gives up. Never. He'll be in his chair, passing out, enough tequila and Pacifico to kill a day laborer, but he WON'T go to bed. Even with eyes shut and chair tipping dangerously back towards the cliff, you can give him a quick, "Web, what up?" and he'll raise his horns in the air and give you a solid, "YOOOOOUUUUU!" like he's hooting you into the pit at Pipe.

So Web and I surfed every day for almost a week. Acids Drops, Centers, PKs, even a dawn patrol jaunt up to 2 foot and mushy Pakala's.

All in all we scored pretty good waves. It was never quite the perfect juice I'd gotten hammered by the year before, but a few decent pits and a handful of big Hawaiian style turns.

The only thing we never quite got wired was the paddle out. The only surefire way to get out to any of the spots in front of the Lawa'i Beach House without dragging your knuckles on the reef, is to walk out on the rocks at the very tip, and time a jump into the water for a quick paddle to PK's.

For whatever reason, the pre-teens who completely dominate the inside at PK's have no problem with this maneuver. For those of us who don't walk on water though, it was a lot harder than it looked. Of the two times I tried it, I escaped both times without cheesegrating my fingers, but only once did I avoid dragging my fins over some underwater devil rock (leaving the leading edges of all three skegs bristling with scraped up fin fur).

The rest of the time we paddled out from somewhere inside the cove, and upon reaching the outside (or inside, depending on if you're a surfer or a snorkler) reef, touched bottom every time. Which, by the way, is 100% luck when it comes to flesh wounds. I drilled my digits into a handful of different rocks and coral heads and escaped with nothing but a scraped knuckle. Web, on the other hand, barely glanced his hand on the wrong barnacle, and got his finger opened up with surgical precision - a long and deep slash that was straight-up Ginsu.

Ironically enough, the urchin filled coral didn't have much effect on our surfing - it was pretty much just a paddling hassle. Then again, when a perfect wall lines up for you, mist blowing off the top with perfect offshore winds, the bottom could be lined with Iraqi mines and it'd still be hard to resist whacking the top or ducking under the lip.

I guess that's just the nature of surfing in the tropics.

Before I call it a day, a few random observations on Hawaii...

I still can't get used to the fact that Hawaii is a state. It feels like the 3rd world, with better roads and more pizza joints.

The "Island music"they play on the radio is pure unadulterated crap. The legit reggae is good (but tiresome after 2 weeks). It's the 70's and 80's pop songs they re-create with cheesy keyboards. Not sure what I'm talking about? Give this a whirl at your own risk (but don't say I didn't warn ya).

Aloha is a marketing gimmick promoted by the department of tourism. Sorry, but it's true. There might be some genuine aloha that exists between locals, but how is that any different from any town where neighbors smile and look out for one another? The locals don't like the tourists. Period. The spirit of Aloha went out with Jack Lord's hair (assuming it ever really existed in the first place).

If you wear a "Grown Here, Not Flown Here" t-shirt you are a retard. Same goes for the "Allbline" t-shirts. Only Jim Anchower gets to wear that one (or possibly Jay & Silent Bob).

The kids in Kauai surf so naturally it's scary. After a session at Acid Drops, Web and I watched the groms tear up PK's. We saw some 8 year-old drop in backside, bottom turn, carve off the top, fade back into the whitewater while the wave reformed, then pull into the barrel - the wave knowledge of a 20 year surfer. It's the complete opposite of HB, where the kids stumble to their feet like Bambi on ice, flap their arms, then try to boost an air. All tricks, no fundamentals.

There is a contingent of young girls in Kauai who KILL IT. One of them is probably that lady's daughter from the surf shop. They're all about 10-14, look like little beauty queens, and can smack a lip like Jon-Jon. Easily the most impressive thing I saw during my stay (unless you include the man-sized logs my son was squeezing out several times a day during his potty training).

The food in Hawaii sucks. Even the chicken is imported from the mainland (and in Kauai you can't spit without hitting a wild rooster). And the closer you get to what the locals eat, the worse it gets. All you have to do is look in the shopping cart of any local at the market. Artificially flavored fruit drinks, Budweiser, pork ribs, chicken thighs, macaroni, and all sorts of pickled and gooey homegrown salad concoctions. Not surprising I guess coming from the biggest consumers of SPAM in the union. Blech.

Hawaii is almost painfully beautiful sometimes. One afternoon, we were playing in the lagoon part of Poipu Beach, right across from Brennecke's, and I looked west to see offshore a-frames breaking in a half dozen spots, palm trees blowing in the tradewinds, perfect sand beaches, a perfect blue sky dotted by a handful of puffy white clouds, all anchored by that water that looks straight out of a Corona ad. At that moment, the thought of going back to blown-out, sloppy, red tide HB was almost unbearable.

The Colonel says, "Mahalo."