Photos by: Brenda Bilon
As I paddled out at a steady pace, I watched the reef pass below me. It was hard to judge exactly how far down it was, but I wasn’t about to get off my surfboard to check. The coral was hypnotizing. The rippled, purple spheres resembled human brains. I kept mistaking the blue sections of the reef for jellyfish and freaking myself out. My adrenaline was surging, like it does whenever I paddle out at a new spot for the first time or when the waves are too big. I shook my feet, hoping to release some of this excess energy, but to no avail. Luckily the waves were only medium-sized.
Even though I didn’t have much faith in her wave-assessing abilities, I had followed my mom’s directions to a new surf spot. If the wave really did exist – as my mom had claimed – it couldn’t be any busier than the main break in Lahaina, which was overrun with surfers. My whole family had come to Maui for my younger brother Brett’s wedding, and I was trying to squeeze in a surf whenever I could.
My mom was right! There was a beautiful, long, consistent, fast left-hand wave peeling over the reef exactly where she had said. Only one other person was out surfing. Reds and pinks started to light up the early morning sky. I wasn’t sure exactly where to paddle out. I needed to look for some kind of channel, where the water looked deeper. I had never surfed on live reef before, and I was scared. Some friends had told me horror stories about getting infected reef cuts in Indonesia. I would have to be extra cautious not to fall while surfing. After watching the waves for a few minutes, I paddled out into the ocean just off to the right of a little boat and hoped for the best. The cool water made me wonder if I shouldn’t be wearing a wetsuit top.
When I got closer, I was surprised that the tall, muscular person catching all those waves was a woman. She had long, blond hair and looked to be about 40. She welcomed me with an enormous smile. As we were waiting to catch a wave, she introduced herself as Marishia. She had grown up in Samoa, but had been living in Hawaii for a number of years. Marishia asked me how I’d discovered this surf spot and I told her that my mother, during her morning walk, had seen someone out surfing the day before. Marishia told me I was lucky; this was a bit of a locals-only spot.
She wasn’t annoyed, though, and started explaining where to catch the wave. “You see that house with the white trim windows? Just off to the left are two coco palms, when you see one palm line up right in front of the other then you are in the exact spot to take off.”
I wondered if she could sense my adrenaline. Nobody in my nine years of surfing had ever given me this kind of detailed, insider knowledge of a local break. She even explained where the channel was to paddle back in, after my surf. It was the same path I had chosen to paddle out.
Marishia continued to share her knowledge with me, “Make sure you don’t ride the wave all the way in, it gets really shallow on the inside.”
I was grateful for the tips. My shoulders relaxed a little. My fear of the reef slowly started to melt away.
Marishia shared her waves with me, asking me “You want this one?” or telling me “ This one’s yours.” At first, I was a bit off kilter; I had not surfed in about four months. After a few awkward rides, I managed to center myself. As the waves rolled in, the two of us took turns.
A little while later, another lady paddled out, on one of the shortest boards I had ever seen. Marishia introduced me to Janet. She was an artist and her son was some famous surfer, but I forget his name now. Janet was fast and her movements were crisp. As the three of us sat on our boards waiting for the next set of waves, we chatted. We shared waves, stories and positive vibrations. Aloha – a word I’d heard so many times over the past few days that the meaning had become lost – now resonated with me.
Two more girls, in their 20s, paddled out and joined us. And there we were – a handful of females, in four different decades of life, sharing some perfect shoulder-high waves. It was like being in a surf contest, when there are only four or five women in the water and no one else, but without all the pressure. Every one of us was catching perfect waves and a feeling of camaraderie prevailed.
Then a man on a paddleboard showed up. We greeted him. Instead of waiting for his turn to catch a wave, he did what no one surfer should ever do – he paddled into one of the girls’ waves, cutting her off and ruining her ride. He didn’t do it because of lack of experience. I have no idea why he did it, or why he continued. We called him off our waves, but he just ignored us. At one point he caused a collision with one of the younger girls, injuring her arm.
Marishia settled the issue; she banished him from our wave. “Get out of here. You know better than that. Get going, right now.” And she chased him away, paddling behind him.
We thanked Marishia. She just smiled and told us we were welcome, as if it were no big deal. For the first few minutes a slight feeling of discomfort lingered but it dissipated as soon as we went back to taking turns catching waves and cheering each other on.
For a more in depth explanation of Aloha, see: