Planet Haolewood

A toolbox, a change of underwear, and a surfboard.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Words of Wisdom

Above all recommendations I give visitors to Kauai, I tell them “Kayak the Na Pali coast.” The 17 mile ocean voyage pushes the limits of the English language’s ability to describe wonder. I first made the trip soon after I moved here. Without any experience ocean kayaking and without knowing anyone who might take me along, I shelled out an ample (while certainly well deserved) fee to go with a professionally guided tour. What kind of people are Na Pali guides? What kind of people get up and go to work to do what others might describe as “the adventure of a lifetime?” Their gifts most likely include youth, and certainly include physical stamina, but a lot of folks have those. I guess it’s probably the kind of job some people are just meant for and the rest of us can be glad such people find their way to their natural niche in the world. Without them the honeymooners, dreamers, and adventurers who come to Kauai would probably miss out on a sublime experience.

Kayaking Na Pali is a one-way trip. By the time you pull your boat from the water, you’re a 2-hour drive away from where you started. The guides load the kayaks onto large-wheeled dollies, roll them across the beach and hoist them onto a trailer pulled by the van that carries guides and customers back to the shop where the whole thing started earlier that morning.

In the back of the van I chatted with one of the guides. Not surprisingly, we found a shared interest in surfing. The same conditions that make summer the only time of year to kayak Na Pali make the rest of the year ideal for surfing. I don’t know what he did for a living the rest of the year but he was probably less concerned with that than with taking advantage of the great surf. He spoke some words to me which at the time I found amusing, but they stuck in my mind and their significance to me seems to have grown with time. I wish I could remember his exact words. It’s too bad this isn’t fiction, then I could just make them up. But he essentially said that he preferred surfing to being in a relationship with a woman. The idea of mutual exclusivity is what I found funny at the time.

Since then I learned a lot more about surfing and a little more about relationships and it doesn’t seem as funny anymore. Real surfers (and I’m not really prepared to included myself in that group) are married to the ocean. As a spouse, the ocean has a lot to offer. For starters, it’s immortal. Its physical beauty, certainly more wonderful and varied than any human’s, never fades. It has no ego to bruise and no feelings to hurt. You can rage against it, or even ignore it and it won’t hold it against you. In fact it asks nothing of you except that you show up. It’s certainly more generous that people, who seldom give without some kind of selfish motivation. It sends wave after wave weather there is anyone there to surf on them or not. It’s always there for you and yet always true to itself.

Perhaps there are advantages to human partners. All I’ve gotten from my relationship with the ocean hasn’t completely replaced my desire for human companionship. All I’m saying is that kayak guide may have had a point.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

I tried stand-up paddling, a new kind of surfing for the first time the other day. Among surfers, it’s controversial because the use of a paddle gives stand up paddlers an “unfair” advantage over regular surfers in the competition to catch waves, but to me it looks like fun and I was happy to try it.

As I pulled up to a calm section of river where my friend was already practicing, I became so excited that I a) left my keys in my ignition and the door unlocked and b) left my flip-flops so close the rivers edge that they floated away with the rising tide. Fortunately, no one steals cars on Kauai and flip-flops sell for about $3 a pair.