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Off The Lip


The night before last, my boyfriend Keith and I were eating out with some friends out by Ocean Beach. We're deep in the heart of a three-hour meal, thick with laughter and conversation that jumps from flavor to flavor. I'm gleefully describing my new Yamaha 180 scooter, recently set up (by my inventive roommate Chris) with hot little surf racks and a wet-suit box. Freedom! Keith chuckles under his breath at my enthusiasm, and our friends laugh politely... they don't quite get it. Jake leans forward suddenly and asks, 

"What IS it about surfing anyway? Why do people seem to become so obsessed with it?"

Keith and I look at each other, turn back and simultaneously blurt out some incoherent attempts at an explanation. We realize quickly that if you've never surfed, it's hard to explain. The more eloquent I try to be, the cornier it sounds... 

It's late afternoon at a small, off-road beach in Hawaii, which has become a sprawling tarpaulin village over the Christmas vacation. Makeshift camps perch on a high white sandbank, overlooking the small bay. The local surf club had collected lava and built rings of rocks. When the tide comes in, little round pools appear, where kids can catch fish and play in the shallows. Everyone has spread blankets on the sand and under the shade cloths for relief from the hot sun. A balmy, offshore breeze ruffles the water and cools the land. My mom pulls up in the truck. You can't get down the rough road to this beach without a 4x4 with a lot of clearance. She's just come from the grocery store in town with supplies. We're settling in for the week. This is our "Family Holiday Vacation Package"! 

We have an unbelievable collection of boards to choose from. Everyone - except my mom - has a shortboard, and we are sharing three longboards - a hefty stack of 10, plus two bodyboards. This beach is perfect for beginners on the inside, but it gets hollow and gnarly when the tide drops, farther out on the reef. The fact that so many different levels of surfer can have fun here makes this an amazing place to camp with the family, and we've been coming here for quite a few years. We are from the other side of the island, but we have friends here.

We are always taken in by this beach community, like family.

As the sun is dropping in the sky, I grab a longboard and make my way to the water's edge. I quickly paddle out through a narrow pass. 

Sitting out in the lineup, I gaze back at the shore, to our little camp. My mom is unpacking the car and setting up the table and the camp stove for the night's meal. She has marshaled my brothers to collect firewood before they can come out for their evening surf, and they are tearing around in the trees like maniacs. I learned to surf about 8 years ago, and my little brothers, John (21), Jake (12) and Kawika (11), followed suit.

Surfing totally changed the dynamic of our family and how we spend our time together.

Christmas tradition has become dawn patrol at Waipio Valley, followed by opening our stockings over hot cocoa by the campfire, in lieu of the traditional huge breakfast and presents under the tree. An amazingly adaptable woman, my mom has just rolled with the changes. 

The question over dinner keeps coming back to me: What is it anyway? What is it that drives ME? I'm in the process of drafting my ideas for another column, kind of a "people who surf" type thing. I'm tossing around what form I want it to take, and who I want to focus on. The casual question gets me thinking about what a strange tribe of people we are. There are thousands of remarkable men, who live their lives to surf and have never been in a surfer mag - a lot of us were taught to surf by one of them. However, being as under-represented by the media as we are, I'm going to pretty much focus on the women.

We hear about the pros a lot, a little about the up and coming hopefuls. Of course, I'm stoked to see these women rip! Rochelle Ballard rocks my world every time I see an image of her locked into some gnarly, south sea barrel. However, what I'm really fascinated by, is everyone ELSE... the unsponsored, the newbie grommet, the mother of three, and the seasoned waterwoman/grandmother. What is it that wakes us at dawn to check the waves, fighting off sleep and hurrying to catch something before work. What's kept us out in the surf, duck diving out fear, paddling our way into unfriendly lineups with a smile... and charging impossible waves.

I've met some of the most fiercely independent, ruggedly adventurous, and marvelously strong-willed women in the water.

’m surfing, completely alone, at Pacheco. (For the most part, the surf spots are named after the streets at Ocean Beach.) The water is grey and glassy, and the night air is eerily silent. Fishermen dot the beach, each standing quietly alone on the sand, facing the ocean and casting their poles way out in the water. Off to my far right, two streets down, another lone surfer is a wave, and I watch him turn and move swiftly. A line of pelicans swoop and glide on the breath of a wave, into the dark blue sky. The cool air has the pungent smell of salt and seaweed. The glassy water surges and I can feel it in my bones. I paddle toward it, jumping easily to my feet, and sliding smoothly along the face of the swell. This is the only way to answer that simple question over dinner.


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