My journey started in impromptu fashion last August after Carisssa and I hosted a Hurlry Surf Club at Kewalo Basin. Carissa, impressed with the several dozen girl turnout, surprised me with her announcement, “Dad, I want to mentor some girls.” Her next statement caught me even more off guard, “and I want you to coach them. ”
Carissa hand-picked her squad and I took on coaching duties. I didn’t know what to expect, but as time passed I enjoyed any new role more and more.
Now, several months later, with Carissa on her honrymoon, it was a peifect opportunity to take the girls to their first contest. This is my accounting of my trip with five young suifers to our first outer-island suif contest.
It looks like you are having a great time. Your photos of Santorini are absolutely amazing. The girls and I just got back from our threeday trip to the NSSA Surfing Contest at Banyans on the Big Island, and it was pretty crazy! Here’s what you missed.
I flew to Kona early Friday morning with Vaihiti and Pua, two of the four girls who would be competing in the contest. The girls were so excited that they both brought their families along. I had talked to Bobbi Lee (Director of the Hawaii Region of the National Scholastic Surfing Association) a week prior and filled her in on your mentorship program. She happily entered the girls into the contest.
At the Budget Rent-A-Car desk, I was informed that all of the cars were reserved except for one model: a Ford Convertible Mustang! Good thing Pua’s mom, Malia, had reserved a minivan ahead of time. Boards and bags were packed in the van, and the kids ended up with me. I’m not a top-down guy – I like shade and AC – but the girls had other ideas. Before exiting our parking stall Pua had figured how to lower the top. (Sigh.)
Upon pulling up to “Banyans,” the break where the kids would be competing, I could see that this experience was going to be quite an eye opener. The waves were on the big side and a little intimidating. The wave here often lurches up quickly, making for a tricky take off. Vaihiti looked concerned. You know how expectations on surf trips can be. The look in her eyes said it all … “I thought this was going to be a FUN trip. This looks hard.” Pua was a little rattled to begin with as well. I had the girls paddle out for a half hour; we had some time to ourselves before the Wong girls would arrive. Ewe and ‘Oaka had already been in Kona for a week due to family commitments.
At 9 a.m., with all four of the girls together on the beach, I instructed them, “OK, go out for about an hour fifteen and then come in.” Still waiting onshore at the two hour mark, I started to get agitated. This wasn’t the plan! At noon – three hours later – they finally came in. They were all used to surfing as long as they wanted and not having to listen to instructions of this sort. I have to admit; I was a little irritated. But since I didn’t fully explain myself as to why I wanted them to come in, lecture number one ensued, “Girls, this is why I wanted you to come in: tomorrow is going to be a long day, and I want you to conserve your energy … blah, blah, blah … ”
After a quick bite and a short excursion (we visited a marine mammal rescue center), we went back to Banyans for another quick surf. The wind had come up and messed up the left, so I had the girls concentrate on the rights. All in all, it looked as though they were starting to understand the break, so that was good.
After the surf, I talked briefly with the girls and reminded them to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Oh, and so you know, whenever I wanted the girls to really listen, I simply dropped your name and reminded them that you wanted them to focus, and they’d perk right up and do it. Plus they were tired. I knew the combination of an early flight, the excitement of being off island, and surfing all day would have them fall right asleep.
I had booked a room for the girls at the Kona Bali Kai, the hotel fronting the break. Me? I had made arrangements to stay in another hotel with Bobbi and her grandson Rory. Dear lord, that was an experience. I haven’t slept with a baby in the same room for about twenty years! (#wakeupeveryhour #forgetsleeping)
SATURDAY – NSSA Day 1. Missile Scare.
I woke up early and drove Bobbi and Rory to the contest site. Bobbi had a ton of gear, so I had to again take the top down in order to fit everything, including little Rory propped in his car seat in the back. I had scheduled to meet the kids at the crack of dawn for a quick surf before the start of the contest. At the beach, I gathered the troops; they all had managed to wake up and get down to the shore on time and ready to go. The surf was a little smaller, so I hurried them in to get a quick warm up before it got too crowded. Oh, I almost forgot! Pua’s 10-year-old brother, Kala, was suited up, and I could see it in his eyes; he wanted to surf in the event as well. As the kids surfed, I entered him into the Mini Grom (10 & Under Boys and Girls Combined division).
The girls had as many as six divisions to compete in (12 & Under, 14 & Under, and All Ages in both Open and Explorer divisions) over the course of the day. Before I go into how the girls did, let me tell you about the chaos of the bogus Missile Attack Warning. The event was starting to gear up. The Junior Mens’ division had just started. All four girls were getting ready to surf in their first division in 45 minutes. The winds were calm, and the surf was remarkably good. I was settling in to my first real contest with the kids.
As I was sitting next to the girls, remarkably I had my phone in my hand, it happened. The emergency warning “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT” flashed on my screen along with a wailing tone. The alert informed everyone of an impending missile attack and that we were to seek immediate shelter. ‘Oaka looked over at me and said, “what’s that?” I looked back and said, “Please find your mom, she’ll explain.” After a brief moment of beachside disbelief, I’m not sure who started yelling first, but, soon, the entire beach was screaming for the surfers in the heat to get out of the water (who in turn thought everyone was yelling about a shark sighting!).
I was lucky that all of my kids and their parents were nearby at the time, so I didn’t have to locate any of my brood. I told everyone in my group to go back to the apartment and wait. I followed shortly after, as I wanted to make sure Bobbi and Rory were OK. When I got to the apartment, I walked into quite a scene. The moms had tears in their eyes, the boys were fine, but my girls were huddled together and crying hysterically in the room’s tiny closet!
Though I had some concern about friends and family on O’ahu, I wasn’t worried about our immediate well being. Though I figured there was a remote chance O’ahu might be targeted, I knew deep down inside that Kim Jong-Un didn’t have enough nuclear missiles to aim one at the Big Island, let alone Kona town. Still, the threat lingered in the room, and I tried my best to calm everyone down.
To everyone’s relief, a message announcing that it had been a false alarm was sent out a few minutes later. I did my best to console the girls with my wonderful bedside manner (Yes, Carissa, I’m sure you’re chuckling right now!). I tried to explain that the leader of North Korea doesn’t really want to bomb us. Then I think I went on to say something like “he’d only bomb O’ahu,” before going into something like “if we do get hit by a nuclear bomb, it’ll all be over quickly.” At that point I realized I went a little too far. The moms were collectively giving me the “WTF” look. Oh yeah, little girls just need some comfort and to be told that everything’s going to be alright. Duh.
Of course, my next action was to find Bobbi and persuade her to get on with the show as soon as possible. “Damned if we’re going to waste the weekend with a little atomic bomb scare,” I thought to myself.
A half hour later, the contest resumed, and I gathered my troops. After talking with the parents, we decided that we’d all move forward and the girls would surf. The girls had been quite emotional, so I had to reason with them and get things back in perspective. I threw in your name for good measure, “Carissa would want you to overcome this and surf.” It worked. They might have been a little rattled but they all got their jerseys and paddled out. My first heat with the girls, and they were all in. ‘Oaka, Vaihiti, Pua and Ewe were up against two other girls in a six-person final.
The heat went pretty well. Ewe struggle<! a bit. Pua stepped up and surfed really well. The results? Pua won! Ewe was third, ‘Oaka fourth and Vaihiti sixth.
Instead of one heat recap, I had to deal with four. “‘Oaka, good job on your movement in the line up … Vaihiti, you need to loosen up right waves out there … Pua, how’s that? You won the very first division you entered in NSSA! Congratulations!” It was a fun experience.
I was a bit concerned with Vaihiti, who looked especially off. When I talked to her a little more about her heat, she began to tear up. “What’s the matter? Are you upset about how you did?” I asked. “No, I’m scared of the missile,” she responded, which, in turn, led to a brief talk on letting go of things you can’t control. Trust me, it was a light and caring lecture, as I knew that I was dealing with a 10-year-old who just faced a very trying experience and then had to jump in the ocean and compete in challenging conditions and unfamiliar waters.
The day continued at a furious pace. With the large number of events and heats the girls surfed, combined with the addition of Kala in the Mini Grom division, I barely had time to escape to use the restroom, let alone get something to eat. The kids did well and, though I said nothing about winning, your team had its share. By the end of the day, Ewe would win 3 of the 5 divisions she entered. ‘Oaka took second in one (to her sister). And Kala surfed like a little madman and won Mini Groms which included Vaihiti and ‘Oaka, who also entered. Vaihiti snapped back and began surfing better and better; her top result was a finals appearance in the Mini Grom division, winning her semi final heat against two very good 10-yearolds. The strongest performance of the day was Ewe’s Open Girls win, in which she completed two amazing rides. I dare say she would have given a twelve year old Carissa Moore a serious run for her money in that heat.
As you are aware by my actions with you over the years, knowing that the day was going to be full of surfing and that the day prior had already tired them out, I was constantly telling them to either dry off, get out of their swim suits (Pua lived in hers all day), drink water, eat, or get off their feet for a while. Did they listen? Not really. By the early afternoon, I was exhausted. I could only imagine what these barely-four-foot-eighty-something pounders were experiencing. To their credit, they managed to show composure and focus the entire day.
By the end of the day, I knew that getting to bed was again not going to be a problem. After a quick meeting on the grass fronting the hotel (I told them how proud I was of them. See, I’m learning!) I drove Bobbi and Rory back to the hotel. After a quick dinner, I went straight to bed. Too bad little Rory wasn’t having tl1e same game plan. Every hour the kid was moving around and fussing as Auntie Bobbie tried to calm him, “Shhhh, be quiet, you don’t want to wake up Uncle Chris.” Really, Bobbi? Do you seriously think you’re helping?!
One more day I reminded myself. One more day.
SUNDAY – NSSA Day 2. Bigger Surf.
Remember when you were 1 0? The waves were huge that year at Banyans so I swam out to watch over you and Coco Ho.
This past weekend Hawai’i was seeing one of the biggest swells of the season – a twenty-foot-plus Hawaiian scale Northwest swell. I had the girls sleep in an extra 15 minutes as I wanted to take a good look at the surf before making a call on who would be surfing today, if anyone.
The ocean was more alive and bigger than the day before, but not completely out of control. I gave the girls the option of surfing or not, and both Vaihiti and ‘Oaka opted to stay safe on land. I thought it was a good idea. Personally, I didn’t want the stress of having four girls in the line-up if a rogue set hit. Do you remember the dynamics of Banyans? When the surf gets big, the left closes out and though the right holds, the end of the ride can be scary. The waves push right into the lava rocks at the end of the ride.
Pua and Ewe paddled out to warm up and surfed well. I had a feeling the surf was still on the rise, so I convinced Bobbi to run the girls first. With my two younger girls not surfing, I felt more at ease. The older girls surfed well, placing first and second in the 12 & Under division. Of note, there was a 10-year-old that did paddle out but didn’t catch a wave, and that kept me on edge. It was tough for me because I was torn at that point between coaching my girls and swimming out because of the inherent danger. Of course, it’s a surf contest, and my responsibility is to watch my surfers.
An hour later, the 14 & Under girls headed out, with the Mini Grom division to follow. Kala wanted to surf, so I borrowed some swim fins and was ready to swim out with him and sit in the danger zone, just as I had done with you over a decade ago. In the girls heat, it happened: The little girl that didn’t catch a wave in the earlier heat paddles into a small right. On her second turn I knew she was headed into a dangerous situation, I began talking to myself, “cut out, cut out.” By her third turn, I start running down to the shoreline in front of the area I’m concerned about. There’s a set charging in, and the little girl is kicking out right in front of the rock shelf.
The clock starts. I figure I have two minutes until I get to her. Having gotten a jump on the situation, I position myself in front of where she’s about to get hit by the first wave in about fifteen seconds. I assess the situation for another fifteen; there’s no safe way to get into the water from where I am standing, but I feel I have to try as the girl was still recovering from having been pushed closer to the ledge by the first wave as more waves were rolling in. As the second wave hit, I took off my shirt and started my rock dance towards the ocean. She was now only feet from the rocks. I had to commit. If one more wave broke in front of her, she was going to get really hurt. My forward progress slowed as the rocks became super sharp. One false move on my part and I would be hospital-bound myself. I was only about 15 yards from her, and she was getting tossed about with the surge. I momentarily was stuck with rocks too sharp to walk on and too shallow to swim over. Luckily, a small wave lifted the water level by just enough to provide an opening to belly flop in and sprint out.
Fortunately, for both of us, the set was subsiding. As I got to her, the current was taking us out past the ledge and into deeper water. Whew, we had made it safely out of the zone. I talked to her for a moment and she seemed unfazed by what had just happened. You should have seen the looks Pua and Ewe gave me. I kept a watchful eye on the remainder of the heat. Crisis averted.
By the time the Mini Grom heat began, there were five other parents in tl1e water in addition to myself. I stayed on the inside and watched near the ledge. Midway through the heat, the same girl did pretty much the same thing. I was close enough this time to help her back out quickly.
After that heat I felt we had enough of surf contests for the weekend. Instead, I decided to see if we could find some surf that would be more manageable somewhere else. Ewe and ‘Oaka’s
grandfather is an avid surfer, so he took us up the coast to find some waves. Before I knew it, all of the girls (except for Vaihiti, who went with her family on a separate outing) were in my car. Why not? I had the convertible! But wait. Uncle Chris doesn’t want the top down; it’s too sunny! Of course, again, they won.
As we were driving, I looked over at Pua. I could see the weekend caught up to her. She said she had a headache and was feeling sick. What did I do? A mini lecture on pacing yourself ensued! Carissa, don’t roll your eyes when you read this, you know how much I love an I-told-you-so lecture!
After our first surf spot check, Pua opted to get in the van with her mom and was replaced by her brother Kala. Ewe was now in the front seat, with ‘Oaka and Kala in the back. Finally, for the first time all trip, I convinced the girls to raise the roof and turn on the AC. Unfortunately, the convertible gods had other plans. A few minutes later the car started to smell like 10 year old ‘okole.
“Alright, who farted?” I hollered. No one owned up to it, but it was definitely coming from the back seat. A few minutes into the intensifying odor, I had no choice but to take the top down. (I later learned from Malia that her darling little boy was most assuredly the culprit. He was notorious for that type of behavior!)
We found what looked to be a fun little right hander near the Mauna Lani Hotel. The waves here seemed manageable; about_4 to 5 feet on the face. From all reports the swell was dropping so I let Ewe,’Oaka and Kala paddle out. It looked to be a fun afternoon of surf, as tl1ere was only one other surfer in the line up.
Kala took the lead with’Oaka just behind him. Ewe trailed further back. Then the ocean came alive; a set twice the size of anything I had seen steamrolled in. Ewe got caught inside and got pushed in over the reef. My two 10-year-olds were now in the wild ocean by themselves! I was potentially facing another rescue operation!
There were people on the beach, including a group of locals cruising near their pick-up trucks watching this all go down. I’m sure a few judgements were made on my stupidity for sending a bunch of kids out to their demise. I was planning on swin1ming out a little later, I just wasn’t planning to do it in rescue mode!
I summoned my inner Mitch Buchannon, dove in, and sprinted over to the kids. Upon my arrival, I had a quick chat with them; they were both OK and wanted to stay out. The ocean was settling back down, so I figured that at the very least, I’d have the ki.9s catch a few to give the peanut gallery on the beach a bit of a show. Ewe by now had made her way back out and all three caught some good waves.
The surf started building again. After a few minutes, it became more a game of dodging sets and duck diving than surfing, so I suggested that ‘Oaka make her way in. She didn’t argue. Then as the next set came in, little Kalanoweo DeSoto decides to paddle into a solid 10 foot faced bomb. He stands up and drops straight down as the wave pitches and closes out behind him. He sticks it! Before I could corral him and suggest he paddle in as well, he made his way back into the lineup as an even bigger set hit.
This spot doesn’t hold any bigger. The larger waves here behave more like waves at Shipstern’s Bluff; instead of pitching over the wave starts ledging within itself. I got to Ewe first and told her to head in. Looking out, I could see that Kala was in a serious rip heading straight towards Hana. Yes, Hana, as in Hana, Maui. I sprint out and swim with him back over to the take off zone and help him catch a wave in. I give the kid credit; he held his poise through the wildness of it all.
By now it was getting late, so after a quick bite we set off
to ilie airport. We were soon back on O’ahu and our adventure came to a close.
What did you get me into???
Love ya lots,