Last week’s article about the SoCal-NorCal surf rivalry sparked some controversy among my friends. Strangely enough, an argument ensued between my Huntington Beach roommate and my Santa Cruz neighbor – the two “Surf City” contenders. As the two battled it out in the kitchen, I sat silent in the living room, my thoughts 2,500 miles away to the islands where I grew up. You see, I stake no claim, nor could care less about whether the “surf’s up” down south or up north. I was born and raised in the same place that surfing was – Hawaii.
In a tiny inlet off the northeastern coast of the Big Island of Hawaii sits the spot where I first fell in love. I can still remember my first wave at Honoli’i Beach. It was a long left off the point, just about waist-high, and I was on my mini-tanker that my dad had just bought me for Christmas. Instantly, I was hooked and the ocean became my playground.
When my friends were old enough to drive, with dedication we woke up at dawn to catch the before-school session. We’d paddle in just in time to make that second bell, and paddle right back out after the final bell let us loose from daydreaming about surf and let us play in the waves again.
Now I know for those of you who grew up surfing elsewhere, this all sounds rather formulaic to the life of a surfer anywhere, but when I moved to California, surfing here just wasn’t the same. Gone were the days when all you needed for a surf was a board and a bikini. Here in sunny California, wetsuits, and depending on the time of year, booties, and even hoodies, are necessities. The cold even makes the wax different. I remember the first time I bought wax I sat contemplating whether I needed warm-cool water wax or cool-cold water wax. I had no clue. My idea of cool water was about 70 degrees on a bad day.
The water temperature wasn’t the only thing I noticed when I first dropped in on a Cali wave. I was pretty impressed the first time I checked the surf report and the scheduled swell was three to four feet for the rest of the week. Wow, I had heard Santa Barbara didn’t get much swell. And I was right. I biked to Sands expecting solid overhead waves, and found it waist- to chest-high on the sets. I eventually learned that in California, they measured waves from the front, which got a Hawaii girl’s hopes up because that is about double the size of the back of the wave – which is how waves are measured in Hawaii. From then on I became accustomed to calling the waves in relation to my body.
Inevitably, after four years of living out here, I got used to the surf culture of California and fell in love all over again. Still, I find meaning behind the adage “There’s no place like home.” This past winter break I made it back to Hilo, Hawaii for the first time in almost a year and a half, and I was stoked! No one knew what I was talking about when I called the swell at shoulder-head high; all my friends had rash guards on and were shivering after our dawn session, while I was smiling in a skimpy bikini. After just a couple weeks of surfing powerful, juicy Hawaiian waves again, I felt on top of my game.
I came back to California homesick. I couldn’t ask for a better place to be for college than Isla Vista, Calif., but going home reminded me of all my firsts – my first kiss, my first beer, and where I found my first love. So, while the debate may never die between the 831 and the 714, the state of the 808 is where me and my love – surfing – will forever find our roots.