Friday, January 9, 2009

Hanging ten

Josh spots the colorful boogie board in the closet of our rented condominium on the North Shore of Kauai and decides immediately he wants to learn to "surf." As he claws at the shelf for it, I turn to Eric and ask, "How old were you when you learned to boogie board in San Diego?" He shrugs. "Maybe four." I look down into Josh's eager eyes and lower the giant piece of styrofoam into his grasp.

We pack up a variety of sand toys, chairs, and towels from the generous closet and set off down the path to the beach. We don't know what we will find, but we're up for an adventure. We wind past well-kept tennis courts lined with guava and citrus trees, through a thicket of banyans — their roots winding up over our heads, from one side of the path to the other — and past a murky bog that's teeming with mosquitoes. When the path levels out, we run right into a construction site. We peek through the thick black netting at the landmark hotel to spy on the rumored remodel, and we find buildings stripped to their studs. We edge around the barriers and finally find sand, which we follow to the water's edge and away from the noise of bulldozers and buzz saws.

We set up camp under a large magnolia tree. It's yellowed leaves strewn here and there in the shade it offers us. I fold out chairs, set up towels, shuffle through the beach bag to find buckets and shovels for my enthusiastic castle builder. "Want to boogie board?" Eric asks Josh.

"Not yet," Josh replies, obviously having second thoughts. "Maybe a little later." And he glances nervously at the lapping water.

When I sink into my seat, I look around to find one of the most idyllic spots on earth. Lush green mountains curve from my left around the picturesque inlet of sparkling turquoise water. Directly in front of me, Puff the Magic Dragon rests his head on the surface of Hanalei Bay, mourning Jackie Paper's lost boyhood forevermore. Waves crash in the distance on a coral reef and then lap quietly up onto our beach, making the requisite ocean sounds yet alleviating motherly fears of undertow. Fifteen or twenty surfers ride three distinct sets of waves off to the left, many of them proficient enough to ride from swell to break before falling gracefully backward into the surf. A gentle breeze blows as Josh sits at my feet, carving out roads, filling up buckets, and digging for water.

Occasionally another beachcomber or two will pass by on their way around the shore. At one point, a petite lady stops a few feet from us and throws a large piece of driftwood into the lackadaisical tide for her black labrador to retrieve. But other than the intermittent interlopers who are always on their way to somewhere else, we are always alone in our paradise. We seem to have found an ideal pocket in time to occupy this peaceful spot: Lucky enough to miss the hotel guests during the renovation. Early enough to avoid the honeymooners, twentysomething travelers, and older families who are all still undoubtedly asleep. Boring enough to steer clear of the thrill-seeking wave riders who crowd the beach further down the way. And stagnant enough to be only a short-lived attraction to the movers and shakers warming up for their morning workout. Does it get any better than this?

Josh finally tires of the sand and musters enough courage to dip his toes in the ocean. He and Eric watch their feet slowly disappear as they both warm to the water. Suddenly, Josh comes bounding up the beach, grabs his new-found board, and dives head first on top of it on the sand. He goes nowhere. His patient engineer father shows him the best way to start, instructing him to point the board perpendicular to the waves, helping him stand with his feet shoulder-width apart and his knees bent, and quietly explaining things like balance and buoyancy while also warning about wipeouts and water safety. Josh listens astutely and follows every direction. He starts on the sand and then moves the board closer and closer to the water as he gains confidence and earns more kudos from dad — until he is dropping his flat slice of adventure on shallow water, kneeling on the board, and then hopping up to a surfer's stance.

As the waves lap under his floating toy, he learns to negotiate his equilibrium by leaning forward and shifting his weight. He finds success more often when he lets the waves come to him, so he begins hopping onto the board on sand and ever more patiently waits for the water to take him on. He rests his hands on his knees and turns his blond head toward the incoming swell. He is far from surfing — far from even throwing his board across the shallow tide and jumping on top for a free ride up the beach. But he is mastering the basics and learning a lot about balance and hydro physics along the way. Not to mention, he's having the time of his life.

When our stomachs finally beckon us away from our paradise, we make the uphill climb back to our home away from home. We are a chatty bunch on the walk back, each of us bubbling over with renewed spirits and newfound passions. "I sure did some great surfing today, Mom," my three-and-a-half-going-on-ten-year-old son says as we negotiate the hills that seem to have gotten steeper while we soaked up the Hawaiian sun.

"You sure did. You'll be hanging ten with the big boys before you know it."

Josh looks down and grins. "Yeah," he sighs and then skips ahead to catch up with his dad.

"Yeah," I echo wistfully as I adjust my pack and continue my unpredictable journey.

1 comment:

Laurie Rodak said...

You're back! Hooray!!! Happy New Year and all that jazz.

Your day at the beach sounds like paradise, this is my favorite post of yours so far.

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