In Hawaii, localism is legendary. Localism. That unsavory practice of freezing out surfers who don’t live and surf that surf spot regularly. It often includes not letting a non-local, “a kook” or Haole or insert-term-here to get a wave. At my local breaks, right off one of the busiest highways in the country, I have seen surfers circled by “locals,” ordered to go to shore, and, on almost any crowded swell, fistfights. One of the great lies of the sport is the gap between the “stoke” the surf companies market and what actually happens at some of the best and most crowded breaks in California, Hawaii, and abroad.
Historically, part of the agita in the lineups of Hawaii is that there is a constant influx of tourists. Wallace Stegner said that “the history of the West is a series of rapes.” This is how locals feel about their surf spots in Hawaii; tourists come, corporations come, take their surf,–a natural resource, a part of their culture–photograph it, market it, sell it to people in far away places who will come and do the same, come and consume an experience with no respect for the local culture and beauty of the place. If you think of what Dole did to local culture here and how the Hawaiian language almost disappeared altogether, you can understand why islanders may resent haole tourists in the water. Living in any place, making a living, paying rent or a mortgage, buying food, maintaining intimate relationships, putting down roots, is always more difficult than passing through. On the North Shore, and in Hawaii in general, like most places marketed as a vacation paradise, there are not a huge number of middle class jobs. There are the people with money who vacation there and/or have vacation homes there and the people who serve those people. Often the people who move to a place marketed as a “paradise” are searching or escaping from a life in a colder climate that isn’t making them happy. The thought is that the gorgeous weather, natural beauty, and warm water, will cure their existential ills.
For some people it does. For others it doesn’t. I bumped into Becky, an old friend from high school. I had just gotten out of the water at Rocky Point, was talking to an Australian photographing his son who was an aspiring pro. “Noah?” I heard her say. She was on her way to the coffee shack famous for juicing their brew with a high fat all natural butter to boost energy, focus, and natural stamina, etc. We had coffee together and walked up to Mother’s beach and swam. She told me that the North Shore was magical. That it did cure her. It was there that she moved after a break up and realized she’d been molested as a teenager when we were growing up together, that when her parents split when she was ten, the guy her Mom started dating started sneaking into her room. In my last conversation with Cristina, she said she wanted a divorce. My sons ipad was picking up my text messages. What I had been doing and what I hadn’t been doing wasn’t clear. But it was clear enough for her to consider a life apart. Becky said it was there, on the North Shore, she also realized that one of our high school classmates had raped her and it was there she learned to accept how those traumas had forever skewed her understanding of a normal sex life. She had moved to Sunset Beach with no money and no job. She got lucky and started helping a photographer on photo shoots. When she left the North Shore a year later, she said she had a career, traveling and working on the sets of shoots. That’s what she was doing there. I listened to her story. We floated in the clear water, drifted toward the surf spot known as Backyards. I looked up at the mountain behind us. She was the second friend from junior high I’d met who has told me one of our classmates raped her in high school. I was angry. I hated a lot of the macho assholes we grew up with. I didn’t want to leave my kids, my wife to start to date strange men, to expose my daughter to strange men. Crush had come here a few months ago to write, to get away from a break up, to escape men, maybe like me, or maybe, even, me, going through some weird second puberty. She was on a beach here somewhere with her nose in a book. Or she was up on the hill behind the Foodland, in a house in the trees, writing her poems, in a thin sundress, the light passing through her green tea. I didn’t know. She wouldn’t return my messages. I wanted to hear her keen wit, her literary take on contests and perpetual puberty. “Look at this place,” Becky said, it does cure you.
But she is now back on the mainland. I’ve been told over and over by people who live here and move back that very few people stay beyond a season and only a fraction last beyond three years. Which makes the locals friendly but wary of us interlopers. The tour is, as it is in other locations, referred to “as the circus.” I wanted to meet a few of the locals, to meet some of the people who are not part of the tour and who have lived there for a long time. So, of course, dogs. In France and Portugal you can be from anywhere in Europe, traveling in a camper maybe, and show up at the beach with a pooch. But on an island in the Pacific, a dog means you’re there. I wasn’t sure how people would react to me, a haole. I smiled the way Crush taught me. I smiled the way Sion told me to in Portugal. These were the people I met. And their dogs. Almost all of them were kind, gracious, even. Sweet as puppies: