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Learning to Surf


Learn to surf? Yeah right!

Most people don’t know that my home state of Oregon harbors some of the best surfing on the West Coast, or so we Oregonians like to think, because we like to keep these gems in our back pockets for those rainy days, of which there are many. Having said that, my knowledge of the abundance of great white sharks and the frequency with which I watched the movie “JAWS” as a kid, has kept me out of the ocean. I can’t even think of how many times I’ve gone to the beach and watched my friends tear up the surf from the shore, saying, “I’ll never dangle my limbs off of a board in the ocean.” Instead of the predictable onslaught of jokes about me being a wimp, I usually beat them to the jokes about my un-manliness. I am always willing to initiate a little self deprecating humor.

Of course all of this was before I visited Hawaii.

What I expected going into my trip is hard to recall, but I know that I had not bargained for the level of warmth, hospitality, and openness that I experienced at every turn. From the moment I walked in to Outrigger Waikiki’s gorgeous, festive lobby, I knew that I was in for some good old fashioned R&R. I felt right at home and I hadn’t even checked in yet.

My experience as a new guest began with the Outrigger canoe ride. As we paddled out from the beach of the hotel to the big rollers, my ego took a hit when we passed little kids and parents and grandparent waving at us as they surfed past. Immediately Ted, our canoe captain, whipped the boat around and we caught the biggest wave I’ve ever been around and it carried us in to shore at about 20 miles an hour over clear, turquoise water. I was hooked, but on what I wasn't quite sure.

It wasn’t 10 minutes after we parked the canoe that Captain Ted had me convinced that the next ride would need to be on a surfboard. I signed up for a class with one of his staff members and soon we were in the water!

My instructor, Mike, couldn’t have been better. His hospitality and easy-going nature really put me at ease. I didn’t even think about those big scary fish from my childhood memories. His instruction was simple and effective and as we paddled out to those breakers our conversation was about how beautiful Diamond Head Crater looked from the water and the mystique that Waikiki continues to hold in people’s imaginations. Once we reached our spot, we rested and waited in anticipation for the perfect wave. This was a familiar feeling. I grew up snowboarding and sitting on your board waiting for a wave feels a lot like when the chairlift is about to reach the summit.

Mike yelled for me to “paddle!” which I did, and the overwhelming force of the wave scooped me up and I stood and that was it. I was surfing! I rode the first wave for a few hundred yards before my momentum petered out and I tipped over. By the third or fourth wave, I was exhausted and barely had the strength to paddle back to shore for a rest. Mike told me I should rest, otherwise I’m pretty sure I would have kept going and going until I was putting myself in danger of never being able to paddle back to the beach. What a day and what a view!

When I reflect on my Hawaiian experience, that day on the waves is central to my understanding of Aloha, which I came to know as affection, love, peace, compassion, and mercy. Two hours later I was with friends sipping a cold Mai Tai’s on the deck at Duke’s overlooking Waikiki beach, feeling like the day’s work was done as we watched the sun slip behind the horizon in an explosion of color. There’s some Aloha in that too!

Neil Kopp is a Portland based producer who specializes in independent films and production for advertising campaigns.


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