Then… speed. Unbelievable speed. Not walking on water. Running. Gliding. Flying. No separate self. No Jaimal riding. No wave about to crush me. No thought. Just the sound of thunder behind me. Just a blue wall transforming. Just–… I saw the rocks coming.
I pulled out. Safe.

“This is it, man!” Rom was shouting. “We have it all to ourselves.” He started whooping and hooting like six-year-old. I sat there shaking, smiling. It seemed like my skin would start cracking from the buzz inside. And then it busted out of me. “Whoooooo!” I screamed. “OH MY GOD!”

I was ready for another one. I felt like I could do anything. But oddly enough, as if Kanaloa was saying, “Get out while I still like you,” the waves started withering and the tide got too high.

After some failed attempts for a second rush, we paddled back to our bikes.


During the next month, we surfed Third Bay a few more times on relatively small days like that. And each time we surfed, I saw that the idea of Third Bay was more scary than any actual wave itself–at least up to a point. (For those who have surfed it when it’s big, I make no claims to even imagine what that’s like.)

One day when Rom was working, I went alone. From the parking lot, I could make out a silhouette of a All my reasoning faculties, plus the sea monsters, were telling me to paddle back with Ryan. But reason has never been my strong suit.single bobbing surfer against the horizon. The sun would be setting in an hour and a half and it didn’t make much sense to brave the twenty-minute paddle. But I guess I wanted to show myself that I didn’t need Rom to come with me to Third Bay every time.

When I arrived, I saw the single surfer: a middle-aged man with bright green eyes and a deep scar across his forehead. His leathered skin and beat-up big-wave board made him look like he’d been drifting on ocean currents for twenty years.

I nodded, and he gave a wide grin revealing a few missing teeth.

“Small today,” he said, “mostly just a drop.” He pointed to the horizon. “But it’ll change. You see ’em out there?”

I didn’t see anything but big white clouds.


“Dra-gons. Been watching ’em. Sort of a hobby.”

Had we been sitting at any other of Pohoiki’s breaks, I would have welcomed the man’s visions. But on my first day at Third Bay without Rom, surfing with a guy having acid flashbacks was not my idea of fun. I considered paddling back, but I was tired. I decided to catch my breath for a few minutes.

“They’re in the clouds–Lono,” the man said, referencing the Hawaiian god who rules over storms. “That’s the way they appear. Lot of messages in the clouds.”

The clouds did seem unusually huge and the outer edges of the billows formed clean hard lines. The low sun was turning the backs of the billows into a velvety rose color. It was easy to see any number of mythological creatures writhing inside: dancing, fighting, mating.

At that point, a set came through with the usual ferocity. I thought the old man was too late, too deep, but at the zenith, he stood gracefully, pulling a smooth bottom turn then gliding off the back.

I still felt uneasy around the guy and I watched my mind start to make up stories–what jokes I would tell Rom the next day. But I stopped. I remembered how fun it was to make shapes out of clouds when I was little… and that reminded me of a Zen teaching that real insight comes from letting go of fixed views: assumptions that the world is a certain way. Rather than constantly spinning out a web of assumptions, Zen teaches to be with what actually is, moment to moment. To watch how everything changes, how everything comes into being and passes away.

And in that moment, the clouds did look something like dragons. It would’ve been an assumption to say they were dragons, but also an assumption to say they weren’t.

So I tried to let my judgments dissolve. For the rest of the evening, as the leathered man and I exchanged waves, I tried to be a five-year-old in my mother’s garden with a fairy-catching net.

And maybe it was the lighting, or the power of suggestion, or the adrenaline that Third Bay catalyzed. But for brief moments that evening, it almost seemed like each thing around me–not just the clouds, but the stones, the trees, the wind–was a living organism.

“You have to ask permission when you come in here,” the man said, paddling back toward me. “Some people don’t. They get washed up on the rocks.”

Bobbing on the fingertips of Kanaloa, his words carried some gravitas. I asked permission.

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