A Peterson Pilgrimage
Like most places with good surf, you generally need to have an early bird catches the worm sort of mindset these days. Most spots have a camera pointing directly at them. Even spots that were once considered a fairly untapped resource in your local region have now become packed & are unfortunately off the cards. Oahu is no different, once those summer swells start filling in, from Diamond Head to Ala Moana. The famed reef breaks of the south shore where guys like Lopez, and Bertleman honed their skills all begin lighting up one by one. Luckily for me, when Dane’s on the island he’s always keen to motivate early and find search for waves at the crack of dawn. I like to think we’re both self-taught, “early risers” from years of frothing grommet insomnia… The day he arrived we monitored what the swell was doing from just out front of the Duke Statue at Queen's Surf Waikiki. Head high gems were on offer, one after the next, rolling through within close proximity of each other. This swell looked promising for the days that lay ahead. The following morning Dane and I rise in the dark, being careful not to wake Kayla as we gather our gear, trying to desperately to contain our froth in hopes of scoring some waves. We agreed the night before that it was best to steer clear of the bubonic surf plague that has taken hold of Waikiki, by heading west 10 minutes on Kuhio Avenue.
We arrive at a small public parking lot nestled beneath the tall hotels of the surrounding area. We unload our morning's quiver which consists of two Unhinged Pigs that Dane has shaped. Mine is a brand new 9’6” that still smells of the Golden State glassing factory from which it came. As I pull it out of its board sock, I’m trying to contain my excitement as Im really looking forward to trying it out. We begin caking on the reef-safe sunscreen Dane brought over from California right as my good friend Justin Alderete known by most as (Hilifephoto) pulls into the lot next to us. Complete with a set of DA FINS wedged between the back window and his tailgate, Justin hops out with a cheeky grin, wallet in hand ready to pay his 12 dollar parking fee. He looks right at us and says, "Buenos Dias, Gueros!"……Dane and I glance at one another, both immediately bursting into laughter. Justin finishes up at the parking kiosk, and we all walk with anticipation with our eyes fixated down the street.……….
It’s still fairly early at this point, but’s already very loud. Sanitation trucks reversing out of the narrow alleys, causing high pitched beeping to echo off the nearby hotels. All three of us are walking barefoot, doing our very best to avoid stepping in what looks to be a day old pile of human excrement, obviously left by one of our many recent homeless transplants from the mainland (an impressive specimen of feces I might add.) We get closer and can see white water breaking before we even reach the water's edge (a very good sign.) A lot of times you can’t tell how good these spots are until you actually get out and into the lineup. This can be a bummer at times, especially if you weren’t able to find free street parking, or you only have a limited time to surf. All of these potential outcomes are now forgotten as we begin our pre-surf calisthenics ritual. The paddle out takes a solid 15 minutes as it’s low tide and a 10’’ fin can easily join the dying coral reef if you're careless.
With the sun erecting itself behind us, I’m already thankful I applied a ton of sunscreen. The sun gets used to the haole, but the haole never gets used to the sun, especially when you’re as fair-skinned as I am. When we finally reach the lineup we realize the morning crew is surprisingly light for such a clean direction of swell we have on hand. There’s approximately 10-12 people amongst it, on an eclectic mix of watercraft. The Reef here at this particular break produces a hollow take-off zone, combined with a wall that stands up and reels down the inside section across a shallow body of water. Thus creating the perfect playground for our little piggies to be put to the test.
As we sit in the middle of the pack the ocean seems to be in in the middle of a long lull. I look around recognizing many of the morning faces with expressions identical to mine at the delight of what is approaching us currently. A bump on the horizon here can sometimes turn into some of the most magical minutes of your life. I look to Dane, who needs no instruction after years of visiting and surfing this reef. He paddles nonchalantly towards the horizon as I follow close to his side. We glide up and over the first wave, watching a local uncle drop into a crisp right-hander. The wave directly behind is shifting steadily towards the east as I leave Dane's side to catch up with it. To my delight, when dropping into my first prize of the morning, I immediately realize this new piglet is much faster than my other logs. Displacing the water rapidly and evenly without slowing off the bottom. My senses are heightened with this newfound speed as I aim for the 30 feet of continuously building wall in front of me. I somehow make it to the tip at max log speed and begin to feel a carpet ride of emotion.
The rail and hip of my board are deeply engaged with the wall as I'm learning to appreciate how well this shape dances in the pocket. As I finish up my ride, I kick out into the sun-filled channel, spying my older sibling tucking into a shoulder-high midsection bowl. I'm hooting wildly as he exits the doggy door with a new hairdo. He approaches the same inside section from which I left and becomes a silhouette in the bright sunlight.
Over the following three mornings the swell holds, as my brother and I trade wave after wave. We’d occasionally share one together with Dane hanging back, watching ahead, as I do my best to provoke a chuckle out of him. We smile and compliment each other after nearly every wave, feeding off each other's stoke and energy. It’s as if we’re the only ones in the lineup at times, kind of in a world of our own.
I suddenly find myself thinking, “how come we don’t do this sort of thing more often?" I begin to make excuses for myself about the cost of flights and the hustle of affording to live in Hawaii. It’s been almost 8 years since I've been back to California and I've yet to meet my niece, nephew, two mixed breed puppies named Cosmo and Roo, all of whom I only know through the likes of Instagram Stories and FaceTime. At that very moment whilst experiencing this whirlwind of emotions I look out to see Dane posting a timeless nose ride across a glassy wall, making it look all too easy.
Justin glances back at me with that kind of “did you just see that” look on his face. I paddle towards him and ask if he’s ready to start heading back to the van. He nods with relief, as Dane approaches us both. We take the super slow route alongside each other knowing we all experienced something you don’t get to very often, revelling in the excitement and joy that only an uncrowded morning surf experience can give you.
After the drive back to Danes hotel, I’m crispy as the avocado toast we are about to be consuming. We begin planning out the rest of his final day on the island. We decided it’d be a great idea to take Dane’s gorgeous and ever so talented partner, Kayla Varley out to the sandbar near the Royal Hawaiian Hotel for a late morning surf lesson conducted by Dane and myself. We take turns pushing Kayla into a series of long knee-high slappers amidst a sea of floating tourists oblivious to the dangers of a 12-foot rental board. Kayla’s smile is beaming, and I notice Dane wearing the same expression as Kayla stands tall moving fast past me and towards the shore. We all know that feeling of our first really long ride, along with the stoke it brings. After successfully pushing Kayla into a handful more rides, all knowing their departure is rapidly approaching, I take a moment and begin to savor every laugh and smile we have shared together in the sand-colored waist-deep water.
Many thanks to Justin Alderete for providing all the beautiful images found in this Journal post. And to Kristian Peterson for the compelling words of the genuine joy surfing can bring. Cheers!