The Lineup

It was strange to consider myself homeless, but here I lie.  I’m awake now, I didn’t want to be but I was restless and couldn’t sleep. My senses were monitoring the pitch-blackness. Stealing my sleep was the continuous pounding of the crashing shore break.  I was lucky to find this cubby, it was nicely hidden but I knew it wouldn’t last. The freshening breeze stirred.  Sitting up I could see what lay before me by the light of the moon; the ocean was dancing a shimmering ballet.

Still half asleep, my mind wandered to the events of last week. During a session at Pipe I completely humiliated my new friends Sweeny and Kimo.  They talked me up to the locals so I could have a spot in the lineup without the usual fight.  If you couldn’t get in the lineup you didn’t get a wave.  North shore locals were brutal if they didn’t know you, and they would kick your ass if you took a wave without the nod.  You had to have the nod.

That entire day my fear of the backside drop and the shallow coral reef was too much.  I couldn’t take off. On one such wave just as I pulled out Kimo had to back off too and was sucked over the falls and tossed onto the razor sharp reef like a rag doll.  Kimo, bloodied and pissed had Sweeny rush him to the hospital. That night, Sweeney tossed me out of the house.

Suddenly, shadows of movement captured my attention. The beach stretched out into a clearing darkness and through the mist I could make out surfers with boards marching towards the channel.  Daylight was no longer a stranger, groups of surfers arrived on the beach simultaneously; a few were walking so near I could smell the smoke of their cigarettes.

Loudly, my peace and my solitude were rudely invaded.

“Hoaaaa hey, what the fuck you doing here braddah? Oh, you that haole nearly got Kimo killed last week?  That was some real stupid shit!”

I didn’t see him coming and I lamented the reminder.  I recognized the local boy as one of the groupies, a wannabe. I said nothing. I knew he was getting ready to paddle out and wouldn’t stay long.

“You think you got the balls to paddle out here?”

I stared at him briefly; just missing the mokes grin as he raced off down the slope, board first, splashing into the shore break.

Of course I was going to paddle out. I knew Kimo and Sweeny would be in the lineup. Sunset was already breaking a respectable six to eight feet – at dawn – a good sign.

I had to gather the courage to begin my paddle to the lineup where I knew it would get tough.  I wouldn’t get any preference this time and I couldn’t be sure the guys would even speak to me. My waxing ritual always takes precisely twenty minutes and I needed that time for the tempest in my mind to leave. It was vital to regain my focus; I knew this would be a marathon session.

Nearing the lineup I noticed it consisted of all locals and veterans; I recognized most of them.  I wondered if they could see the fear I felt as I approached them working to finish my paddle.  Sweeny was ‘talking story’ at the other end of the lineup.  He was gesticulating wildly, smiling, laughing and having a good time.  He didn’t want me near him; Kimo was there too with his cuts and bruises.  I heard he got fifty stitches.

Mother nature was furious, tossing us about with every slight movement – the sea-maiden was alive! Intense focus is required as one waits, searching for the slightest change in the watery landscape.  The swell was building fast, I could feel it, and now the decisions we made could be life and death.  I could sense someone coming up on me from the side.

“So, you stupid or what braddah, huh … Kimo’s gonna kick your ass if he sees you!”

“I can’t stay outta da water forever, bradda.”  The words felt uncomfortable coming out, I didn’t have the accent.  I thought about it and decided I could never fake it.  I knew a few guys that faked the accent … not me.

“I’m go get Kimo brah, you bettah paddle back in.”

Someone shrieked … “OUTSIDE.”

I took to my board and began a furious paddle to deeper water; no time for talk, the sets rising out toward the horizon were endless, signaling a huge swell.  The entire lineup began an epic paddle, it was a race … a few of the guys turned back grabbing any wave to safety.

Not far out a huge wave approached, masking the horizon.  I began a furious paddle pumping my arms like windmills, the rest of my body snaking about like a slithering salamander.   I hoped to gather as much speed as possible. This wave had to be thirty feet and climbing.  It took all I had to paddle to the top and fly down the backside.  Breaking the crest I could see an endless supply of these monsters. Several of the locals were caught inside and a few went over the falls – a watery thirty-foot cliff.  The cliff dive was the easy part, knowing what was coming next was every surfer’s nightmare.  You were in for the fight of your life not knowing which way was up struggling to reach the surface.

I had to survive one of these giants.  Finally the long paddle over I began the selection process.  With only six of us left there would be no fight – all that local jargon disappeared, no more cheap talk.  These waves were thirty feet and climbing! Only a handful of surfers in the world could drop in on one of these monsters.  I picked my girl just as the others began another fierce paddle out.  I knew I had to get the drop or the next wave would swallow me up in her deadly wake.

The drop was insane, the speed was almost too much, my board left the face momentarily and then re-engaged mid-drop.  The salty water knifed beneath my board as I made the bottom turn and raced towards the belly.  It was so loud I couldn’t hear my own shouts of joy.  I knew I would finish this ride and make it to the channel and back to the safety of beach. — Robert Mullins

Copyright 2012 Robert Mullins

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