Ode to Wailupe

           It was the perfect August day on Wailupe pier: clear skies stretching from Koko Crater to Diamond Head, afternoon sun dancing on the water, and 2-3 foot waves rolling in over the reef. Noah cupped his hands over his eyes and scanned the break. Weeks of summer sun had left him with an itchy brown tan.

           “Wanna paddle out with me?” he asked before throwing his surfboard off the pier and diving into the deep blue-green water.

           I hadn’t been out there in a very long time. I breathed in the salty air and contemplated the breaking waves while Noah looked up at me in expectation. Just sitting on the pier and lounging was for posers. I grabbed my boogie board and took a giant leap off the pier. The ocean swallowed me whole. I broke the surface and whipped the hair out of my eyes. Muscle memory took over and propelled me across the water. Without a mirror anywhere to remind me of how many years had passed, for just a moment I was 19 again, just like Noah.

           “Paddle out in a backward ‘C’ to avoid the rocks!” I shouted.

           He barreled forward without glancing back. I could feel the fearlessness and disregard for admonition of any kind. Could I shed these layers of acquired inhibition out there, I wondered, or had too many years passed?

           The waves were playful but the current was strong. I kept my eye on the pier and paddled continuously toward Koko Head, so I wouldn’t get pulled into the protruding rocks. I caught a couple of good rides, the speed and power of the waves still so addicting. But in less than an hour, the muscles in my back started to tighten up, taunting me with the fact that I was nowhere near 19 anymore.

           I waved at Noah across the water and pointed to the pier. “I’m heading in,” I yelled, my words bouncing off the white wash and dissipating like sea spray. He shrugged and headed back out toward the break.

           I sat on the pier reminiscing, the memories of Wailupe rolling in like the tide: jumping off the diving board as a kid into the cold, dark water on a cloudy day trying not to think about what might be swimming beneath me; picking pipipi on the rocks with my uncle and cousins, watching a’ama sunbathe on the rocks and scurry into the crevices; boogie boarding with my best friend, our hair bleached out by the sun and salt water by the end of every summer vacation; gazing up at the clear night sky with a boyfriend in high school and spotting Orion’s Belt or the dippers; watching my neighbor’s golden retriever jump into the water in a friendly game of chase with the honu who would duck under the surface just before the dog was upon it. The pier had been my favorite spot all these years. I closed my eyes and relished the thought that my son was now out there carving his own spot in the waves. Ahh, the circle of life.

           About an hour later, it started to get chilly as the sun dropped and the breeze picked up. I stood on the pier scanning the break for signs of Noah. Always in the back of my head was a little voice prompting me to worry. My friend’s brother had died surfing nearby when we had been in intermediate school. Her family had been utterly devastated by the loss of him, especially her mom. The unpredictable dangers of the sea could be cruel and intractable. How could something so horrible happen in such a beautiful place?

           I finally spotted Noah paddling in and said a little prayer. Gushing with memories from my youth, I took a deep breath in anticipation of our shared love for this sacred spot.

           To my dismay, he swore repeatedly as he worked his way up the rusted pier ladder. His face hard and eyes flashing, “I got stuck on the inside. I kept paddling but couldn’t get back out.” He raged on, his anger crashing over us with more force than the biggest waves that day.

           “I told you, backward ‘C.’” He never listened to advice.

           We walked back to the house in stormy silence. I could still taste the salt on my lips. This wasn’t how it was supposed to turn out.

           Later that night, I gave it to him. “How dare you let your temper ruin something so precious to me! I grew up in those waters. I wanted to share them with you. I wanted today to be a special memory for both of us.”

           He looked at me dumbfounded. He hadn’t meant to desecrate my memories, he said. He was just mad that he got stuck on the inside. Simple-minded, selfish anger. No disrespect intended. He apologized and gave me a hug. I was stiff as a board. It would take years for him to understand what I was feeling.

           Maybe one day, he’ll want to share his memories of Wailupe with his own son. The memories will be different from mine, but precious all the same. Between now and then, time will need to soften the sharp edges, like Wailupe waves patiently wearing down the jagged reef. Perhaps then, the memory will be restored.

          This is my bitter sweet ode to Wailupe.

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