(Continued from Part 2.)

“It’s a little shifty,” Rom said as we pushed on, meaning that the waves were breaking in different places and that we were going to have a hard time knowing where to situate without getting caught inside. “It’ll be tough to line up.”

While still well outside of the break point, a swell finally came through that foreshadowed things to come. The surge filled in under my board and it felt as if a great blue whale had breasted right below, lifted me high out of the water, and plunged back down.

No one else was surfing Third Bay, and because it can be difficult to feel when the current is tugging you along, we had to find markers on land to gauge our drift. Eventually, the consensus was that we could line up with a bent palm tree on shore and a rock outcropping to the south. Rom looked at us and grinned widely.

“Man,” he said, “I’ve gotta try this.”


At the monastery, we often chanted the name of Guanyin bodhisattva, or Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion. A bodhisattva is a being who has attained the wisdom to escape the endless cycle of suffering but nonetheless compassionately vows to remain in the world for the benefit of suffering beings. Reciting Guanyins’s name in any language, many Buddhists believe, will keep you safe from harm.

Ever the skeptic, I always tried to use the Chinese chant–“Namo Guan Shr Yin Pu Sa”–as a mantra alone, a concentration tool. Praying for outside intervention seemed cultish, overly religious. But as the saying goes, there are no atheists in a foxhole. And as Rom paddled into the takeoff zone, I cried to Guanyin for help.

“Namo Guan Shr Yin Pu Sa. Namo Guan Shr Yin Pu Sa.”

Rom missed the first wave–and I was glad. It growled, spitting a puff of mist out of its shadowy maw. But Rom didn’t back off. He didn’t hesitate. He caught the third wave of the set. And from my vantage point, behind the wave, Rom disappeared as he dropped.

And the wave’s lip smacked loudly against the water.


“Namo Guan Shr Yin Pu Sa. Namo Guan Shr Yin Pu Sa.”

Four seconds. Five. Six. Rom had been devoured. Seven. The wizard was dead.

Then, off the back of the wave, Rom launched himself ten feet into the air and kicked his board out before diving into the water, coming up grinning.

“Now that is an awesome wave!”


Ryan wasn’t having it. “Well, that just about does it for me,” he said. “I’ve seen it. This place is spooking me.” All my reasoning faculties, plus the sea monsters, were telling me to paddle back with Ryan. But reason has never been my strong suit. And I guess I wanted to believe the sea monsters were just illusions, like Mara’s army, that I had to see through. I also wanted to believe Rom was right: “Stories, stories,” he’d said. “Every spot has stories.”

It was beyond my ability level. But I believed I could do it–kind of. Did I believe I could do it? Rom saw me hedging. “Ah, just go for it, ” he laughed. “I reckon it’s the best ride this park has. Something to tell your friends back home about.”

I don’t know if vanity or bravery motivated me. But I nodded, swallowed the lump in my throat, and paddled in. The sets were coming about every ten minutes. And a very long ten minutes passed. I scooped clear saltwater in my hands and tried to see that it was all basically the same stuff, it was all the sea: tears, sweat, blood, crushing saltwater behemoths I tried to pretend it was a peaceful morning on dawn patrol: no pressure, just me and the waves.

And maybe death wouldn’t be so bad: A sea-change. Into something rich and strange.


The horizon bulged. Kanaloa, I thought. Death.

I was supposed to paddle for the wave, but instead I paddled over the top, barely cresting the lip as it feathered. It sounded angry when it broke below. I would have passed on the next one, too, but Rom was shouting, “This one’s yours!”

I turned my board, pointed it toward the rocks and began pumping my hands through the water. The thing began to lift, kept lifting. Up, up, up. I was looking down the line of a horizontal tornado and my board picked up speed. I didn’t hesitate. My body somehow knew. I felt the split-second moment to pop, did so, and pointed right.

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