Pipe Dreams: Reflections on Hawaii
Aloha ʻĀina: (Love of the Land).
By Nathan Lockwood.
“The loveliest fleet of islands that lies anchored in any ocean. No other land could so longingly and so beseechingly haunt me, sleeping and waking, through half a lifetime, as that one has done” Mark Twain.
Alone on the shore, with the smell of salt in my nostrils and the roar of the ocean in my ears I stood transfixed at what lay before me. Glistening in the morning sunrise another wall of water completed its several thousand-mile journey out of the north Pacific Ocean basin and detonated along the most infamous reef on the planet, exhibiting the mould from which all other waves are cast. The significance in my mind on what I was about to undertake took me back in my own personal journey and the knowledge that I would take a small place in the long and proud traditions of these islands.
To comprehend this properly one must first grasp the story of Hawaii.
Wave-riding in one form of another has been practised in Polynesia and the Pacific islands for over 3,000 years and nowhere on earth is it as entrenched, cherished and fiercely protected than in the Hawaiian Islands.
The Hawaiian archipelago lay pristine and untouched for millions of years before Polynesian voyagers from the Marquesas Islands happened upon them and began to settle between 300 and 600 A.D. Ancient Hawaii until first contact with Captain James Cook and his crew in 1778 was primarily populated by Tahitians who developed a caste dominated society steeped in Kapu (ancient code of conduct) and with various different rulers on different islands.
In 1810, King Kamehameha the Great unified the islands, established the Kingdom of Hawaii with himself as the dominant ruler and declared all those born in the islands as Hawaiian citizens.
For almost a century the Kingdom of Hawaii was a proud, prosperous and independent nation. On January 17th 1893 a US backed political coup was launched and Queen Lili’uokalani, under threat of genocide to the people of Hawaii, was forced to sign a declaration forfeiting the kingdom, thus breaking Hawaiian sovereignty and ultimately paving the way for US statehood which was officially ratified on August 21st 1959.
Racism and persecution of native Hawaiians along with restriction of their language was commonplace and systemic poverty and inequality within native communities continues to this day. Protect Mauna Kea and Defend Oahu Coalition are two good contemporary examples of native Hawaiian inspired community resistance to large scale development and desecration of the islands.
Choking back tears in a 2013 documentary, Clyde Aikau, native Hawaiian, legendary big wave surfer and brother to the late, great Eddie Aikau remarked “Even in the 1960’s as kids, we were not wanted on Waikiki property, that is what really hurts”.
These stories and experiences are fundamental in the understanding of the islands in the present day and the fierce pride in which locals defend the last bastion of Hawaiian culture and sovereignty, namely the ocean or kai (also the author’s middle name).
Being born to an English father and a Hawaiian mother and raised many thousands of miles away in the UK, Hawaii has always had a strange affinity for me. My first memories of the ocean were at age 7 with my Uncle Wayne pushing me into the surf at Waimānalo Beach Park and looking on in awe as he rode the shorebreak on a battered old McDonald’s tray.
Being a haole (non-native, literally meaning without breath) I was always aware that my appearance was a reminder of the centuries of violence and oppression that had been inflicted on these islands. However, in my own ohana (family) who are based on Oahu and Maui, friends, along with a lifetime I have spent visiting these islands the overwhelming experience has been one of love, gratitude and warmth.
My first trip to the islands in five years was in December 2019. Touching down at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, the smell of plumeria in my nostrils, the dulcet tones of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole & the Makaha Sons of Ni’ihau on the airport radio and my ohana beckoning me over with fresh leis (flower garlands to welcome visitors to the islands) I felt at home again.
Many days were spent surfing with my cousin Alex, near our home base of Hawaii Kai, at Makapu’u and Sandy’s; the latter being the “day to day Mecca of Hawaiian bodyboarding” according to Jeff Hubbard and where Pat Caldwell is credited with inventing the el rollo.
Then the North Shore awoke.
Rising in the predawn we loaded up and hit the Kamehameha Highway passing the pineapple fields and taro farms as town rolled into country. Stopping at Foodland in Pupukea for poke, I spotted Keali’i Mamala (native Hawaiian big wave charger and Da Hui rider) by the checkout and immediately realised where I was again. As I sat on the sand gazing at the Pipeline line-up in all its glory and mana (power), I was aware that I was entering far more than just a surf spot but a place of Hawaiian social history. Upon arrival in the islands my Aunty Jen had given me a Toki necklace (to bestow strength, power and protection), a symbol of their side of the family’s Maori heritage. Just before entering the water I looked to the heavens, kissed it for good luck and kicked into the deep blue of the Pacific.
As I paddled through Gums and towards the line-up my senses were going into overload. For the first hour I simply sat completely mesmerised in the channel as the most perfect waves I have ever seen broke with immense speed and power. As Pipe veteran Flynn Novak once remarked “the line-up is like an organism” with its own unique makeup and intricacies. Da Hui founding member and North Shore stalwart Eddie Rothman simply observed that “you can’t fake it at Pipe”.
The line-up was a rouges gallery of some of the most talented wave-riders on the planet. Mark Cunningham (arguably the greatest bodysurfer of all time) locked into an inside screamer displaying a masterful and omniscient style. Dave Wassel was also out bodysurfing with an ear to ear grin on his face. Guillerhe Tamega paddled out on his lunch break from the lifeguard tower and proceeded to snag the biggest pit of the day. Jeff Hubbard was launching out of the end bowl with frightening ease. Jamie O’Brien picked off a choice backside tube on an 8-foot soft top. Koa Rothman then proceeded to pack one of the deepest frontside barrels I have ever seen. All whilst I drank in one of the richest sensory experiences I will ever have.
Whilst the vibe is no longer as heavy as back in the days of regulators such as Dane Kealoha, Johnny Boy-Gomes and Kainoa McGee there remains a strict pecking order and hierarchy which it is not wise to contravene.
Patience is indeed a virtue.
Inch by inch I edged forwards until a moment appeared and I was rewarded for my patience. Once I had committed to the wave I knew if I pulled back, I may never get another chance. Everything I had ever learned about the ocean and myself was about to come full circle. The blackness of the reef beckoned menacingly below the crystal blue water as I dropped down the face and just managed to rip a bottom turn before I was encased in a turquoise water tunnel. I rode the wave as far as it would allow me. When I kicked out by Ehukai, I knew it was a milestone that I would remember forever.
The current bodyboarding scene in the islands is as strong as ever. From the older generations of Mike Stewart, the Hubbard brothers, Kainoa McGee, Pat Caldwell and Ben Severson down to the youthful energy and innovation of Mack Crilley, Sammy Morrentino, Miles Kauhaahaa, Kawika Kamai and countless others the future of the sport is in great hands.
Hawaii is a unique, raw and hauntingly beautiful place. The people who inhabit these islands are some of the most gregarious and loving you could ever have the fortune to meet. Remember though that these are a proud, hardened, warrior people deeply committed to their roots and any abuse of this generosity will not be tolerated. The pilgrimage to Hawaii is one all wave riders should experience at least once in life. Arrive with an open mind, patience and calm and it will be reciprocated with waves and good times.
Mike Stewart, the greatest bodyboarder of all time and proud son of the Big Island (island of Hawaii), put it best “For a bodyboarder travelling to Hawaii, first and foremost thing that you should do is cultivate a mindset of respect for the waves and the local people”.
Aloha is free, but it must be earned.