TRAVEL – College in the Islands

Being a college student and a surfer are two of the best things in the world, especially if you happen to be a college student and a surfer living in Hawaii. Upon graduating from high school in rural Northern California my sites were set on good, warm waves and a good, warm education. Little did I know what was in store for me as a naive 18 year old male.

“Screeeeech” and with a little shake the wheels touched down in sunny Honolulu. I was there, I had arrived! I was in Hawaii, all by myself, for the first time. I was officially on my own. My belongings included nothing more than a big backpack filled with t-shirts and boardshorts, CDs and a walkman, a worn copy of The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac, a Swiss Army Knife, a camera and a surfboard bag with my favorite board inside. Walking through the airport I began to break a sweat in the humid island air as I nervously pondered what was to come next.

A surfer, canoesailer, fisherman, party extrordenare and chick magnet named Bruce was supposed to be my ride to Chaminade University of Honolulu. He also happened to be the coach of the Chamidade water polo team, which I was going to be playing for. I had met him once before on a previous trip to Hawaii. He had taken me sailing on his traditional Hawaiian canoe sail. We left from the Outrigger Canoe Club at the base of Diamond Head to a spot called China Walls on the east side of the island. We longboarded perfect, offshore 300 yard long lefts, just the two of us. Aside from that great experience with Bruce I got the impression that he was not the most dedicated or commited coach. This proved to be true when after three hours I still sat at the Honolulu airport waiting for him.

After many frustrating phone calls to the school, it was determined that Bruce was on Maui and picking me up at the airport was never in his plans at all. Fortunately he had asked a friend to come get me. She showed up after four and a half hours of waiting.

Seeing my water polo t-shirt, surfboard and backpack a white trash women wearing a Hustler Magazine hat and stained Scorpions t-shirt smiled and yelled from an old jeep, “Are you Chris?”

“Yes” I said, quickly getting to my feet.

“Get in, Im Bruce’s friend Jenny!”

I loaded my belongings in the back of the jeep and away we went towards Waikiki. We had a friendly conversation on the ride, but I couldn’t help but feel a bit confused about what was going on. It would be three weeks before school started, three weeks which were set aside for pre-season water polo training and the Hawaiian Invitational Tournament (held in the summer stillness of Waimea Bay). The rest of the team was going to be coming in over the next week from all four corners of the globe. I was the first one to arrive, even my coach wasn’t on the island. It was too early to move into my dorm at school, so I wasn’t sure where I was going to sleep for the next few days. Riding through the tourist paradise known as Waikiki, I observed the usual bunch of characters you’ll see there: Japanese pop star wannabees with Beatle haircuts, fat middle aged couples from the Midwest carrying bags of overpriced candy bars and potato chips from the ABD store, dreadlocked steal drum playing street performers, tattooed, muscle bound military men and everything in between.

Arriving at a small, hole in the wall beach rental shack between two nice hotels near Diamond Head Jenny introduced me to Kalea, a young, surfer looking guy who was Bruce’s business and sailing partner. The shack, which I would work at in time, held surfboards, kayaks, snorkeling gear, fishing poles, sand chairs, umbrellas and other beach parafanalia. Jenny told me that Kalea would help me out then she split, never to be seen again. Kalea and I got to know each other a little while we checked the surf out at Rice Bowls, a hollow left that can get good on a decent south. Kalea spoke slowly and didn’t seem too excited about the offshore winds and four to six foot surf rolling in at a number of fun looking reef breaks. I, on the other hand, was having a hard time containing myself. I asked if he wanted to go for a surf with me.

Emotionlessly, he ansewered, “Nah, gotta work, but I’ll watch your stuff if you want”.

Moments later I was in my trunks, my board was out of the bag (still rubbed down with cold water wax) and I was paddling out with the biggest smile I’ve ever had on my face. All my thoughts of where I was going to sleep, when Bruce would return, who my teammates were, who my roommate would be and how college was going to be all went out the door… lost in the warm, salty whitewater after my first cleansing duckdive. After making my way out to the lineup and catching a few good ones my stoke grew as I realized what was in store for me. I was 18-years old, on my own, living the dream of surfing warm waves free from the restrictions of parents, high school, girlfriends and most of all, a 5’3″ wetsuit! The best thing was, this was only the beginning… day one.

Two years later, I would never have imagined that life would turn out this good. Since fateful day one I have surfed breaks from Diamond Head to Point Panic, Tracks to Yokohama Bay, Haliewa to V-Land. The last two winters I’ve ridden the biggest waves of my life, pulled into perfect tubes and rode out clean. Between classes and exams I found time to become as much of a local bodysurfer at Sandy’s and Makapu’ as a haoule from the mainland can. Island friends have taught me how to sail a Hawaiian canoe sail, spear a fish with a Hawaiian sling and deal with being face to face with three 12 foot tiger sharks.

My time hasn’t just been spent on the sand or in the sea. School has helped me become well rounded and I’ve learned a lot. From Buddhism and Taoism to Kant, Voltaire, Dante and Marx I’ve read it all! The Vietnam War, theatre, Native American culture, geography, Hawaiian history and Japanese have also turned me on. On those flat afternoons I play blues guitar with my friends on the back porch. Occassionally friends I’ve made from Croatia, Serbia, France, Greece and Brazil get together for an afternoon or evening of water polo. Love struck me in the form of a beautiful girl from Yokohama, Japan. Heck I even grew all my own vegetables in a backyard garden. From my home in foggy Northern California came to paradiseto study. Today I to continue on with my strange and exciting adventures of college in the Hawaiian Islands. Two years from now, not only will I have a degree, but I will have enough stories, experiences and memories to last lifetime. By Chris Howard