Comfortably Numb -- 8/13/00

Ken, setting up for a long one

Even though I have lived on Oahu for 18 years, I still call Kauai home. That is where I cut my teeth bodyboarding and surfing. I feel very comfortable in the lineups there, maybe not as a full-fledged local, but at least as one who's been there, done that. I was stoked that I was going back home and getting some water time.

My buddy Charles picked me up at 5:30 AM in his mini 4wd, and headed west in search of some uncrowded waves. The terrible dry spell of surf seemed like it was finally going to be lifted, with a solid south swell in the forecast.

At a place I once thought unsurfable, we stopped for a surfcheck at spot #1. The swell wasn't showing, but it looked ridable, albeit fairly weak. Charles got on the horn and hooked up with his friend Ken and decided to meet at spot #2.

Spot #2 is one of Kauai's premiere south shore breaks that has unfortunately been blown wide open in recent years. This very long, pointbreakish left has been guarded for years by the locals. In fact, the whole area still harbors one of the last bastions of heavy localism on the island. However, a recent surge in popularity has made this spot get out of control, and the locals have had to draw back deeper into their realm.

In fact, we found a bunch of Japanese tourists waxing up their longboards in the parking area. How the hell did they find this place?

Anyway, we found Ken stoically checking out the place, right where the kiawe opened onto black sand. The surf was nice, clean, small (about shoulder-high) and cluttered with riders. We knew it was going to get much more crowded, so we opted to check out another spot further west.

Driving up to spot #3, we were met with a horde of surfers driving away. Not a good sign. A huge, white sand beach was spread before us with nice, blue water outside. Unfortunately, the swell was even smaller here, with chest-high shorebreak.

There was one bigger set that we saw come in from around the point and peeled top to bottom flawlessly for hundreds of yards, dumping right near the shore. However, it raced so fast, it would put even Maalaea to shame. All we could do was gaze at the unridable perfection and mind-surf the wave.

We jumped back in the cars and headed back east. We decided to go to spot #4, but while we were driving, was flabbergasted by the size and quality of a set that hit spot #5. We pulled off to the side of the road and watched for more, but it didn't show as well.

Still, the tease was all we needed to make our decision on where to surf. We had direction!

However, getting to the spot and surfing it was another story altogether. This spot was smack dab in the middle of very guarded territory. Just getting into the area required a bit of stealth and guile.

Driving to the beach on the ever-staining Kauai red dirt roads, I couldn't help but be amazed at how untouched the shoreline was. Some pristine coves and sand beaches speckled the area. Actually, when I was a kid, my uncle and father used to make me the bag boy and walk these very beaches while they threw-net for mullet. It was a bit of reminiscing and discovery at the same time.

After driving the sketchy roads, we finally pulled up to spot #5, affectionately known as "Alapua" (not real name). The setup was a small cove with reefs sprinkled around at various depths. From the shore, it didn't look all that great--the surf was about shoulder-high and looked like it was trying to pitch. Didn't matter--no one was out and we were on it!

Of course, the eager beaver sponge was out first, trying to feel out the spot and figuring out the lineup. As Ken explained to me earlier, there were three peaks going right, which connected when it got good. The lefts were soft, but fun at times, petering out into a channel.

We could see some higher-quality, even more heavily guarded spots firing off in the distance, but were content to have Alapua to ourselves.

There was a reason for our spot being empty. Access is a big part. However, the water is murky, sharky and Alapua is very quirky. The swell direction has to be just so for it to work.

Ken started first, showing his knowledge of the spot. Got some nice, clean carves and worked it through the inside peak. He's been surfing the spot for over 20 years, and has gone through some heavy localism tactics. Intense swearing, slashed tires, even getting sic'ed on by the cops. Still, his resolve to surf the spot was undying.

Charles, on the other hand, had a harder time of it. It just wasn't his day, as he could not find the right spot to sit or wave to catch. He only recently had put his bodyboard aside and focused more on surfing, so he's still ramping up on the technique. Still, I saw him catch a few beauties, and he had some really high-flying kickouts.

As for me, once I finally got the lay of the land, I gorged myself on the waves with my bodyboard. Snagged a few beauties that swung in from the southwest and took them from the outside peak all the way through. Got a clean air-roll, a couple of fun airs, and even a tube ride.

That barrel was a really nice one. After taking off on the outside peak and racing to the second section, I stalled just as the wave started hooking into a concave wall. Got a small, dry tube and came out grinning from ear to ear.

Unfortunately, for the second half of the session, the new swell seemed to kick in a bit, more from the south or southeast. The angle was poor for the spot, and the surf started to get junky.

We still made the most of it, taking off on closeouts and even catching some long, mushy lefts. We had it to ourselves, and were having fun.

Unfortunately, the seclusion didn't last for long. It first started with three bodyboarders coming at us from the west. It seemed as if they were testing the water, tentatively loping towards us.

"Looks like our soul session is about to end," Ken said prophetically.

Just then, a lone surfer paddled out from the east. This guy just started *going off* on us, swearing and ranting, playing the localism and ethnic cards. Funny thing was, he did it from like 40 yards away, like a barking dog.

By then, the bodyboarders had joined us in the lineup and, egged on by our good friend in the channel, and started chiming in and getting aggro themselves. A lot of the aggression was directed at Ken, probably because he was known as an outsider and definitely because of his lighter skin tone.

Knowing we were in a place we shouldn't really be, and not wanting any conflict, and not wanting to totally ruin the stoke, I decided to bow my head and just go in. Ken put out a few words, but soon afterwards he and Charles paddled in--no sense banging heads against the wall.

On the beach, we saw three younger bodyboarders just sitting, seemingly waiting for permission to enter the lineup. The surfing rules were much different there.

We changed, watched the surfers flail, hopped into the car, then drove back to the real world without further incident.

Afterwards, we decided to grab a bite at a local coffee shop in Kalaheo. Bustling with business, we ordered some local kine grinds and sat down.

The after-surf meal is always a satisfying time to share the day's triumphs and tribulations. Unfortunately, this time it was soured by the fact that we were kicked out of the water. I have to admit that I was more than a little rattled.

However, Ken was pretty casual and philosophical about it all. The shouting match was minor, and the wave way too enticing for him to be scared off. He had invested lots of time to make inroads into the area, and wasn't about to let one guys ruin years of effort.

Just then, some Pink Floyd music blared out over the din of the crowded cafe. It was none other than "Comfortably Numb," from "the Wall" album. How appropriate a song it was for Ken, who epitomized cool during some heated moments only a few minutes prior.

After breakfast, we said our goodbyes and headed our separate ways. By then I was already looking forward to my next trip back home to taste more of the hidden Kauai. Just gotta get some thicker skin so I can also be "comfortably numb."

Aloha from Paradise,