Offshore winds rip over the stacked swell lines, blowing water droplets off the wave faces into hovering rainbows as the lips pitch and arc into glorious indigo barrels. My eyes bulge as the quiet girl with long, brown hair and a slender, athletic body drives gracefully through another deep tube and shoots out right in front of me.
“Yew!” I holler from the shoulder. “That was unreal!” She shrugs it off.
“Thanks,” she says softly, “but you can totally do it too. You surf well. You just gotta commit early and swoop in behind it.”
“I don’t know,” I mumble, following her back up the reef.
I have tried hard to master tube riding, but I’m still inconsistent. I have moments when everything comes together but I lack confidence, which often makes the difference between making the drop or getting pitched over the falls. I have learned a lot about falling, though like how to “starfish” underwater, cover my head, and just relax to decrease my chances of hitting the sharp coral. I can’t count how many times I’ve hit the reef. My legs, feet, and back are scarred with reminders.
I paddle for my next wave, get in early, and do some turns, but when it warps into a hollow section with jagged exposed reef sticking up only feet from the impact zone, I kick out like usual. Frustrated, I paddle back toward the lineup again, knowing I’m still missing out on the holy grail of surfing.
Tubes for Breakfast Photo Gallery
Kepi is a natural smooth, powerful, stylish, and poised. She uproots my prior ideas of what a woman is capable of doing on a wave. Her reserve intimidated me when I first arrived in the bay, but since we both surf in the early mornings before the crowds, we’ve gotten to know each other. She was raised in California and Kaua’i, chose this South Pacific paradise over a high-profile surfing career, married a local surfer, and has two beautiful kids. I dig her simple, unassuming style.
The swell keeps pouring in over the next week. Not too big, not too small, offshore winds, and just the right angle to produce flawless wave cylinders.
I have no excuses not to step it up. We meet at the peak after she drops her kids at school. I study her every movement. Little by little I gain more confidence.
“Go!” my tube guru encourages.
“Are you sure? I’m not too deep?” I hesitate.
“No, you’re good. You got it. Just paddle,” she affirms.
Finally, it happens: a breakthrough. I start trusting myself and the wave. Instead of jumping into the face or closing my eyes when it looks like it’s going to close out, I hold my line. I get clipped here and there, but falling inside the tube isn’t as scary as I had imagined. I start to feel where to slow down, find the pocket, and then all I have to do is hang on while the lip falls around me and I shoot for the light.
“See?” Kepi cheers as I come flying out of a deep one. “You’ve got it!”
Short but Sweet
When I return from island hopping a couple weeks later, Rainui keeps appearing. First he’s eating with friends by the waterfront and then he’s near the pineapples at the open market. A few days later he picks me up when I’m hitchhiking to town and asks if I want to hang out sometime. I give him my number.
After I’ve spent a long day taking apart my corroded transmission lever, crammed in a stuffy compartment with a tube of grease and a pile of wrenches, Rainui calls. It’s Friday and I feel like getting off the boat. He suggests walking to the lookout on the mountain above town.
“It’s almost full moon,” he reminds me.
“J’aimerais bien (I’d like to), I agree. He picks me up and we drive to the trailhead, and start up the grassy path exchanging small talk. Soon we walk together in peaceful silence among the moon shadows, higher and higher above town. About three-quarters of the way up, I slip on a loose rock and plunge toward the ground. He lunges to catch me before I hit, pulling me back to my feet. We both laugh and, as we take off again, he reaches for my hand.
It’s a perfect fit. He holds it without hesitation not too tight, not too loose. I feel safe; I would never do this walk at night alone. As a single female traveler I choose evening outings carefully, never forgetting the nights I’ve been chased by pit bulls on my bike or followed by lecherous or belligerent males.
We see each other several times over the next few weeks. He’s not pushy when I tell him I’m busy, but he’s available when I want to hang out. He’s six years younger than me, speaks no English, and has no steady work, but he’s polite and charming. Flowers and fruits appear in the cockpit some mornings, and I notice that our outings seem blessed the wind turns offshore as we arrive to surf, a huge rainbow arches over the mountain when we find a waterfall, and on the next full moon together, we’re sitting in Swell’s cockpit intertwined, only to be surprised by a full lunar eclipse.
I have few obligations to take care of before Dad arrives, and I’m thrilled to have Rainui’s chivalrous company to explore the island. He carries the heavy pack on a four-hour mountain hike to go camping. We set up the tent near a small waterfall among the lofty green peaks with a majestic view of the open sea to the west. The orange flames of our little campfire match the blazing colors of sunset, while we warm soup and munch on the guava berries we’ve collected. When the wind blows the tarp off the stake in the night, he leaps up to fix it. I relax and enjoy feeling like a princess.
Rainui calls one day, sounding troubled.
“What is it?” I ask when he arrives. We sit together on the bow of Swell and he takes my hands.
“I signed up for the army and I’ve been accepted to the parachutist program in the south of France. I’m supposed to leave in three weeks.” He had recently returned to Tahiti after several years working construction in Marseilles when his dream of becoming a legionnaire was dashed.
The news takes me completely by surprise, but I hear his soul calling for this experience. I hide my selfish sadness and make sure he feels encouraged.
“Well this is great news!” I exclaim. “You must go. And tonight, we should celebrate.” The Dadmiral
A few days later, my father walks off the plane with an enormous smile on his face. We embrace for a full minute. He’s loaded with all kinds of goodies, including a new refrigerator compressor to replace my dead one.
We are underway aboard Swell a couple hours later. Christmas Day has gifted us gentle trades, whisking handfuls of cumulus clouds across the grand ceiling of blue. Dad is in heaven; he has come from below-freezing temperatures in Michigan where he’s recently been working. We’re both glowing; this is the first time Dad has ever sailed on Swell. He’s spent more than his share of hours working aboard, but today he stands at the helm, steering her smoothly through the lagoon with his grand perma-grin.
“She takes off like a racehorse through the water!” he exclaims as a gust accelerates us. I leap about trimming sails and making sure all is in order.
After dropping anchor later in the day, we can’t resist installing the new fridge compressor, and an hour later he has a cold Hinano in hand. He works so hard; I’m thrilled he has this two-week vacation to enjoy the sea and nature with me.
We sail around the islands, and the ocean shows us a bit of everything glorious fifteen knots on the stern quarter, some squally thirty-knot upwind slogs, rain and rainbows, gusts and lulls, and even a waterspout. Every type of condition thrills Dad’s pirate heart. He grows out his beard and relaxes into his favorite element.
I put up no resistance to his beer drinking. I don’t want my wish for him to live a healthier lifestyle to cloud our time together. I want him to feel comfortable and enjoy himself as he pleases. He deserves it; I couldn’t ask for a more loving dad.
I scowl out the porthole at the brooding sky, when we wake to pouring rain for the second day in a row. Dad cheerfully lights the teakettle.
“Oh Dad, I just wanted your time here to be so perfect,” I moan.
“That’s how it goes, honey. We can’t control nature,” he replies merrily. He breaks into the lyrics of a country song with a bold twang, “I love the rain, because the rain makes the corn, and the corn makes the whiskey, and I looooooove whiskey!”
He much prefers beer, but his point is clear. I hug him and we spend the day catching rain to fill the water tanks, then troubleshoot a problem with the bilge pumps, and enjoy a wet afternoon walk ashore holding hands and tromping through puddles.
After spending New Year’s Eve with his family, Rainui and I say goodbye. Dad is there to hug me when I come back to Swell with swollen eyes.
I’m thinking about setting off on another voyage to the outer islands, now that my French has drastically improved and my visa is sorted for a while. But I’m having qualms about going alone.
“It would just be so much more fun to share it with someone I love,” I tell Dad.
“I understand, Lizzy. Remember, you don’t have to do this anymore. You can come home tomorrow if you want.”
“I want to keep sailing,” I reply.
“Well then, keep sailing. You can do it. You sail this boat like it’s a part of you.”
I’m certain that the confidence behind his ever-supportive words is a huge reason I have come so far. Looking back, it seems mad that he’d backed some of my choices, but through the years his profound belief in me always gave me the courage to choose love over fear.
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