Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from The Shaper, a story of a group of surfers and a jaded, been-there-done-that shaper. It’s the third novel from author Mike Davis and we think it’s a pretty awesome story. Enjoy!
“I’m a surfboard shaper – I shape surfboards for waves of consequence and understanding horizons, vanishing points and converging lines is what being a surfer and shaper is all about – Kinda what life’s all about when you get right down to it.” – Medford Haley
There’s a wave that comes through the point where I live. It only exists at the bottom of the tide when most surfers head for home because it’s, in their words, closing out. But it isn’t, the changing tide’s just caught them out and they’ve ceased to be in the right spot to make the wave which will continue to zipper them brutally until the tide again begins to flood this part of the point, fattening and slowing the wave to something they (the kooks) can manage. That bottom of the tide, when nobody’s making waves, is the time to go out. I’m a point surfer, you see. It’s what I’ve done for fifty years. And the waves I hunt are the rogues: the result of a set wave forming-up to break as it’s slugged with the water from the previous broken wave that’s run up to the point and then runs back off laterally into the next wave, which forms a bump and that redirected bump’s then accelerated by a shallow slab of reef. This little oddity multiplies the wave’s intensity and size by a factor of at least two. It’s what we call doubling up. Nasty! And it’s not for the faint hearted either – you have to want it and want it bad. You don’t drop into this wave. It leaps skyward and grows around you, and in order to ride it at all you have to be in exactly the right spot – At exactly the right time, which is, just before the bump collides with the wave, and when those two combined volumes hit the shallowest part of the reef which creates something incredibly powerful and beautiful if you understand it and ugly and potentially lethal if you don’t.
Two things make that wave so appealing: The first is that you have to have balls to paddle into that pit where the water’s being drawn back off of the reef into the face, wheel around, and then paddle like your life depends on it. It’s a total commitment. No hesitating. Then you have to slip to your feet just as soon as the nose of your board’s cleared the apex at the base and stab your forehand turn in hope that your rails are fine enough to produce some kind of purchase in the free-fall because the wave that’s suddenly leapt up all around you feels hard as concrete and bottomless. It’s tantamount to taking a flying leap into a spiral staircase at full stride and only touching every third or fourth step. The second appealing feature is that if you’ve managed to make the takeoff, no one can successfully drop-in on you. Once it’s started to unload, it’s already too steep and too fast to make without that first lunging plunge caused by the initial bump. The wave really does seem to close out. The consequences not making the take-off? Most surfers will only ever experience that once. It either hurts them or frightens them so badly they never even consider a second such beating.
The real beauty of this wave is that it can only be seen from two places: The car park, which only affords it a distorted, “behind the curl perspective,” making it appear too fast to ride, or from the boardwalk in front of Bistro C at Main Beach. That’s two and a half kilometers away, making it look even more impossible. If you’re surfing at Little Cove and one of these rogue waves comes through you’re already a hundred meters too far inside to even get over it, much less catch it. Because the wave only breaks on the bottom of the tide on solid swells, most surfers never even know of its existence. And that suits me just fine. The only pisser after all these years is that most guys don’t bother to learn what it is that causes these freaks of nature and how to surf them. Instead, they follow me around the break and try to poach them off me. They’re not surfing the break, they’re surfing me. And they can get stuffed!
After all, my history with this point began forty-two years ago, ’69 at Mokuleia, Hawaii. I was twenty-one years old and I’d been in the spin cycle since earlier that morning when I’d read my housemate in California’s cryptic message, so I rode my bicycle out to the reef to think.
The sparkling filigree of foam frolicking in the gurgling ebb and flow of the surge between the rocks at my feet only served to mock the anger and anxiety raging mortal battle in my head and heart. I was so mad I just wanted to lash out. Maybe even hurt somebody. But whom?
I was still railing at the blatant injustices of life when scream pierced the calm. In my semi-conscious funk, I’d only vaguely acknowledged Leia, my surfing buddy and Kimo’s little sister happily skipping back from the lagoon with her diving gear and a gunnysack of fish. I bolted toward her cries that seemed to be coming from the trail that skirted the pineapple fields and led to her home. By the time I rounded a bend in the trail, I heard voices. They were loud and enraged to cracking point. I raced towards them, stunned by the sound of fists and feet on flesh – hard fists on hard flesh. The first thing I saw was a cowering Leia, wide-eyed and sobbing, trying to cover herself. To my relief, just beyond her, I recognized the hula dancer tattoo on Kimo’s shoulder. Next to him was Tiger and Sonny Boy. In the gap between them, I could see someone else taking all of that hitting and kicking. Sensing my approach Kimo spun, “Whadaya want, haole’? Get outa heah. You don’t b’long!” he snapped angrily, pushing me back. I could feel the heat of the anger and hatred flaring behind his eyes. It wasn’t toward me but it reflected if not resonated a malevolent and violent mood.
“HELP ME!” screamed the man in the thrashing tangle of arms and legs.
“C’mon Kimo. What’s going on?” I demanded, trying to get around him.
“Fuckah touched Leia!” Kimo snapped, stabbing an angry finger at the man on the ground beneath the flailing fists and feet. It wasn’t until the guys doing the hitting and kicking paused long enough for me to see who was being pummelled that I recognized Ralf Metz, the German field manager’s son from the Dole plantation. He was a hulking beast of a brute that Black Butch, the hottest haole goofy foot in the islands, had pointed out to me at the Haleiwa Pool Hall one afternoon. “Took me half hour a steady poundin’ to take him out once. Hard fucker’n dumb as a house brick’n mean as a snake!”
“Fuckin’ little nigger bitch was askin’ for it!” Ralf sneered, his pig-like eyes blazing defiantly.
I was so disgusted, even repulsed by his arrogance, that momentarily I just stood there dumbfounded. From the corner of my eye I caught the faintest glint of steel.
“NO!!!” Without thinking I leaped, seizing Kimo’s wrists with both hands. None too soon either, Kimo’d grabbed Ralf ’s machete. His yes were glazed with anger and hatred, his heavily muscled arms drawn back executioner style, fixing to whack him. We both went down. More luck than good planning on my part. Kimo was way bigger and stronger.
“Get out of it, haole. Dis da last time he touch anybody, ” he snarled in my face and then easily flung me aside.
“It’s not worth it! He’s not worth it,” I pleaded, mid air, doing my best to convince him not to whack him.
Ralf’s defiant malevolent glare softened as he singled me out as a white and therefore an ally. “They’re all just so much black trash, not even human. Wasn’t for us, they’d still be livin’ in trees!” he sneered, assuming mistakenly that his odds had changed favorably. I locked eyes with the big palooka, “Just because we’re part of this land, doesn’t mean we come with it or that we’re inferior,” I spat as I glared back.
“Huh?” Kimo’s machete dropped to the rich red soil. Not because I’d overpowered him, which was out of the question, but out of confusion.
“WHA? You no haole? Even hapa-haole couldn’t know or say that!” his intense brown-eyes boring confusedly into my pale blues.
“My Gramma’s a full blood Sioux. Her family’s experiences with these Bible-thumping Europeans is no different to yours. They did the same thing to her people as they’ve done to yours,” I replied evenly, neither of us taking our eyes off the machete. Ralf’s head reeled as if struck as his newfound look of confidence quickly wilted.
“His ole man treats us all like kuk and he no bettah,” Kimo grumbled before dropping the machete.
Ralf screamed derisively at me. Returning his glare, I snatched the machete and lunged threateningly at him, causing him to wince and turn away, covering his head reflexively with his brawny arms. He was still cowering when I forced the friction-taped handle of the machete back in to Kimo’s fist. Puzzled, he took it, his intense gaze rising slowly to meet mine.
“Keep him here, I’m going for the cops,” I called, racing back to where I’d left my bike.
“His old man’ll just get him off, again!” Kimo reproached me.
“Not this time,” I yelled.
Halfway into Haleiwa, I was chilled by the realization that I was in trouble. My name would be on an official police report and the FBI’d be right onto me. That’s how they find people. The best thing for me to do was to just keep right on riding and disappear. And I would’ve too, if not for the fact I’d known way too many Ralf’s in my life and although it might be as futile as Davey Crocket’s last stand at the Alamo.
Kimo’s uncle and cousins lost their jobs at the Dole processing plant at the top of the hill before Ralf’s case had even gone to court.
A few days later, I was in Honolulu in search of a yacht heading out into the South Pacific on which to make good my escape from the Selective Service Board. After leaving my contact number with a couple of skippers and in a fit of futility and depression, I went to the Bishop Museum to admire the old surfboards in the collection on display. There’s something comforting about those old relics. It’s like they still hold some kind of special magic. Don’t laugh, I’m certain of it. Running my hand along the rails of those old wooden boards took me back to my first trip to Hawaii as a teenager, wondering if I’d ever have the sack to paddle into those big waves and I’d come here to see what the ancient Hawaiians had ridden the giant waves on when I saw the 14 1/2-foot, 150 pound solid wood, finless OLO that High Chief Abner Paki was riding when Captain Cook arrived. I figured then and there that I’d be able to paddle my state of the art, 10-foot, 30-pound Curren/Yater gun into some reasonably large waves at Sunset or Laniakea. Just being in the same room with these boards bolstered my flagging spirit. Wandering from rack to rack, I felt my spirit permeated by the accumulated magic and experience contained in these beautiful and ancient once-living forms. Caressing the rails of the OLO again for the first time in years, it struck me how special the craftsman would’ve had to be, to have shaped this enormous piece of wood, fashioning it from a log into something capable of riding the largest and longest of waves; especially considering the primitive tools and methods available at that time.
The Chief only had to ride the thing. But what about the man that’d designed and crafted it? What kind of experience and skill would he have to possess to have been chosen to build this most special of all surfboards? Who was he? I wondered. And what would the consequences have been if the board didn’t work? Death?
Buoyed by the magic and a newfound logic, I made my way back to the Highway and hitchhiked home to the North Shore. In the following weeks before I took off for Australia, Ralf’s father was transferred to the Philippines. Something about soaring maintenance and repair expenses on any equipment left in the fields overnight or even unattended during the daylight hours. Meanwhile, Ralf’s lawyers succeeded in getting the charges quashed because he hadn’t actually raped Leia, stating, “He can’t be charged with a crime he didn’t indeed commit” “Attempted rape is not rape. Who can know what was in his mind? He may have decided not to rape her anyway. Case dismissed.”
“Attempted rape is not rape. Who can know what was in his mind? He may have decided not to rape her anyway. Case dismissed.”
I was sitting on the steps of the Haleiwa General Store drinking a Guava juice the day after Ralf’s case had been dropped when ‘Black Butch’ dropped down beside me. “Kimo’n Sonny-boy are on their way to Tigah’s place.”
Butch’s hand gripped my roughly, pulling me eyeball to eyeball. “So, they’ve been drinking Swipe since lunch time and Tigah’s father has a Winchester 30-30 he hunts wild pigs with. He takes it fishing to shoot sharks. I’ve seen it.”
“They’re gonna kill that German prick, Metz.”
“How do you know?”
Butch offered me a sip of the drink in his milkshake container. One sniff was all it took. “Phew! Stuff’ll put me off pineapples forever. Thanks but no thanks,” I grumbled, pushing it away roughly.
Butch belched, smirked, lowered his eyes, and took another sip. Before I could respond, he shook my forearm roughly and nodded towards the rusted pickup truck careering around the corner of Tiger’s street and roaring towards us. My heart sank. “Kimo!” His name fell out of my mouth like housebrick.
The pickup roared up the street and pulled into a parking space about 30 feet away, knocking down a sandwich board advertising Eskimo Pies as it lurched over the curb and mounted the sidewalk. Before it’s stopped rocking, Kimo swung drunkenly from behind the wheel, leaving it running.“Tigah, you get da bullets and I’ll get da rope. We kill da fuckah, yeah?”
As soon as they were both inside, I ran to the still idling pickup, reached inside, switched it off, and grabbed the keys. It only took me a second to toss them into the creek below the bridge.
“C’mon Red Doggie, you know they’ll just hot wire the fuckah! ” Butch giggled gleefully, trying to focus his wobbling eyes. Turning back to the pickup, I popped the hood, flipped the clips holding the distributor cap on and ripped it out and slammed the hood back down. “What the f…?” Butch blurted.
“You didn’t see anything, Butch,” I muttered, jumping on my bicycle. I pedaled for all I was worth towards Sunset Beach.
“Why?” Butch called after me.
“I’ve just saved all your sorry asses,” I yelled, grabbing the tailgate of a passing flatbed as it rattled over the concrete bridge towards Sunset Beach. “Besides, you’re still a fuckin’ screw foot!” I giggled crazily as the truck gained speed towards Sunset Beach. I don’t know what it is but there’s just something about screwfoots.