Mixed Plate
The Local
Neal Miyake's PERSPECTIVES: The Local
Originally published in Bodyboarder International Magazine, Vol XXX, #XXX

There's a semi-secret spot, nestled somewhere in the canefields of Kauai, where I really honed my bodyboarding skills (by the way, this isn't Brenneckes). Throughout the summers, I established myself as a regular there--a local, if you will--and have always felt comfortable prowling the lineup.

There was a time when I hadn't gone back in over a year. That one year had brought some big changes to the beach. Sprawled right in front of my surf break was a huge luxury hotel complex. Scheduled to open in a few months, I knew that my local spot would never be the same. I could just see it now; a hundred tourists in the water, their heads bobbing in the lineup.

Walking over the bluff at six-thirty in the morning, I knew I'd be the only one on the beach--nobody did the dawn patrol back then. I was greeted by shapely one-to-two foot waves, and although there was a slight drizzle, conditions were great.

After stretching out on the cool sand, I eagerly slipped into the clear water. The ocean was invigorating and pure.

Unfortunately, every time I looked up towards land, I was jerked back to reality. The cane and ironwood had given way to swimming pools and cabanas. Enjoying the ocean was my only solace.

The water felt great, but I couldn't help but feel apprehensive surfing alone. In the back of my mind, I had vivid memories of sharks being hauled in just a few yards down the beach.

I was catching some pretty good waves that day. The smooth conditions allowed for good trimming and carving, even though it was pretty small.

On one wave, I remember taking a wide bottom turn. Suddenly, I saw something streak right under me, followed by a small ripple on the glassy surface. Was it my overactive imagination? In my mind I tried to rationalize it as a hole in the reef, or maybe a fish (hopefully not the maneating kind).

I warily paddled back out, trying to stay calm, and reassured myself that it was nothing. While waiting for the next wave, I slowly scanned across the water around me. That's when I saw it!

It's pretty funny how my mind reacted towards this unknown form. My scrambled brain raced to identify the thing that hovered just a few feet away from me: shark...? bearded man...? manatee...? I finally realized it was none of these. I was face to face with a Hawaiian monk seal!

Hawaiian monk seals are truly a rare site. They are a legitimate endangered species in Hawaii. In fact, I had never seen one in the wild up until that day (and haven't seen one since).

This "puppy" was six feet long and weighed about 300 pounds. He was a curious fellow, with long whiskers and a nonchalant expression.

The seal casually lolled around, basking on the surface. Sometimes he'd slip under water for a few minutes, but would always reappear nearby. I didn't try to approach him, but he stayed near me throughout the rest of my session.

Suddenly, the clouds broke, the rain stopped, and the sun peaked over the cliffs (no bull$#!t). It was a moment I'll never forget.

Now that the hotel has opened, I wonder if the seal ever goes back. It's sad that man's encroachment on nature has pushed the "real locals" to the brink of extinction.

Local's still rule--but if you're polite, they don't mind sharing a wave or two.

Seal photo courtesy Ed Robinson of Maui Scuba Diving.