thirteen: a la kai


“Let’s drive around the top half of the island,“  Susan suggested.

“The Pipeline is going on at Sunset Beach,”  Kumai warned.

Susan misunderstood, “Yes!  A surfing competition!  I’d love to see that.  It’s gotta be better than sitting in that traffic the way we came.”

“It might get crowded going the other way too.”

“Can’t be worse than here.”  Susan asserted.  



Kumai knew better.  And she felt like an ingrate.  Sure, she was on a tropical island able to visit a world-class surfing competition and with a good friend.   But what she really wanted was to be home, chatting with Bonnie, and hanging out.  These thoughts surprised her.  First of all, staying at home?  And calling her hale home?  She usually provoked everyone else to go and do.  But today she wanted to be still, to enjoy where she lives.

By the time they reached the cliff road above Waimea Bay, traffic again slowed to a crawl.  They eased past cars parked on the nonexistent shoulder.  Jungle cliffs covered in monstera leaves, vines, and vaulting tree trunks rose up on Susan’s side.  Blossom-topped tulip trees lined the cliff below, dotting the varieties of green with roadworker orange.  People walked on the highway to gain access to the beach far below.  Kumai tried to enjoy the view.

“So basically this is a one lane road,”  Susan complained.

“Until we reach Kahuku.”

“How far is that?”

Kumai decided not to answer since she had no idea just how bad traffic might be.  She could answer with only a few miles or too many minutes, but both guesses spelled long waits.  Instead, she talked about places they might visit along this route.  “When we get to Sunset Beach, we’ll be able to see the surfers from the road.  If you want to get out and observe, I can drive through, turn around, and make another pass to pick you up.”

“I’d love to go see the surfers,”  Susan said.

Kumai grimaced.  She had hoped Susan would just want to watch from the car as they drove by.  They needed to get back to the city center by sunset for Kumai to make it to Annamae’s boat.

“Can we see the beach that these people are going to?”  Susan asked.

“Lean forward and look over the hood of the car.  See that cove down there?  That’s Waimea Bay.”

“Don’t they have parking down there?”  Susan asked, incredulous.

“Not nearly enough.”

Kumai took a slow drive through the parking lot once they cleared the pedestrians descending the hill.  The parking lot bustled with people coming and going.  A car pulled out of one space and started a feeding frenzy over who would get the spot next.

“I couldn’t see much of the beach,”  Susan said.

“Sunset Beach will be better.”

And it was.  Kumai slowed from driving two miles an hour to stop and let Susan out at the crosswalk to Hawaii’s famous surf beach.  A large arch announced the location, standing as a gateway to the wide-open beach.  One side of the arch listed past year’s winners.  Advertisers’ names and logos were plastered all over the facade.

No one honked.  Pedestrians poured across the white pathway.  Everything moved in slow waves of pure color.  Swimsuits, pareos, board shorts, towels, bags, hats, and mats all shimmered with reflected light and colors.  The mixed smells of coconut oil, perspiration, sea air, hot sand, and engines made Kumai feel dizzy.   Heat pressed in on her through the glass.

“I’ll text you when I’m on the return pass,”  Kumai said.  “It might take a little while for me to get turned around.”

“Okay.”  Susan checked to be sure her phone and volume were both turned on.  A blast of hot air entered the vehicle when she opened her door.  A radio announcer’s voice blared out from somewhere along the beach through a public address system.

Kumai waited for Susan to cross the street in front of her and then eased along the road, watching for anyone who darted out from between parked cars.   She could feel her shoulders tighten up around her ears.

At the end of the town of Sunset Beach, she found a street where she could turn left and begin her return.  She signaled and waited for an opening in the stream of oncoming cars.  No one created a space for her.  On the Big Island, she would have been turned around by now.  She waited.  The long line of cars behind her waiting.  

She rolled down her window and stuck out her arm in hopes of highlighting her need to turn.  A beater pickup stopped with just enough room for her to turn in front of them.  She shaka’d over her roof in gratitude.

The road turned out to be too narrow to turn around.  But there were several alleyways feeding off of it into stacked houses and many-roomed structures.  Tanned twenty-something’s poured into and out of doorways and stairways.  Sun-bleached dreadlocks cushioned several heads from the hot sun.  Surfboards stood against shiplap walls in kindergarten-colored pickets.  




Parked cars choked the alleys.  She drove to the last alleyway and turned left again to find nowhere else to go.  Instead, she did several back-and-forth moves to manage her return.  Once back to the main road, the traffic sat in front of her much like she had left it.  She pulled onto the road directly behind the derelict pickup.

Susan was going to have plenty of time to observe surfers.

On her pass by the beach, Kumai looked for Susan but had to focus on the traffic and pedestrians.  She drove on past the crosswalk and found another road to the left for her next turn.  A sign said it was a dead end.  She signaled and waited.

After a while, she rolled down her window and stuck out her arm.  The sound of a helicopter’s propellers beat the hot air from the direction of the ocean.  The chopper came into view and circled back around to capture video of the surfers out at the break point.  A purple limousine stopped to let her turn in front of them.

This road turned out to be some plantation access road with no turnaround, just a straight road up the hill with ravines on both sides and a gate at the end.  She reversed down the road carefully, wondering how she was going to return to the main road this time.

The limo was still stopped where she had turned in front of it.  They reversed carefully and made room for Kumai to back onto the road and face in the new direction.  She shaka’d out her window, got straightened out on the road, and sat unmoving in the traffic.  She took the opportunity to text Susan before traffic crawled forward again.

When Susan at last flopped down in the passenger seat, a layer of heat whooshed in around her.  She reached to turn the airconditioning to full blast, but it was already giving as much as it had.  “I shoulda brought a hat.  And more sunscreen.  I’m going to be burnt to a crisp.  What took you so long?”

“Traffic.”  Kumai pointed to the two opposing chains of vehicles and the milieu of people. 

“I just wanted a quick look, not to barbeque out there,”  Susan grumbled.

Kumai shot her a look.  “It will ease up the further we get from town now.”

“Thanks be to the surfing gods.”  Susan gasped and reached for her hydroflask of water.

“How was the surfing?”  Kumai asked.

“I couldn’t see the surfers ‘cause they were so far out.  You have to watch them on screens on the beach!  I might as well watch from the comfort of the resort.”

“Today’s too hot out there for me.”  Kumai agreed.

“How come you didn’t warn me?  I walked right out into it.  And man was it crowded!  Although I did see something amazing.  The beach there is super steep, you know?”

“Yeah, it’s scary how it drops down into the water at such a sharp angle.”  Kumai made a note to herself not to let Susan get overheated.

“Well, a woman went running to the water and I expected her to jump into the waves like most people do.  Instead, she jumped into the water feet first under the wave, just kinda sat down into the wave’s base.  It was mesmerizing.  She let the wave suck her under in its curve, went down with the pull, then pushed off the sandy bottom and rode the back of the wave to the surface.  I could see her doing the whole thing underwater.”


“Right?  She did it several times.  It was a circular water ballet.  I learned about waveforms just watching her.  I wish I’d videoed it.”

“It sounds scary too.”

“She made it look like so much fun, going in gentle underwater circles.  I wanted to try it.  But those waves are no joke.”  Susan guzzled more water.

“Any undertow that can pull a woman in feet first isn’t for me.”  Kumai agreed.




In sympathetic thirst, Kumai fumbled in her bags for one of the bottles of water she had bought.

Susan asked, “What comes next?”

“There’s not much to see between here and Kaneohe.  There’s a lot of open wilderness with kiawe trees along this stretch.  Let’s see, there’s the Turtle Bay resort.”  Kumai really wanted to be home, in the water, just doing whatever it is she would be doing today.  But Susan probably wanted all the crowds and excitement.

“No resorts.  No people.”

Kumai sucked in her breath.  “Do you feel like a swim?”

“Not in a crowd.”

“I know just the place.”  Kumai smiled.

But before they got to the beach she had in mind, they spotted a Kahuku Shrimp truck.  They were driving slowly enough for the scent of buttery garlic to fill the vehicle and entice them.

“I’m gonna have to try that.”  Susan said.

Kumai pulled over on a scrap of shoulder and offered, “Want me to run back and get you some?”

“I’ll do it.”  Susan said and downed more water to gear up for the heat.

She returned with two foil-covered plates and a cloud of savory scents.  Kumai’s mouth watered.

“We’re probably not going to be able to eat these in the car.”  Susan observed.  “They gave me a fistful of wet towelettes too, which tells me something.”

“I know just the place, but the shrimp might be a little cool by the time we get there.”

“The cooler the better today.”  Susan said and set the plates on the floor at her feet.

Susan tried to pronounce the name Malaekahana from the road sign as Kumai turned toward the remote beach.  

Kumai chuckled,  “Muh LIE kuh hah nah.  It’s great swimming, if you don’t mind seaweed.  Depending on the waves, we might be able to body surf a little.”

“I need sunscreen before anything.  Do you mind putting some on me?”  Susan asked.

“I’d be glad.  I also have an extra rash guard in my pack.  It works great for sunscreen.”

“Brilliant.”  Susan enthused.  “Oh, look, it’s a pine forest!  And picnic tables in the shade.  Oh Kumai, this is perfect.”

Kumai’s heart swelled with a sense of accomplishment at reaching a just-right place.   Suddenly she felt less of an urge to get home. 

After they had peeled and devoured their plates of Hawaiian shrimp, Kumai suggested, “Let’s just rinse off in the ocean.”

“Won’t we get cramps and drown or something?  Won’t the sharks smell shrimp on us and come bite us?  Maybe we should wait a little and wash off up here.”

Kumai chuckled.  “There’s nowhere up here to wash.  The ocean and your towelettes are it.”

“Okay, ocean it is.  Where’s that rashguard you mentioned?” Susan asked.

They raced to the water and dove into an oncoming wave.  The chill from the water made Kumai feel like she could breathe again.  She floated face up and put her scalp underwater to cool.  Through her submerged ears, she heard Susan’s muffled voice.  She sat up in the water.

“Here comes a good wave!”  Susan yelped.

Kumai moved closer to shore and aligned herself with where she thought the oncoming wave would break.  Her body faced toward the beach while she kept her sights on the approaching wall of water.  She rose on the swell and then paddled forward with the teal curve of liquid.  Her body lifted and jetted forward with the push of moving water.  She whooped as water frothed white around her head and shoulders.  She could hear Susan laughing somewhere beside her.

When the wave faded onto the shore and dropped them, they both stood up, looked at each other with grins, and ran back out to catch another one.

Kumai forgot all about the time.

“My legs feel wobbly.”  Susan said later as they walked back to the vehicle.

“I don’t think I could have surfed one more wave today.”  Kumai said.  They both stood and guzzled water standing outside the open doors while the car cooled off.  When she checked her phone for messages, she gasped.  “I’m not going to make it to the marina in time to sail.”

“Oh crap. I totally forgot.”

“I didn’t.  I just got caught up in bodysurfing.”

“What do you need to do?”

“I’ll call Annamae.  I can fly over with you tomorrow.”  Kumai got them headed South on the road and dialed Annamae.

“Kumai, my dear.  Are you almost here?”

“No, Annamae.  I got stuck in traffic on North Shore.”

“Well, the Pipeline’s going.”  Annamae said it like duh.

“It sure is.  Listen, I’m not going to make your sailing time.  Can I join you there tomorrow?  I have a potential client for you who would like to fly in tomorrow as well.”

“I suppose.”  

“Text me the GPS coordinates when you get a minute?”

“These people really wanted to meet you tonight, Kumai.”

“I’m headed toward Laie right now.  It’ll be another hour or two before I’m back on the leeward side.”  With heavy traffic, Kumai guessed more like three hours.

“Hold on a minute.”  Annamae said.  The phone muffled like she was covering it.  Voices warbled through the car’s bluetooth speakers.  Annamae returned,  “Kumai?  How about we sail around to windward side and pick you up tonight?  The plan was to cruise around anyway.”

“Oh, um.”  Kumai looked at Susan.

Susan nodded to go ahead.

“I’m wearing swimwear.”  Kumai said.

“Perfect!”  Annamae enthused.  “We’re swimming off of the boat and everything.”




…and then?

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