In 1979, I was part of a group of graduating high school seniors who flew to Hawaii for a week long trip. While 21 was the legal age for drinking alcohol in California; most of us would be 18 which was the legal age for alcohol consumption in Hawaii at the time of our Summer trip. The few classmates who were only 17 magically secured identification stating they were in fact 18 at least. While there was much alcohol consumption, and at least one couple paired up due largely to over consumption of alcohol, this tale will not be about young drunken island sex.
At the age of 18, I spent one afternoon surfing. I had never surfed off the coast of Northern California, where I live, because the water is far too cold for surfing. I did water ski and had done so for several years on both rivers and lakes.
I went to the beach in Waikiki and found someone renting surf boards. In 1979, surf boards were roughly the size of Greyhound busses and nearly as heavy. After perhaps 2 minutes of instruction at the beach, I paddled the QEII out past the first breaking waves to the next set of waves. I turned my board around, timed a wave, paddled to build momentum, felt the board start to catch, moved quickly to get my feet under me, and just like that I was surfing.
I surfed for about an hour, catching several rides that day, and felt quite accomplished.
Ten years later, in 1989, I returned to Oahu for business, and on a day off I headed down to the same beach to try surfing again.
Remembering the ease with which I previously surfed, and the fun I had doing it, I paid for three hours of surf board rental. While the technique to get up on the board hadn’t changed in ten years, the boards certainly had. The boards available for rent were all shorter, narrower, lighter, sport type surf boards. I paddled my board, seemingly not much bigger than a skate board, out past the first waves and past the second waves until I reached the third waves forming and breaking. There were only two others out as far as I was, everyone else was trying for shorter rides. I turned my board around, spotted my ride begin to swell, paddled like mad, moved my feet under me, and felt my board slip out from underneath me like a banana peel on a frozen pond. I went one direction, my board another, and I realized that I was pretty far out to be without a board, so I turned to look in the direction my board had shot off to find it smashing into the bridge of my nose.
If you are ever hit in the face by a wave propelled surf board when you are out by yourself in the ocean, far beyond any other surfers, and feel yourself start to lose consciousness, you too may regret paying for three hours of board rental as it seems one hour would suffice for your drowning and death.
With blood exploding from my nose, instinctively I threw my arms around the board, and held on, resting my head on the board, letting waves wash over me. Holding on for I have no idea how long, until I was able to straddle the board more securely, and until I finally regained full consciousness and awareness.
Smarter people than I would have paddled into the beach and been grateful to trade their unrideable small surf board for their life. I thought about the three hours of paid for board rental, paddled in to where there were more people in case of another mishap, and tried to get up on my board for a ride again.
Out of perhaps two dozen attempts, I may have succeeded in getting my feet under my upright body three times, once riding the board for an entire five seconds.
I spent nearly three hours laying on the surfboard, paddling back into position after each failed attempt to surf. During the entire three hours, the sun beat down on the back of my body and was reflected by the water onto the front of my body.
When I turned my board in, I was the reddest a human being can be and still live. The severity of my sunburn became increasingly evident as my clothing caused pain and children pointed and ran crying from the lobster man.
The pain only swelled with the passage of time. The skin over my nose had been split by collision with my surf board, both my eyes were blackened, and my body except the area my shorts protected was radiating red hot waves of pain.
I bought the largest container of aloe vera gel sold on the island and proceeded to slather it all over my body by emptying half the container into the bathtub, getting naked, laying down in the gel, and rolling until I was covered.
The relief was incredible but short lived. I had to reapply the aloe vera gel often but gladly did so because the alternative was a feeling of salt being ground into exposed flesh all over my body. Gel, good; pain, very bad.
I ended up curtailing many of my daytime activities in Hawaii, unable to withstand any more direct sunlight; and my aloe vera gel baths continued two full weeks before I felt it safe to stop. My red skin had changed to the look of tanned skin, clothing wasn’t painful to wear any longer, and aloe vera gel isn’t cheap in the quantities I was being forced to use to slather my entire body.
Within 36 hours of aloe vera withdrawal, my body started to peel. I felt more snake than human as enormous patches of skin were sloughing off my body at the merest contact. It was freaky to have my facial hair and body hair be the only thing preventing shedding my entire skin in just two pieces, one above and one below my shorts.
I now know that renting the biggest longest, widest, heaviest surf board is the way to go; but on my last trip to Hawaii in 2007, I chose instead to spend my trip in search of the perfect Mai Tai. Unlike my previous search for the perfect wave to ride, every Mai Tai turned out to be perfect.