Return to site

Lessons Learned: Get Home Before Dark

From seven years of Surfing Sunset

· Lessons Learned

Get Home Before Dark

As my skills improved and my confidence grew, I became more aggressive at Sunset — in certain conditions! After one really fun session I got home after dark. My wife, Elise, was beyond worried. Ready to call a search party.  As she expressed her concern, she instantly made the rule to "get home before dark." I agreed totally and made the pledge. And for the most part, I kept it.

Until one special Saturday Night.

On this particular evening, the surf was really mellow. Kind of rainy, and a little mushy coming off the point at about six feet. I paddled out expecting to get wet and go home early. In those days I was very disciplined and only drank a beer to celebrate the weekend and be sociable. Hence the term, "Saturday Night."

On my first wave, I faded into a wave on the point, turned at the top and raced down the line. The wave was way better than I expected. I surfed it all the way into Val's (the shore break–like spot inside named after Val Valentine, who once lived in a house on the beach and was known for shaping paipo boards). As I paddled back out I could feel the stoke of something special.

Sure enough the surf was cleaning up, getting better and bigger as the sky started doing this mystical light show typical of evening sessions on the North Shore.  My next wave was a little bigger and had more west in it.  Great takeoff, race down the line and then drop down in a bowl section that provided room for a few hard turns  and a fun ramp at the end.  I was pumped and getting strong with every wave.  There were a few guys out. I had my pick of waves and I didn't even notice that it was quickly turning dark.

As I paddled back out for one more, I did notice that the street lights were on. I had a false sense of confidence that I could get one more wave. As I got to the lineup, which was now farther out and more of northwest takeoff, I could barely see. As I sat and waited, I suddenly realized that the situation had turned from great to not good. I was in a bad spot, out of waves and out of time.

And then I heard this horrendous CRACKKKKK! A guy I couldn't see screamed Oh! Noooo. The outside reef had broken. Looking toward the beach and highway, I immediately paddled to the left and straight in as fast as I could. Adrenaline and fear were doing their jobs. I was paddling at top end. The idea was to let the white water take me in to the point — to avoid at all cost either me or my board getting in the rip.

I could hear the white water coming and just as it hit me it seemed to explode as I hit the inside reef. The white water took me up in the air and when I came down I lost my grip on the board. Horror struck. Preleash. I immediately started to swim as fast as I could. Thoughts of losing my board and getting home late raced through my mind.

The rule my wife had set — and I had agreed to — had already been broken. I prayed and swam as fast as I could.  As I hit the shoreline it was pitch black and the sand was steep heading up to the beach. As I raced up the steep section my board was sitting right in front of me.  My prayers had been answered.  I picked up my board and raced to my van.

My souped–up van responded and I raced home to Pupukea.  Our driveway was long and winded up to the right.  I made extra noise so my wife would hear me coming.  As I pulled into the garage, Lifter, our German shepherd, was sitting at attention.  He usually came down to meet me at the gate.  As I got out of the van I looked down and saw a small portable grill. Elise was cooking steaks that I didn't even know we had. Lifter was operating under strict instructions. Guard the steaks. Or else.

As I walked in the house my wife and three old son, Reyn, were busy.  As they looked up to welcome me I was overcome with emotions. So grateful to be home with them.  So relieved that I wasn't busted. So excited for my good fortune. So sure I would never push my luck again.  And I didn't.
This was indeed a special Saturday Night!

Lesson Learned
The edge control and physical exertion in surfing Sunset Beach requires an intense narrow focus. The power and speed generated produces feelings and sensations that are unmatched for pure pleasure and flow.  This joy/stoke must be matched with a more relaxed, broad focus that allows for responsible decisions. My experience of allowing my stoke to interfere with making what I knew was the right decision taught me an important lesson: To pause often when making the decision to extend a session or paddle out in dangerous conditions. It has served me well when it comes time to decide what limits of challenge are safe and enjoyable.

Life works best when you keep your agreements.  Breaking agreements destroys trust and usually takes away from the quality of relationships. Lesson No. 2 was/is about being responsible to and respecting the people I love. A lifelong training that never ends. A process that Steve Jobs reported in his last words that he missed out on. His plea, "Please treasure your family love, love for your spouse and love for your friend..."

That's HiLevel!