In January I headed off to Hawaii for my Mum’s 60th birthday. It was no surfing pilgrimage; I am the lone surfer in my family of farmers. But there was no way I was travelling to Hawaii to not surf and mood-wise, it probably would’ve been akin to spending a holiday with someone who had just given up smoking.
But I had a couple of problems. First, I was not bringing my board. Second, we would be without a car. In addition, I really knew nothing of Hawaii apart from the usual North Shore fables. I certainly didn’t know anything about where a surfer at my stage of surfing could find an appropriately sized wave, let alone one that might be without the pitfalls of a reef.
Ah, the reef, I know I have to grow to love it. I can see the benefits, sure I can. But mostly all I think about is full-body skin removal. And then the weekend before I left for Hawaii I went to the premiere of Spirit of Akasha at the Opera House. A surfer limped through the aisle and when I looked at him partway concerned he announced, ‘Coral infection from Hawaii. Been out for six months.’ I shrunk back into my seat wary that I might catch something.
I had a fear of hard, sharp things. My second hard, sharp fear came in the form of my new board. The week before I left for Hawaii I took off my training wheels (my first six months of surfing were spent on a pink foamie called Diva) and upgraded to a 7ft bamboo beauty called Bambi. She has black rails. She’s a heart breaker.
In the limited days I had to ride her before leaving, Bondi tossed up nothing by onshore mush with no push. I persevered – I wanted Bambi to love me, I wanted to love Bambi myself – but each day I returned home beaten. Black smudged hips, a tender chin from continually catching the nose of my board, new permanent bruises at each elbow from bracing against the white water. I would look down the face of each wave terrified. Terrified of slicing my thigh open on my now sharp fins or knocking someone down with my lack of control. To make matters worse my new hard board meant I was now exiled from the northern end of Bondi. Now I had to surf with real life surfers and my wobble paddle certainly wasn’t attracting any looks of envy. Poor Bambi, she was surely embarrassed.
But that was where I was at as I boarded the plane for Hawaii. I felt defeated by surfing. I felt like I couldn’t even ride a foamie anymore, I was that down on the whole thing. I felt like I needed to learn to surf all over again.
In Maui, I decided to tackle my first fear, the reef. We were staying on the southern shore of the island and similar to Oahu the southern coast plays host to smaller waves (the north shore of Maui is home to Jaws, the north shore of Oahu is home to Pipe). Since I was tentative in an unknown sea I booked a lesson for my sister and I with Tide Rivers (yes, some things are just dictated at birth) of Rivers to the Sea. We met Tide at Guardrails, a break at the 19 mile marker, just 1-2 miles south of Lahaina. Guardrails is a great beginner break as it offers 2ft, 30-50 metre rides and is just a short paddle out compared to a lot of Hawaiian surf spots. It is also easily accessible with a small car park off the highway.
Tide kitted us out in booties (already Rachel: 1, Reef: 0) and my sister and I paddled out on our 10ft boards. Yep, 10ft. It looked like I was being born again as a long-boarder but not a whisper of a complaint could escape my mouth. I just smiled. And could not stop. I forgot all about the reef lying just a foot below the surface. My sister popped up on the first wave she attempted and I felt so happy for her learning to surf in Hawaii – there would be no shore break Bondi white water for her. The waves at Guardrails just roll, they propel without hardly breaking, so you immediately get the feeling of surfing the green wall of a wave before you’ve even learnt about lefts or rights. And more pleasantly, there is almost no chance of getting dumped. And line-ups? What line-up? Tide introduced my generosity-starved Bondi brain to the term party wave. I lived off those two hours of surfing for an entire week. Next stop, Oahu.
I never expected to enjoy Waikiki – streets teeming with tourists and shopping malls the size of airports is not my idea of a kicking holiday. But what I neglected to understand was the fact that we were staying right on Waikiki Beach, just a minute from the home of Duke Kahanamoku and the classic breaks of Canoes and Queens. I couldn’t have been happier.
I can hear you, Waikiki? Please – but after six months of driving to Bondi every day, stalking the back streets for rare two hour car spots, walking the self-conscious gauntlet from car to beach with a wad of pink foam, pulling on a tight wetsuit, wondering where to leave my keys, spending most of my time in the water negotiating the line-up, getting dumped for an hour only to then pull off a wet and sandy steamer, let alone the good self-berating I could dish out on myself for not being good enough – really, its nothing short of a miracle I’ve got this far.
In Waikiki, I could grab a $10 10ft epoxy shitbox from the beach boys and slip into the 25˚c water in my bikini in all of three minutes. I was dreamy with love. And having tackled the reef in Maui, for fear #2 Waikiki served me a hard board. A big one.
Without the steep drops (for me) of Bondi waves I could practice riding a hard board with no fear of death. Waikiki does have a reef but with Guardrails behind me I had managed to let fear #1 slip into the shadows, or at least until Claudia takes me to a good point break again.
So I will be the first to say it, there’s nothing wrong with Waikiki. It is rammed, but for all my whining about learning to surf at Bondi, if there has been one thing it has given me it is the patience to surf crowded breaks. That said, there are plenty of options off Waikiki. The closest, straight out from the Sheraton, is Populars or Pops but it requires a lengthy paddle, one sure-fire way to keep the numbers at bay. There are also a number of breaks off Ala Moana and the yacht club that again require long paddles and are for the slightly more experienced.
I know not everyone in their first year of surfing wants to (allegedly) downgrade to logs, I’m aware that it is pretty uncool to fess up to loving the tiny wave. I could’ve pushed myself – I could’ve sought out some 3-4ft waves and got on a shorter board – but Hawaii taught me to take it easy on myself, to recognise my fears, to tackle them but to be patient with progress. And most importantly, Hawaii taught me that a 2ft-rolling wave solves all problems.
So I returned home a new surfer. I was no longer scared of the hard board. I had surfed over reefs and nicked my feet but I was free of the dreaded Coral Infection. My only Hawaii hangover went unnoticed until the first day I went surfing with Claudia upon my return. Tide had been very keen on the double arm paddle at Guardrails and I was very quick to pick up that so-called dirty trick. I knew it was a kook move at Bondi but it felt better, I felt like I got more traction.
After a couple of waves Claudia looked at me, ‘Can I give you a tip?
It wasn’t really a question. I knew what she was going to say. Her face winced and grimaced.
‘Get rid of the double-paddle.’
I was back in Bondi now.