For Hawaiian Wai Sallas, surfing and life are intertwined. He tried to share that experience with his son, and found that life and surfing can sometimes be fickle.
We sit idly above the water and in the water. As the tide ebbs and flows it’s hard not to look at this as a poignant moment in life for me and my son.
My ancestors have been here for centuries, all taking part in the “Sport of Kings.” Before hotels, and even sand found a resting spot here, Waikiki beach was a place reserved only for royalty. Commoners found other places to swim and surf while only those with royal blood coursing through their veins could ride here.
My son and I have that lineage flowing through us. The bearer of our family name, Kaleiwohi, sat beside King Kamehameha I. His half brother.
Before territorialism and colonialism tarnished the purity of this ritual, surfing was a way to connect with nature.
As the wave picks us up, we become part of nature. Her force propels us across her vast body, as we give thanks for allowing us to circumvent her. There’s something spiritually powerful about the water. The Hawaiians have a word for this supernatural entity: Mana.
There’s Mana in everything; our land our people, but especially the water. People are baptized in the ocean. Ocean water is used to bless homes, businesses and newborns.
Growing up whatever ailed me, my dad and tutu (hawaiian for grandma) always had the same answer: “Jump in the water.” Much like Chris Rock’s celebrated joke on ‘Tussin, the ocean was a one stop pharmacy shop.
Sprained ankle? Ocean.
Now, I pass down the knowledge that was bestowed to me and will now literally move my son and I.
Surfing is not a sport or a leisure activity. It is a rite of passage a way of life.
Life, however, most of the time doesn’t go as planned.
Right now, my 19-month-old son is clinging on to me like a koala bear on a eucalyptus tree. His wails not only have everyone in the water looking our way, but it might just stir up the ancestors who once surfed here before us and whose presence is certainly with us at the current moment.
My wife on shore has had enough. My dad, a lifelong beach boy (an affectionate term used to describe those who teach surfing at Waikiki, ambassadors of Aloha some would say) and lifeguard is swimming out to us for assistance. I turn around to face the oncoming waves, and see my brother paddling towards me from the outer break. I wanted this to be a special moment between my son and I. His and my moment as father and son. Instead it has become a family affair, an all hands on deck family intervention.
Out on the horizon, I see a wave heading towards us. It’s just big enough to catch and small enough to not put my child in the doom he is feeling. A few paddles and we’re on. The glee and exuberance I expected to feel is replaced with relief that soon this momentous event will be over. The screams have not relented as our board skims across the mythical water I have learned to respect and honor over my years.
We paddle into shore, into the waiting arms of his mom. She caresses him into the safety of her body. I sit there to reflect.
Surfing is a way of life to us. Luckily, much like life, we get multiple chances to get it right. And soon we’ll have ours again, but according to mom, “it won’t happen for a long time.”
I can only hope time is a relative term, because the disappointment I feel can only be remedied by one thing…the ocean.
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