A Medium Day at Sunset Beach


Sometimes I hear people complaining about how the Hawaiian’s are so hard-core. So territorial. So ready to mop the floor with you if you step out of line.

The Hawaiian’s have good and sufficient reason. More than enough, in fact.

And that’s not even looking at the end of things where three-masted ships showed up full of pious invaders holding bibles and rifles, who then went on to give all the women syphilis, stole all the land, destroyed the culture, and attempted to extirpate surfing from the face of the earth. Among other things.


We’re not even gonna go there, ok?

The Hawaiian’s have plenty of reason without delving into any of that kind of thing.

We will use my own breathtakingly stupid self as an example, instead, ok?

“Dumb haole.”

In spades.

So ok, so I just got there. It’s still only October, and it’s 1972, and I’m 21 years old and completely ignorant of Hawaii from top to bottom, aside from the fact that Hawaii has pretty good surf, and a buddy of mine invited me to come out and live at his place.

Tra la la.

My original intent was to be a crumb-snatcher. Coming from Florida, I figured all the hairy-chested sorts I’d grown up looking at in pictures of people riding waves in Hawaii would probably not want to bother with the small stuff, and I might therefore get to ride a few of the little piddly ones to myself. As original intents go, I consider this one to be laudable, but more than just a little misguided.

I’d only been there a few weeks.

But my buddy lived in Punalu’u, and when you drive around to the North Shore from Punalu’u, you drive right past Sunset Beach first, and since you can see the waves right from the roadway, and since there’s a nice big area to park the car right there, and since the waves tend to break ok at Sunset Beach, even when it’s small, you tend to just pull over, park the car, and paddle out right there, without ever bothering to drive down the road any further.

Which is what we did. A lot.

Doing this in October is generally safe for a kook from Florida, and on those few October occasions when some fairly substantial waves did arrive, your truly would happily stay the hell out of the water, sit on the hood of Billy’s parked car, eating pizza bought at Julio’s Pizza right next to Kammie’s Market, swilling cans of Fosters Lager, and watch.

I would watch and wonder. I would wonder how they were doing it. I would wonder why they didn’t all die. I would wonder what it was like. But I would almost never wonder if I myself could do it, though. I had already written that off. Not gonna happen. You fucking people are out of your minds. You can have that shit. I don’t want anything to do with it.

But it wasn’t always small, and it wasn’t always big. Sometimes it was kind of medium.

Medium Sunset Beach.

You probably have to actually surf it to get a feel for what that means, but I’ll try anyway, ok?

Medium Sunset Beach has already moved away, off the point, and is hitting on the Peak, but bears scant resemblance to large Sunset Beach, where the peak moves outside, rears up like a fuming dragon, goes off like a bomb, and will seriously fuck you up if you get in front of it the wrong way.

Billy was in town working or something, so no car. But, back in the early 70’s, no car was no problem. As the author of The Hitchhiker’s Handbook (Loompanics, 1995, now out of print), I’m here to tell you that hitchhiking is the easiest thing in the world to do, it’s fun, and I did it all the time without giving it so much as a second thought. It’s nothing whatsoever like what the guy on TV tells you it’s like, it’s reliable and safe, and if my car breaks down to this very day, I will STILL hitchhike home to go find somebody to help me drag the dead sonofabitch to the repair shop. Last time that happened was about six months ago (mid-2015), so don’t go giving me any shit about hitchhiking, ok? You have no idea what the hell you’re talking about. You’ve never done it once, and I've been doing it for literal decades. All you know is what the television tells you. You’re a fucking idiot. So shut the fuck up and leave me the fuck alone about it, ok?

So I very sensibly hitchhiked to Sunset Beach from Punalu’u.

Tra la la.

I recall the day as being maybe nine feet. A foot less than ten feet. Ten foot Sunset, I would not do, but nine foot? Yeah, I guess so, yeah, ok, sure, yeah. Let’s paddle out. It’s only nine feet, right?

Oh yeah, no cords. This was well before cords showed up in the lineup at Sunset, on any size day. You fuck up, you swim. Simple. Direct. Brutally honest. Hell, I still miss those days.

So it’s maybe somewhere between double and triple overhead, and that’s just about as far as I’m willing to go with things at this point, although, even though I haven’t even realized it yet, I’m already being drawn. I’m already slowly-but-surely being drawn into things at higher and higher energy levels. Shit like that seems to happen to me all the time. Truth be told, I like it. It’s been that way for as long as I can remember, going all the way back to being a little kid, and it continues to this day.

This particular day was green and peaky, and the stupid trade wind wasn’t blowing a gale. It wasn’t exactly glassy, but neither were great plumes of spray being blown off the tops of the waves, high into the air, making for a nice visual effect even as it was trying its best to hang you up, eyes blinded with spray, for an extra half second or two as you attempted to get into the damn thing, only to realize too late that air was under the nose of the board, and you have become entrained within the lip, and what’s coming next is not going to be any fun at all.

So not only was the size manageable, but so were the conditions. Which is a bit unusual for Sunset Beach.

And that’s probably why there were about seventy people out riding this day, spread out all over that great expansive playing field that is the lineup at Sunset Beach.

The place was well-attended, for whatever reason.

I’m new, I’m nervous, I don’t know how the place works physically, and I’m more or less just trying to stay out of everyone’s way and snatch a few crumbs for myself, and hopefully survive.

So I caught a few, and since it was peakier than normal, for a spot that’s already plenty peaky enough as is, it was just sort of catch the wave, hang on for dear life through the drop, and then ease around the already-backing-off whitewater on the shoulder as the wave fatted out.

Short rides.

Not much to them.

So far, so good.

But it was not to last.

Here comes one.

There’s people in front of me, and there’s also a guy over to the left of me, across the apex of the peak from where I was paddling.

I’d seen him before.

Lean healthy-looking Hawaiian guy, and he was distinctive because he seemed to wear a contest jersey (nobody called ‘em rashguards back then) all the time. Kind of a light yellow-green thing with the words “Smirnoff Pro” on it.

So ok, so Smirnoff Pro guy was over there to the left of me on the other side of the peak, and I’m committed, and I’ve got it.

I got in pretty early, the wave was forgiving, and I was able to do a sort of mid-face turn, angling for the shoulder. I have no recollection if the guys I noted earlier as being in front of me were on the wave or not.

What I do recall is a VIOLENT impact from behind, right in the center of my back.


And I think it was that mid-face turn that saved the day for me, because instead of going down the face of the wave toward the beach, I was going across the face toward the shoulder, and despite the violence of the impact, it kind of just shoved me along in the direction I was already traveling in.

Somehow, impossibly, by some goddamned miracle of gyrating arms and torso, I managed to remain on top of the board, didn’t fall, and immediately pulled the board up and over the top of the shoulder, still in one piece, still breathing.

What the fuck just happened to me?

The answer was given promptly and emphatically.

There, not thirty feet away from me, was a guy swimming. The Smirnoff Pro guy.

His board was gone, taken to the beach by the wave that we both had just ridden.

And he was nearly insane with rage.


He was screaming at the top of his lungs and furiously swimming directly toward me.

Sitting on top of my board, I wisely paddled away from him, but not too far, and stupidly tried to apologize, and then even more stupidly attempted to lamely tell him, “I thought you were going left.”

This only seemed to enrage him even further, and I found myself having to keep paddling away from him, and he was acting like he thought he was going to be able to swim faster than I could paddle, and he kept on coming, screaming and cursing at me the whole time as a great spray of water came off of his churning arms and legs.

“Holy shit, what have I gotten myself into?”

Eventually, it became apparent that he was not going to be able to catch up to my surfboard by swimming, and he finally calmed down enough to break off the pursuit, turned toward the beach, and once again I was alone in the water.

Well, not really alone. Not at all, in fact.

A lull had developed, the ocean went quiet, and outside, the entire pack of seventy guys was looking right at me and roaring with laughter at my profound stupidity, and there was no hole I could go crawl into, to disappear from sight.

I was very thankful to still be alive and not be in the hospital, or drowned, but I was also completely demoralized and filled with a deep dread about what might come next.

Fortunately, no group of Hawaiians decided to separate themselves from the crowd and come deal with me directly, and I remained in one piece.

The lull went on for far longer than I wanted it to, and the laughter finally died down, and I found myself lamely paddling around inside, in a lineup I was unfamiliar with, hoping to catch a wave and get the hell out of there, and of course a set finally arrived, which promptly cleaned me up, took my board, and left me swimming for the beach.

I arrived on the sand looking and feeling like a beaten dog, tail tucked between my legs, with eyes fearfully darting left and right, looking for the person or persons that I knew for a fact were waiting in there somewhere for me, getting ready to properly settle accounts with me.

Nobody showed.

Nothing happened.

Smirnoff Pro guy never appeared, nor did any of his buddies.

So I got the hell out of there, but of course getting the hell out of there by HITCHHIKING involves a significant amount of time standing at the side of the road, in plain sight.

Miraculously, no car full of Hawaiians stopped to finish me off, and I was able to make good my escape.

It’s always better to be lucky than smart.

It was only later that I found out who Smirnoff Pro guy was, and that I had successfully managed to drop in on Eddie Aikau, at Sunset Beach, take a direct hit from him, and somehow survive.

It really IS always better to be lucky than smart.

I crossed paths with Eddie more than once after that fateful day, but he never gave the least indication that he remembered who I was, or the beating that he owed me.

From then on, I kept my distance, I behaved respectfully, and I never EVER got in his way, ever again.

And I cannot believe my good luck to have survived things in the first place.

Wherever you are right now, Eddie, I apologize, once again. I am a dumb fucking haole, and that’s all I’ll ever be. I know that the apology is lame, I know that it won’t get your wave back for you, and I know that I richly deserve the beating that you owe me. I can only thank you for the grace and class which you showed from then on, and wish that I could have this one single day of my life back, to live over again, and do better than I did the first time.

Please accept my apologies.

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