I have learned a lot about fall­ing, though—like how to ‘starfish’ un­der­wa­ter, cover my head, and just re­lax to de­crease my chances of hit­ting the sharp co­ral

Surf Girl - - Liz Checking The Anchor -

Off­shore winds rip over the stacked swell lines, blow­ing wa­ter droplets off the wave faces into hov­er­ing rain­bows, as the lips pitch and arc into glo­ri­ous indigo bar­rels. My eyes bulge as the quiet girl with long, brown hair and a slen­der, ath­letic body drives grace­fully through an­other deep tube and shoots out right in front of me. Yew!” I holler from the shoul­der. “That was un­real!” She shrugs it off.

“Thanks,” she says softly, “but you can to­tally do it too. You surf well. You just gotta com­mit early and swoop in be­hind it.”

“I don’t know,” I mum­ble, fol­low­ing her back up the reef.

I have tried hard to mas­ter tube rid­ing, but I’m still in­con­sis­tent. I have mo­ments when ev­ery­thing comes to­gether but I lack con­fi­dence, which of­ten makes the dif­fer­ence be­tween mak­ing the drop or get­ting pitched over the falls. I have learned a lot about fall­ing, though—like how to ‘starfish’ un­der­wa­ter, cover my head, and just re­lax to de­crease my chances of hit­ting the sharp co­ral. I can’t count how many times I’ve hit the reef. My legs, feet and back are scarred with re­minders.

I pad­dle for my next wave, get in early, and do some turns, but when it warps into a hol­low sec­tion with jagged reef stick­ing up only feet from

the im­pact zone, I kick out as usual. Frus­trated, I pad­dle back to­wards the line-up again, know­ing I’m still miss­ing out on the holy grail of surf­ing.

Kepi is a nat­u­ral—smooth, pow­er­ful, stylish and poised. She up­roots my prior ideas of what a woman is ca­pa­ble of do­ing on a wave. Her re­serve in­tim­i­dated me when I first ar­rived in the bay, but since we both surf in the early morn­ings be­fore the crowds, we’ve got­ten to know each other. She was raised in Cal­i­for­nia and Kauai, chose this South Pa­cific par­adise over a high-pro­file surf­ing ca­reer, mar­ried a lo­cal surfer, and has two beau­ti­ful kids. I dig her sim­ple, unas­sum­ing style.

The swell keeps pour­ing in over the next week. Not too big, not too small, off­shore winds, and just the right an­gle to pro­duce flaw­less wave cylin­ders.

I have no ex­cuses not to step it up. We meet at the peak af­ter she drops her kids at school. I study her ev­ery move­ment. Lit­tle by lit­tle I gain more con­fi­dence. “Go!” my tube guru en­cour­ages.

“Are you sure? I’m not too deep?” I hes­i­tate.

“No you’re good. You got it. Just pad­dle,” she af­firms.

Fi­nally, it hap­pens: a break­through. I start trust­ing my­self and the wave. In­stead of jump­ing into the face or clos­ing my eyes when it looks like it’s go­ing to close out, I hold my line. I get clipped here and there, but fall­ing in­side the tube isn’t as scary as I had imag­ined. I start to feel where to slow down, find the pocket, and then all I have to do is hang on while the lip falls around me and I shoot for the light.

“See?” Kepi cheers as I come flying out of one. “You’ve got it!”

Read more about Liz’s jour­ney in her book, Swell.

I start trust­ing my­self and the wave.

Liz com­mits and gets slot­ted

At the helm

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