Put exams on hold, leave behind the wild, icy cold North Atlantic storms and escape to Hawaii.
I’ve spent a few winters on the North Shore going ‘solo’ but this time my little sister Becky-Finn was coming with me. By ‘little’ I mean she’s 16 but already towering over me with her mane of golden curls. We make a unique sister-sister team; I’m a shortboarder who’s always on the go, full of energy and wanting to surf everywhere all at once. Bex (as I call her) is Ireland’s no.1 woman’s longboarder, super laid back, she grooves to her own beat. Sometimes I have to drag her out of bed in the mornings but once she gets going there’s no stopping her!
Our first night in Hawaii and it seems we brought the howling gales with us. The wind blasts through the palm tress, blowing away the mosquitoes, but a huge branch breaks off from the tree growing up through the house and comes crashing down. Luckily it didn’t come through roof. With the wind comes the swell. I get a call from a friend the next morning to say Rocky Point is looking good. Lets go! Rockies is a solid 4-6ft with strong offshores. It feels so good to lose the wetsuits and be in warm water again. The waiting period for the Pipeline Masters has begun so the line-up is pretty crowded with world’s top pros. The rip helps keep the crowd spread out and we sneak on to a few of the set waves. Eventually the rip washes us down to Gas Chambers. The wave lives up to its name, on some waves all you can do is take off, and gun down the line as fast as you can!
The Ocean Strikes Back
The ocean in Hawaii will always find ways to force you outside your comfort zone.
I paddle out at fun-sized Pipe and join the crowd of super-groms and ‘Jon-Jons’ getting stand-up barrels… At the end of a ride I tried to kick out but the lip sucked me back over and I landed on my board, my fins to be exact. Ouch! I had blood coming from my head but didn’t know how bad it was so I walked up to the lifeguard tower it was ok and I could go back out. Several hours and 10 stitches later at Wahiwa General Hospital I was nearly in tears. I’d cut my ear pretty bad but it was still intact so I wasn’t too worried until they told me I couldn’t surf for at least a week, no way! I had to wear a compression bandage for the first few days so the first thing I did was buy a bright turquoise head scarf and all the waterproof dressings and bandages I could find. I was determined to get back in the water…
The Pipe Masters
The surf world is really pretty small. Just over a month ago I was surfing with Kelly in Ireland. He reckoned he wouldn’t have any problems with the locals ‘cause he was surfing with Easkey at Easkey! And now here he was firing through Backdoor claiming his first perfect 10 of the event. After his low-key mellow trip to Ireland it was strange to see the other side of his world, how he is transformed into a king, a godlike being worshipped by the mobs of his adoring fans. Bex is in her element and unlike me has no hesitations or shyness when it comes to meeting her heroes and working her Irish charm. She had her eye on the gorgeous Makua Rothman but stayed loyal to Kelly, carrying on her conversation with him from that day in Easkey as he talks over the heads of fans and girls posing for photos. If he comes back to Ireland she’ll buy him a pint, he said he’d take her up on her Guinness offer only if they go to Brennans pub. The guy has done his homework! Her friends will never believe her when she tells them, and he replies, ‘screw ‘em!’
The Pipe final was the most exciting I’ve ever seen in surfing. Kelly had Andy comboed after the first 10 minutes. But it was just fuel for Andy’s fire and he never gave up. They truly are the world’s fiercest competitors. Andy kept going till he’d comboed Kelly and won his 4th Triple Crown and Pipe Masters title. Up on the podium Kelly and Andy squirted water at each other, laughing and I wondered how neither would be where they are today without the other…
Later that night at Lei Leis we met Hawaiian big wave charger, Brock Little. The last time I met him I was a ten year old grommet at the Peak in Bundoran. Despite the cold he loved the people, the deep culture and music like in Hawaii, the beauty and wildness of the place and of course the Guinness, ‘Its like a meal!’ He hoped we got to experience ‘real’ Hawaii and meet the ‘real’ people. ‘Sometimes, especially this time of year it can be very superficial. But if you explore a little deeper and meet the characters you begin to experience the true spirit of the place…’ A pretty girl in a black dress sits down at the table and Brock offers her some of his desert. ‘Oh no thanks, I don’t do dinner.’ What? ‘Too bad for you then,’ says Brock. Me and Becky finish it off.
Return to the Ocean
After sitting on the beach watching all the action at the Pipe contest and blowing all my money on a retail therapy session in Honolulu, I couldn’t take it any more. So I bandaged my head and went back out in the water. It’s scary what a strong pull the ocean has on me sometimes…
I went for a surf at Velzyland. I have a love/hate relationship with that spot. I love the wave but the crowd can be challenging. Also the only time I’ve ever been dropped in on is at V-land and its always been by a girl. It makes me wonder about the ‘sisterhood’ of surfing. Isn’t the sport male dominated enough? Shouldn’t we be sticking together, encouraging each other to rip and out-surf the boys? Well its still alive and well in 15 year old Coco Ho. Surf royalty runs in her blood. She embodies all that’s beautiful about Hawaiian surfing; aloha spirit, full of smiles, down to earth, throws bucket loads of spray and fun in the water, shredding on her 5’2! V-land is her playground, if it’s working she’s on it. Coco invites us over for a dawn sesh one morning. The line-up is empty, we have V-land to ourselves, its unheard of! Spend the morning sharing waves until the sun gets higher and wakes up the North Shore and more people start to paddle out. We decide to catch three more and head in for breakfast. Suddenly Coco exclaims, ‘Oh my God,’ ‘What?’ I ask thinking something terrible has happened. ‘Today’s Sunday. Ted’s Bakery make cream cheese cinnamon buns on a Sunday, we got to go get them before they’re gone! Maybe we just catch two more waves…?’ What a star. Coco loves Ted’s almost as much as surfing. And the buns are pretty lush.
A south swell hits Oahu which is really unusual in winter . We head south to town. Bex plays on her PSP all the way while I stress and sweat buckets trying to navigate the 6 lane highway and downtown traffic. Bex cries out all of a sudden, ‘Oh my God,’ I begin to panic, have we missed the exit, are we driving on the wrong side of the road?! ‘I removed an ant farm from a cat and I didn’t get a bonus!’ Sometimes life just isn’t fair, her head goes down and she’s sucked back into Sim’s Pets II.
Waikiki is perfect and I follow Becky-Finns lead and rent a big 10ft tanker and have a blast. Longboards rule, well if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!
We meet beach boy and surf legend Rabbit Kekai on the beach. He talks story with us and cracks obscene jokes. He learned to surf with the Duke 81 years ago here at Waikiki and he still dominates the line-up today. On his t-shirt are the words ‘He awe mai.’ He tells us it’s something the Duke taught him, the most important lesson, ‘to give back.’ Becky-Finn and I fall asleep under the palm trees next to the statue of the Duke, full of sun, surf and dreams.
I have always felt turtles were my amukua, spirit guides protecting me in the surf. Maybe because of their resilience to sharks, their ability to hold their breath for up to 5hrs underwater and because they belong more in the sea than on land. We decide to do some honu (turtle) exploring. The turtles love to come up onto the beach at Laniakea and do some sun basking. We stop and have a look but can’t see any, until I suddenly realize that the ‘boulder’ at my feet is actually a honu. The beach is covered in them, I’ve never seen so many. The biggest one must be 2m, a female with an old war -wound on her shell. It’s unusual for there to be so many on the beach. It’s either a sign that big swell is on the way or there are sharks in the water. We head back to Sunset hoping that it means the swell is picking up and not the latter!
Mana in the ocean
The swell is slowly starting to pulse and sun casts Sunset in a golden glow. I always feel the mana is most potent at Sunset. Maybe because it was an ancient surf site for the Hawaiians long before missionary plagues and surfing’s rebirth, known then as Paumalu, which means ‘taken by surprise’. The wave breaks far out in the ocean with so much water moving around. My pulse always quickens paddling out here. You never know when a rogue set could ambush you all of a sudden. It’s Becky-Finn’s first time to surf here and I’m sure she feels the mana of this place tingle in her blood. I call Bex over to me as a set approaches. I tell her to go deeper, paddle hard and keep her head down. She blindly follows my instructions. Then the wave hits a ledge in the reef and jacks up all of a sudden, doubling in size. Oh no, what have I done? It looks like Becky-Finn’s take off is impossibly late. I see her hair flying out behind her and then she disappears down the drop. There’s no way anyone could have made such a kamikaze take-off surely? I look out for her head to pop up in the foam left behind but no sign of her. Then I hear a big roar as Bex lets out a hoot of stoke. She rode the wave all the way to the beach.
Travelling solo and being independent is great to do but it’s hard to beat a trip with a companion where I can share my experiences and see and feel a place from their perspective and not just my own. I loved traveling and surfing with my sister and hope it’s the beginning of more adventures together. We’ll survive as long as Bex has her PSP and wherever we are they serve chips!