Surfing the Curl
“Memory is the treasure house of the mind”
– Thomas Fuller (1608-1681)
“What happened? What did you run into?” Mr. Parks was concerned, as I walked slowly into the law office in Honolulu where I worked.
I replied with a grin, “Didn’t run into anything; a loose surfboard ran into my ribs!”
“Ouch!” He grimaced, since he also loved the sport of surfing and would go early in the morning before he came into the office.
I had learned to surf the long board in Waikiki where the beach boys taught me how to tandem surf in front of the Moana Hotel with its big Banyan tree and outdoor bar. What a thrill to be lifted up on Menehune’s shoulders for a ride! I laughed with delight as we headed for shore. Always flirting with the ladies, this pure Hawaiian male, lean as a knife, had a handsome head set on his strong neck, a gold chain gleaming against his brown chest.
This exciting sport, and my enthusiasm for it, would become my favorite pursuit as I paddled out for yet another wave one morning. The ocean sparkled from the sun, with dots of surfers bobbing on the waves waiting for “the big one.” The waves rose, their crests curling and fan shaped - the ocean intoxicating, inviting. Suddenly, as my board broke the surf, directly in front and bearing down on me was an outrigger canoe full of tourists. Oh dear! My heart stopped at my alarming thoughts: I had no time - a split second to decide to jump off or stay on my board? The consequences could be calamitous if I did not jump off - would I be knocked unconscious and drown?
With a silent prayer I chose to stay on, deftly managing to maneuver my board between the hull and outrigger with scarcely an inch to spare, saving myself from serious injury. Smiling back at the outrigger and her nervous passengers, I heard gasps!
Shooting the curl, dropping out from foaming crests, sliding shoreward - these I did as often as possible on this visit to our Aunt Elsie’s home in Diamond Head that summer. My sister and I had flown over from our home on Maui and although we were visiting our aunt for only a few weeks on Oahu, our time had already been memorable; we were elated to go for a swim at Waikiki beach the day I learned to surf. One evening we were sitting on the verandah reminiscing.
“Laurie, you must learn to surf the next time we go back. It’s intoxicating!” I insisted.
“No, thanks, I’ll leave the surfing for you. I like to stay closer to shore. I enjoyed our picnics on the sand at Waimanalo and Makaha with our aunties,” she said.
“Yes - and I’ll never forget the fun of playing bingo at the Country Club. Surely, we can’t forget trying to dance with our cousins at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel or driving up to Tantalus with Doug and Jim to see the City lights! And don’t forget our hikes to Sacred Falls and to Makapu’u Point Lighthouse,” said Laurie.
This lighthouse was first built in 1909 when there was no road around the island. Lighthouse keepers had to travel through thorny kiawe growth by foot or horseback and supplies were brought in by mule-drawn wagons. Although our hike was on a narrow rutted asphalt road, it was still lengthy and strenuous circling the rocky cliffs, but rewarding to be greeted by a beautiful view of Makapu’u Bay and Waimanalo Valley.
“What about watching the gliders at Dillingham Field and seeing the Polo Match! It’s been a marvelous visit; I know we will leave with heavy hearts,” I said.
Suddenly, the phone’s ring interrupted our reminiscences on the verandah. Then Aunt Elsie came running out: “Florine is in jail!”
“Not again?” I said. He lived and worked on auntie’s property and loved to go to illegal cockfights to gamble. She left in a hurry to go bail him out of jail once more. Laurie and I loved to tease him about it - while he insisted he would conquer his habit! I thought this sport was cruel, but understood it was part of his culture and lifestyle, and he was such a good man. We loved to seek him out to “talk story” when we visited, and to share the latest jokes told in his halting Filipino dialect.
The next morning was warm and humid. A quick swim in the ocean sounded inviting as we dashed upstairs to change. We walked down the smooth stoned pathway, eager to enjoy the sun-drenched beach under a pale blue cloudless sky. Crabs were strewn over sand the color of ochre, like jewels from a broken necklace and birds skimmed over the breakers. “Poochie,” our aunt’s engaging Boxer, tagged along, but he was soon diving energetically under the waves retrieving sticks thrown for him, rushing back up the beach, shaking water vigorously over us, spurring us to join him in the fun. We jumped into the ocean and, buoyed by the waves, let the sea rock us.
“Let’s try to swim out to the reef,” I suggested.
“Oh, no! You’ll get all cut up with the coral. Don’t you remember when Cousin Karen got bit by a moray eel out there?”
“Okay.” I kicked my toes in the sand. “Besides we have to get back soon to see what happened to Florine.”
Back at the house, Aunt Elsie was alone in the living room. “How frightfully unreasonable Florine is sometimes,” she said, staring into space. “He was so apologetic and remorseful. I only hope he has learned his lesson this time. He is a very good and loyal worker, and I do not know what I would do without him. But, I am tired of bailing him out of jail.”
“Let’s forget about this episode and have a light lunch now,” she said in her gentle voice. “Since you girls will be leaving for home tomorrow morning, the family’s coming over for a barbecue tonight.”
The subtle fragrance of ginger wafted over the lanai that evening as we all sat with our drinks watching cousin Fred barbeque steaks. The women were dressed in graceful mu’umu’us, the men in aloha shirts and shorts. This would be our last night with our cousins and aunts until next summer.
After dinner and reminiscing, my sister and I wandered down the lawn to the rock wall facing the ocean. The dazzling light of the moon above the palm trees reached to the sea, meeting the quiet slap of the waves on shore, left me silent. How could one paint a picture more incredibly beautiful than this? The scene would be printed indelibly in my mind; surely, I would never experience one exactly the same again. I wanted to claw my way into the sand and stay on the beach forever.
When flying back to Maui the next day, slicing through the sky into the mirrored blue, tears fell. Only the engines’ murmur broke the silence between my sister and me. I wondered what she was thinking. Already missing the grins and outstretched hands that greeted us, I settled down into my seat with a smile.