Losing My (Tube) Virginity

Becoming a man at Kaisers, 1973

James Jones, living the mortal-sized tubehunters dream at Kaisers. Photo: ??

Tom Holtan, living the mortal-sized tubehunters dream at Kaisers. Photo: Warren Bolster

Jay Adams and his mom Philainie spent the summer of 1973 in a funky one-bedroom Waikiki apartment a block or so behind International Marketplace, just off Ala Wai Boulevard. Might have been his present for graduating Anchorage Elementary School. My parents separated earlier that year, and possibly in an effort to divert my attention from that Category One domestic shitstorm—pain and suffering for all involved; then again, not a single kid from my Venice crew had an intact family—I was allowed to fly to Honolulu, alone, age 13, for a two-week vacation with my manic surf buddy and his slightly terrifying ex-junkie mother. (Philanie was long clean by that time, and some kind of Scrabble savant. My own mother, a respectable tile-slinger herself, told me years later that Philanie was unbeatable.)

Wish I had some photos from that trip. It was the biggest deal of my life up to that point, but evidently no one packed a camera, and 40-something years later, it's down to just a handful of memories set to Humble Pie's "30 Days in the Hole," and Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die." By the time I arrived, Jay was already the beloved blond mascot of Kaisers, just like he was at First Point Malibu. Kaisers was hollow and shallow, and second only to Ala Moana on the South Shore hairball scale, and timorous child that I was, on that first afternoon, I told Jay we had to paddle out at Threes. Surf was shoulder-high and kinda fun. Disappointing, actually. Shapely but soft, and all ribbed-out from the tradewinds. This actually put my whole surf cosmology a bit on tilt. If you read the surf mags in the Age of Kampion, and saw Pacific Vibrations three or four times, as I had, you understood on a bone-deep level that California in the early '70s was a pariah surf nation, crowded, polluted, and soulless, while Hawaii was earthly paradise. Yet a half-hour into my first Hawaiian go-out, I already knew Malibu was better than Threes. When Jay paddled up to Kaisers, I followed.

And oh that changed things. Maybe it was the first afternoon, maybe it was a week later, but before leaving Hawaii, my surf life had bent itself to Kaisers the way Kaisers bends around that perfect crown of reef. Short, hollow, punchy little bowls. A wave zone you could fit in a Tiffany box. Lineup variables and vectors that spoke to the geometry nerd I would become in high school. This one is going to bowl, that one isn't. The small wave fringing at the west end of the reef is going to grow. The bigger wave shifting toward Diamond Head is going to flatten out.

I was still scared of hitting bottom, and picked my waves carefully, but the hook was set. One late afternoon, at dusk, maybe halfway through the trip, I paddled into a wedge and put my feet wrong while standing up; by the time I sorted things out and leaned into my gentle schoolboy bottom turn, the lip was pitching, and I tranced out inside my first for-real tuberide.

Surfing took me down a lot of paths over the next 40 years, but what I always wanted to do, above all else, was reproduce, improve upon, and gather up by the hundreds, that original Kaisers tube. Never once did I stop looking for Kaisers-like waves. Velzyland was the only North Shore spot I ever really wanted to surf. Shipwrecks on Nusa Lembongan—I'm haunted still by the fact that it turned on just 90 minutes before my boat left back to Bali, and the airport, and a plane ride home. My personal motherlode was Ocean Beach, where each season throughout the '90s and '00s I found at least one sandbar embedded with Kaisers' DNA.

My surf dreams at this point have all either come to pass or died, except one. Before my knees turn to dried pasta, I would like to surf Rights and Lefts. Shoulder-high, low-tide, two or three friends, with Art Brewer dressed as Ron Stoner on the beach shooting pictures. Dream big, right?