ENDLESS SUMMER

I would have been a surfer. Had I grown up near the waves. Alas, Cleveland.

During the height of the Viet Nam war, I spent the summer of 1968 with the family of my Uncle Colonel Pat in Hawaii, on Oahu. It was quite an adventure. I learned to play poker. I was 13. But the highlights came almost every day, when I ventured into the breaks at Barber’s Point and at a spot–Ones, Twos–off of Waikiki, with my cousin Chris and a neighborhood lad, Teddy. (The neighborhood was Fort Kamemeheha, situated at the mouth of Pearl Harbor, and located a half mile off the end of Hickam Air Force Base’s main runway.)

I was goofy foot and an excellent swimmer. Being a good swimmer came in handy because I spent a lot of time chasing after the 7 foot long Hobie board. The break at Barber’s topped out at about four feet. We made several forays into the summer break off of Waikiki. The size of the waves was similar but the waves were steeper. One day my cousin told me the break was close to six feet. He shunted me off to the edge of Ones, and there I had my only close call, when a soldier on R&R loosed his board right toward my head, forcing me to duck, then abandon my take off. This happened in about three feet of water on top of a coral reef. I just managed to escape getting a rub job from the reef. The other guy’s board missed the side of my head my inches.


Billabong, Teahoopu, Tahiti

The next summer my aunt and uncle had moved to Virginia. I visited, and we made one trip to Virginia Beach, but the boards stayed on the car because the conditions were much better for body surfing. Then, during the next summer of 1970, with a red Greg Noll board of my cousin’s that I had a share in, I vacationed with my family at Hilton Head. There the swells rolling in from all the way across the Atlantic didn’t offer much of a sturdy up-welling and break, so the only surfing, such as it was, happened in the roiling wash. Until a hurricane blew by in Florida, tripling the size of the waves, and causing the 8-10 foot swells to become steep enough to ride down, like sledding on a snow hill. But, it became immediately apparent that their ferocious all-at-once close out, close to shore, involved way too much water for me, intrepid and fearless as I was, to safely surf.

And that was the last time I paddled out into anything.

Lots of surfing videos on Youtube. (Search: Billabong Odyssey | example | mini-documentary) One thing I’m mindful of is that these monster waves in the following videos are breaking in very shallow water, say, a 30-60 foot wave breaking in under 8 feet of water. Scary.

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