I wrote the following last summer after a trip to Maui and Kauai for a friend's wedding. Being that we're about to go to another destination wedding for another one of my longtime friends, I thought I'd finally make this public. Part 2 will be posted on Monday.
I was paddling my rented 7’6” surfboard up and over the shoulder of one of the day’s smaller waves to my spot to the left of the lineup -- straight offshore from the lone volleyball net I eyed to mark the takeoff above the reef -- when a major dose of perspective hit me. I was on the island of Maui, riding perfectly shaped, four-foot tall, azure summer walls as they lumbered their way across the Pacific to the western side of the island, and I was with one of my best friends on his wedding day. I’ve known Lou since we were both freshmen in high school. We were on the same relay teams during the winter track and field season; we lived together out of my 1982 Toyota Celica for a summer while flipping cheesesteaks at the Point Pleasant Beach boardwalk in New Jersey; we share the same tight-knit group of friends; and he was one of the groomsmen in my wedding seven years ago. Despite it all, however, I would not have joined him that day in Lahaina had gasoline prices back when we were 17 years old been what they are today.
“There’s no way we would have ever learned to surf,” Lou agreed. He hadn’t ever thought about it before either, but once the thought came there was no drowning it out. We sat there in silence, straddling our mass-production, epoxy vehicles 80 yards off the coast of Maui’s most over-developed strip of real estate, both of us thinking about the past 12 years and what we would have missed while waiting for another set to roll in.
A lot of guys our age either have friends from work, or old college buddies they keep in touch with, but it seems that few keep in close contact with their high school friends, let alone regard themselves as a brotherhood of sorts. We owe a lot of that to surfing. Or, more specifically, to a guy with a really dirty garage. Five of us ran a lawn mowing business in the summers during high school and, for a little extra dough we’d even do some odd jobs around your house. Cheap too. An older fellow who lived a couple of blocks over from me hired us to clean out his garage; he hadn’t been able to park his car in it for years. I don’t remember actually cleaning the garage, but I do remember the moment we first saw the two vintage surfboards hanging in the rafters high above the floor. The boards predated us by at least a decade, were in horrible shape -- cracks in the glassing, water stains everywhere, and quite a bit of exposed foam -- but we somehow renegotiated the surfboards as part of our cleaning fee. Either that or we stole them; like I said, I don’t remember all the details.
Regardless of how ill-gotten our gains may or may not have been, owning those surfboards changed us forever. We practiced “popping-up” in the lunchroom at school. We checked out books on surfing from the library. And we used every spare piece of duct tape we could find to get those boards rideable. By summer’s end, we had each purchased used wetsuits and were making the forty-mile trip to Manasquan Inlet several times a week. We always drove together, piled up to 5 people in a car, pooled money, and still would arrive home running on vapors, with nary a nickel to throw at the toll collectors on the Garden State Parkway. Gasoline was about $1.05 a gallon, then. Oh God, I’m only twenty-nine and I’m already talking about how much cheaper things were in my youth. Snap out of it, Doug!
Each morning in Maui we contemplated heading south of town to get away from the hotels and throngs of tourists for the opportunity to paddle out at one of the numerous roadside beach parks that line Route 30. Perhaps it was the not-so-subtle “Haole Go Home” bumper stickers plastered on many of the oversized trucks in the parking lots, or maybe it was the combination of excess alcohol and scarcity of sleep, but each day we relented and just simply walked a quarter mile or so along the paved footpath in front of the resorts and paddled out. There were no locals within sight here and most every other person in the water was on a solid-foam sponger borrowed from the Gilligan-esque, faux Hawaiian activities shack near their hotel pool. After a few waves it was pretty clear that we were the only ones in the water who had ever surfed before. We set up at the peak and essentially took every wave we wanted. They were breaking to the left and both Lou and I are goofy-footed so it was perfect.
“You dropped in on me, you bastard.” I was grinning ear to ear and Lou knew I was joking with him. I swerved to avoid his board and kept on surfing right behind him. We both had a good laugh about it and ended up sharing more than a few waves that day. Normally the competition for a wave is pretty fierce and the unwritten laws of surfing etiquette mandate only one rider per wave, but we were surfing in Hawaii and it was his wedding day. It was hard to believe we were actually there. Back on the mainland, we live on opposite coasts and haven’t hung out on a regular basis in nearly 10 years. But surfing is like that. It has a way of bonding people who might otherwise separate with time and distance. Sure, in terms of wave size and power, we were as far from Oahu’s hallowed North Shore as Seattle is from New York City, but we were in Hawaii.
The tide eventually came in and forced us out of the water. We had wanted to also get in some hiking or kayaking that day, but after four hours of surfing, the only thing on our mind was food. While his bride-to-be and the three other women in our group were spending the day preening for the big moment, we were partaking in the Hawaiian staple, the mixed plate. The mixed plate isn’t terribly different from the barbecue combo plates you can get at the mom and pop eateries in the south. You select one or two types of meat or fish, make room for a couple scoops of rice, and select an extra accompaniment such as macaroni salad or poi. Poi is something that everyone who visits the islands needs to try once. Fortunately, I completed that dastardly ritual on a previous trip and felt no shame in ordering up the macaroni salad to ride shotgun on my plate of coconut prawns. Sure, poi may look like blueberry yogurt, but that doesn’t keep it from tasting like wallpaper paste. Yep, poi and prawn-flavored pork rinds are two Hawaiian tastes that I think are best left to the natives. Everything else is golden.
A brief afternoon rain shower blew in while I toasted Lou’s impending wedding with a celebratory shot of tequila. Planning a late afternoon wedding on Hawaii is always a bit risky on account of the frequent squalls that keep the islands so lush, but this particular rain cloud vacated as smoothly as the Don Julio did from our glasses. We settled the tab and after a quick man-hug and momentary glance at the surfside rainbow off the restaurant deck, we were off. The time had come to get showered and dressed and to make an honest man out of a good friend.