Nighttime On An Island

Nighttime on an island is where real magic happens. Whether it’s the Night Marchers’ frenzied drums and war cries echoing back from the centuries in the depths of Kalalau, or the little tricks the Menehune play while we sleep, or even my favorite sound, which I can hear from my bedroom…  the steady rise, pause, crash of a swell coming in on the East Side of Kaua’i. It’s all magical, surreal in its beauty, the dark silhouette of a sleeping giant in my backyard.

            I’m awake at five-thirty a.m., standing outside beneath the silver sweep of the Milky Way and all the throbbing stars in-between. The trade winds are blowing over me; still cool this early in the day. It brings the smell of ocean surf and plumeria, that familiar combination of salty and sweet which is almost as good in trail mix.

            I grab my board, a 5’8 fish. Fun shape, very floaty and a bitch to duck dive. All white and currently harboring only one sticker: a red and pink lotus flower. It’s my first board that’s all my own, and I named it Pua, which means flower in Hawaiian. (I’m in the habit of naming inanimate objects that could potentially save my life.) This is also the first board that I ever damaged. I was thirteen and it was one of my first times surfing; I dropped it directly onto its fin as I was washing it off. My future boss owned it then, and when I bought it from her a couple weeks ago, she told the story a few hundred times, laughing at the irony with each retelling.

            Anyway, I grab my board and put it in the back of my second most precious possession: my truck, named Kimo. It’s a white Nissan, plenty of dings and the back hatch doesn’t work, but it’s got air conditioning, which is a rarity here. I rip down the driveway and hang a right, the radio tuned to a soft station that plays ukulele intermittently through the static. I pull into my friend’s gravel driveway and she’s standing there in the gray light with a paddle in her hand and her SUP leaning against her calf.

            This early in the morning we talk only with small smiles and murmurings so light they’re not even real words. She gets in the passenger seat and I drive another very short distance and head down a long, straight road. I park on the grass with Kimo at an angle and my friend and I grab our boards and jog through the yellowish gray morning to a stand of trees.

            The path is a mixture of packed red dirt that will take the skin off your toes and soft, springy, Norfolk Pine needles. The sound of the surf grows louder, more insistent, and wax is sneaking under my fingernails as I readjust my grip on my board. The way to my home break is kind of like a roller coaster ride, it goes up and down in a series of little hills, swings around to the left, and boom!

            We’re standing on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the Pacific and the outer curve of the bay. Bright light is leaking out of the East, and my friend and I waste no time in continuing down a steep, slippery hill that opens up onto one of my favorite places on Kaua’i.

            The bay isn’t particularly large but it showcases Hawaiian beauty at its best. Ringed halfway by enormous black lava rocks, curving around to the opposite side with deep golden sand and tall coconut palms, topped off with a small freshwater river flowing into the bay.

            We stand on the pockmarked stones and watch as shuddering barrels curl in: perfect lefts. The wind is on, as it usually is this side of the island, but its not too much chop. When there’s a pause in the set I leap off the rocks and land on my board, cold water on my stomach and thighs. I paddle, paddle, paddle, water splashing into my mouth, goosebumps all over my body. I hear the slap of water on epoxy as my friend comes up from behind, a smile on her face. I feel one forming on mine too, unbidden but welcome.

            The sun rises as I sit up on my board and face the open ocean, legs dangling in the translucent, blue-green water.  I see shapes moving around me and I feel a moment of panic until I realize they’re huge, slow-moving, barnacled discs. Sea turtles! The clouds are yellow, pink and red as I see a wave on the horizon. I wait, feeling for the moment, check my friend’s position, and she waves me on.

            I’m on my stomach in a second, legs together and arms pumping. I can feel the power of the wave picking me up and my heart leaps as I am caught in the roiling blue energy. My feet find their place on my board and the wax grips the soles of my feet as my knees bend and flex, slicing my way through the center of the barrel, cutting it open like heart surgery.

            The past is non existent, the future is of no consequence; all that matters is my position relative to the roaring white foam. All that matters is that delicious carrying, picking up, flying feeling that I have felt only one place: the ocean, doing one thing: surfing.