We learn from a young age that everything is a crisis: every cut, every essay, every decision. There is a Hawaiian spirit of not overthinking everything: waiting, relaxing.
By Lucy Woods
I was born in Hawaii. The lush islands are commonly associated with carefree, sun-kissed girls, vibrant surfboards, and the perfect wave. So, although I was born there, I don’t resemble those girls at all; I’m a spindly, startlingly-pale teenage girl who doesn’t resemble a Hawaiian in the slightest. Because of my dad’s job, I moved from Hawaii before I could remember it. Yet, I proudly boasted whatever islander heritage I could claim before I even knew what that thing called Hawaii was.
I knew very little about Hawaii until I took a vacation there about two years ago with my parents. After arriving in Oahu, the one thing I knew that I had to do was surf. It’s the quintessential Hawaiian experience plastered on every poster, blog, and pamphlet representing the island. My mom started asking around to discover the best surfing school. After several recommendations for the surfing school called Uncle Bryan’s, we booked my first surfing lesson with 10 other surfing-eager tourists.
The next day I hopped into our rental car with my mom. My heart pounded with excitement as we drove to the North Shore to find the surfing school. As we pulled up to the designated GPS address we realized that Uncle Bryan’s Surf Shack was really no more than it claimed to be: a shack or maybe a tent. I approached the tent suddenly surrounded by a multitude of easy-going, sun-wrinkled surfers who looked as if they had jumped right out of one of my surfing photographs. Each of them more at ease than the last, they all walked as if they had nowhere to be except for wherever the next wave would take them. Reflecting the instructors’ relaxed demeanor, at Uncle Bryan’s there were no lifejackets, no papers, no questions of my ability to swim; just shakas thrown in our general direction.
Finally, it was time to surf. I clumsily carried my board to the beach and lowered it into the clear island water. My surfing instructor, Keith, told us to paddle after him. Like a herd of sheep my group followed Keith to the dark waves that slapped down into the salty abyss. Each surfing newbie would take turns paddling out into the water to meet a different instructor who propelled us into a wave.
From the shore every wave looks perfect, as if each surfer effortlessly glides through the water on a ride perfectly crafted for them. In reality, not every wave is yours. I soon realized that surfing requires a lot of patience. Part of what the instructors exemplified was the joy of waiting for your wave, the right wave. I tried riding a wave, then I fell. I fell again. Then again. Until I finally caught my first wave and actually stood up. It was one of the most freeing feelings I had ever experienced. I won’t pretend like my wave was some killer 20-foot monstrosity. In fact, it was probably under two feet, but I enjoyed every inch of it. From then on every wave I caught felt like a miracle.
My last wave of the day I got a huge gash on my hand from falling into a mound of rocks close to the shore. I walked to the back of the surf tent and asked Uncle Bryan for some gauze, a band-aid, or something, but he said to me, “Ah, that’s nothing. Just wash it off in the ocean. You can call it your Hawaiian tattoo.”
It was that surfing spirit of “You’ll be fine, shake it off!” that struck me. We learn from a young age that everything is a crisis: every cut, every essay, every decision. There is a Hawaiian spirit of not overthinking everything: waiting, relaxing. That is surfing.
It might be a stretch to compare a bloody scrape or waiting for a wave to life-altering decisions, but I think we all could learn something from the surfers’ way of life. We read that teenagers today are more stressed than ever before with alarmingly high rates of depression and anxiety. This might be because high schoolers are constantly bombarded with serious college decisions, ACTs, and the ever so imminent thought of leaving home. Each of those things will happen in its own time, and when it does, we should be calmly waiting its arrival, like catching a wave. And if you get hurt along the way, it’ll be worth the ride. Surprisingly enough, not every decision will alter the course of history. It seems like we should all have an Uncle Brian telling us to “just wash it off.”
When we were about to step onto the plane to fly home I found my heart aching to leave a place so special. My Hawaiian tattoo may have faded since my surfing lesson at Uncle Bryan’s but it will always serve as a reminder to me of the beautifully tranquil life Hawaiians hold onto. In that respect, I hope to truly be Hawaiian.
Photo: Hawaii by Jennifer C. on Flickr