During the past few years I've been learning how to draw, using traditional and digital tools. Here are a few images to go with my latest short story.
The Cosmic Ocean
What started out as a father-daughter thing turned into Kalani’s obsession. Growing up in the North Shore of Oahu, a surfing mecca, seven miles of coastline with breaks for beginners to Class-A pros, many surfer parents wanted their children to develop a kinship with the ocean. It was for fun and play but it had to be respected. It could also drown you. In a snap.
This education would start when they were merely babies. They’d be carried into the surf to feel its power, its primal energies, as the frothy waves lapped at their kicking feet. Some babies screamed, “danger, danger,” their tiny brains shot signals throughout their bodies as they tried to wriggle away. These parents quickly retreated to the shore. Their child wasn’t ready. Too much too soon. They’d try again later, or maybe not at all. They’d let the child decide when the time was right, when the relationship with the ocean could begin.
Not Kalani. At one year old, she didn’t scream when her father, Cris, led her into the surf. She laughed and laughed. Her chubby arms reached into the water, splashing. Her round little face lit with joy. Her father looked back at the shore where his wife, Malia, and Kalani’s mother watched, and flashed her a wide smile. They both knew Kalani would be a surfer.
More impressive than Kalani’s early surfing skills — at four she could easily pop up on her board and ride a small wave into shore — was her affinity with the ocean. She learned how to feel its ebbs and flows, how to count wave sets, predict its moves.
And when she got it wrong, the wave did something unexpected, closed out on her, tossing her into the powerful depths, she didn’t fight the agitating action. She went with the flow of the wave’s energy, rocking and rolling, until the time was right to break free of its grip, and suck in air. Throughout her childhood, every free moment was spent surfing. First one in, last one out.
By the time Kalani was sixteen, surfing was no longer this cool activity she was good at. It was part of her being, her emotional retreat. As she glided over the blue glass, velocity building, all distracting grievances about her parent’s divorce, high school cliques, late homework, her untamable hair, boys! … she’d find herself in the wave’s pocket, entering the cosmic ocean of no thinking, no worries, and no ego.
Once she trotted out of the water, board under her arm, everything would come flooding back to her. But it was mostly her ego which took hold, a competitive nature that she picked up from her over-achieving Japanese-Filipino mother (one of Hawaii’s top cardiologists, no surprise there!), rather than her “hang loose” Filipino-Hawaiian father. Unlike her mother, competition was always with herself.
She wanted to improve her surfing skills, take on bigger waves, and be in the cosmic ocean longer. She watched the sponsored amateurs on the verge of turning pro that would come to experience the many North Shore breaks, and asked for their advice. Many were only too happy to impart their wisdom to a teenager, with eager brown-eyes, caramel-colored skin, and a smile that could melt a taciturn soul. Cris kept a sharp protective watch over Kalani. He knew what was on their minds at that age, what they thought, about pretty surfer girls.
One evening Kalani went down a cyberhole. She had discovered big wave rider Laird Hamilton. She read every online article about him, watched every documentary, featuring him ride the most dangerous, massive waves from Tahiti to Portugal. She absorbed YouTube videos about his breathing techniques, ice bath training, and underwater weight lifting regime. She lobbied her father to send her to Malibu to take Laird Hamilton’s 3-day training experience.
“You want to be like Laird Hamilton?” asked Cris, brows knitted together in a frown. “You want to die?”
“Laird hasn’t died,” shot back Kalani.
Kalani rolled her eyes.
“Besides, Laird’s a big dude. Have you seen the video where he’s dragging a log? With his neck?! You’re barely one hundred pounds. No way can you control a big wave.”
“It’s not about the big waves.” Kalani sighed. “I want to be better. What’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing,” Cris said “Being better at what you do is always good …”
Kalani stared at her father, waiting for more. Finally, he said carefully, “You want to compete? Is that what this is about? No more school, no college, you’ll just surf your whole life?”
“Dad, don’t be so dramatic,” she answered fast. “I’m not talking about planning out my whole life. I just want to be better, to shred it up.”
Cris looked like he was mulling it over, but Kalani knew he had already made up his mind.
She said, “If I can’t train with Laird Hamilton, then how about I get a coach?”
“I am your coach,” Cris snapped. “I’m not good enough for you anymore?”
A faint smile tugged at the corner of Kalani’s mouth. Cris had his answer.
So that’s what her father did. Cris asked Terry, an old surfing buddy to watch Kalani surf.
A retired military man, Terry now ran a surf camp for rich kids who came to Hawaii for vacation with their parents. Cris believed Terry had the chops and tough-love temperament to take on his strong-willed daughter.
One Saturday morning Kalani stumbled out of the water after getting pummeled by a gnarly wave. She shook her head to eject the water from her ears. Terry had been on the shore, watching her the entire time.
“Not bad,” Terry said. “The timing of your cutbacks are lagging. That’s why you ate it. But otherwise, not bad.”
She eyed him with suspicion as she took in his faded board shorts, and ratty tee. Who was this old geez to critique her?!
Terry pushed his sunglasses on his head. He revealed the sun-crinkled skin around his hazel eyes.
“Who are you? asked Kalani.
“Your new coach.”
Under Terry’s guidance, Kalani improved fast! Her cutbacks were smoother, and better timed. She could pull into an overhead barrel with no problem. She rode the line longer, bolder, and faster … deeper into the cosmic ocean she went.
Buzz about her started to develop. Terry had been sharing videos of Kalani surfing on social media as promos for his surf camp. Her videos were getting tons of hits. The bookings for his camp were blowing up, and Terry was stoked.
“Get your own Instagram account,” Terry encouraged. “We can tag each other.”
“Why would I want to do that?” Kalani said with obvious derision.
Terry looked at her like she just said the dumbest thing. “Oh, I don’t know. Get a massive following, attract sponsors and shit, which you know, you need when you wanna turn pro.”
For a quiet moment, she allowed herself to imagine that reality. Becoming a pro. What would that involve? For Kalani, surfing was always about being rather than the doing. Now it would become a process: strategies to enact, expectations to meet, people to satisfy, competitions to enter, feelings to manage, followers to amass … her relationship with the ocean would never be the same.
Kalani smiled at Terry and said nothing. She grabbed her board and walked back into her cosmic ocean.
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