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Adventures of a Waterwoman Wannabe: Or how to hang incognito with Laird Hamilton 

This is my final column in a three-part series based on Hawaiian values. By the time you read this, I will have traded my Mr. Zog's sex wax back in for Swix yellow. But at least I've replenished my stores of vitamin D and vitamin sea, too.

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This is my final column in a three-part series based on Hawaiian values. By the time you read this, I will have traded my Mr. Zog's sex wax back in for Swix yellow. But at least I've replenished my stores of vitamin D and vitamin sea, too.

PO'OKELA [poh'-oh-kay'-lah] - noun. Commitment to excellence

In Hawaii, the ultimate term of respect is to be called a "waterman" or "waterwoman." He or she is a master of the ocean, excelling at all watersports: surfing, swimming, windsurfing, paddle boarding, canoe paddling, spear fishing, etc. On my first stay on Maui, a friend introduced me to Mary, a small, gruff, pig-tailed woman with bright white sunblock on her lips. She kind of harrumphed and climbed into her Zodiac, which she was piloting as a safety boat for a canoe race.

"Mary is a real waterwoman," my friend whispered. "She's windsurfed Jaws."

"Wow," I thought to myself, "I want to be a waterwoman."

Here are a couple of stories from my quest.


It was my first day on Maui. I walked into Second Wind Surf Shop and inquired about a used surfboard.

"Here's a nice 9-foot-6-inch board with a triple stringer, nose and tail blockers and no dings," said the shopkeeper.

I plunked down $400 and asked where I should take it. The shopkeeper sized me up.

"Grandma's," he advised. That sounded suitable. The proud owner of a surfboard, I eagerly strapped it on my car, and headed to Grandma's.

I only caught one wave that day.

It was my final day on Maui, early morning in Paia town, when a sun-bleached-blonde, bronzed hunk turned my head. It was Laird Hamilton! Not actually having a plan, I did a u-turn in my car and followed his truck to Kanaha Beach Park. By the time I got there, he was already paddling out on his board.

I'd been surfing every day I could that winter, always on the gentle south shore. Kanaha is on Maui's north shore and the waves were at least overhead that particular day. I sat on the beach and watched.

"Maybe I could paddle out... "

Are you crazy?

"Well, I'm not going to just sit here... "

You'll die out there!

I pulled on my blue Surfdog Maui rashguard, grabbed my board and jumped into the water. At Kanaha, it's a long paddle out, a quarter-mile at least. Ten minutes later I'd arrived at the impact zone, where big frothy waves were crashing down. I turtle-rolled through several and finally clawed my way through, breathless. Suddenly, as if passing through the eye of a storm, I found myself in the calm of the lineup beyond the break. I floated peacefully up and down on enormous swells and looked around. There was Laird. And Dave Kalama, and a few other guys. And there I was. I just watched them masterfully ride wave after wave from my safe perch on my trusty board.

I'd been out there at least an hour and the surfers were starting to head back in.

"Oh my God - I have to ride one of those waves back in!"

You really should have thought of that before...

"Yeah, well now I am going to die."

Breathe - we will wait for the absolutely smallest wave possible."

Laird and Dave and everybody were gone. Finally, I picked one out. I timed my stroke, felt the wave lift me up and when it broke, it was like being shot from a cannon. Wow, the exhilaration! I stayed on my belly for a while and then scrambled to my feet and rode it in.

I only caught one wave that day.


I also joined an outrigger canoe club this winter and paddled every Tuesday and Thursday evening. The annual Shoreline Relay was approaching and my friend Michele invited me to do it with her. Not only did she invite a novice to race with her, she was going to trust me with her brand new all-carbon fiber outrigger canoe.

I was honored.

Michele paddled the first leg. I was treading water, ready to hop on the canoe as she neared. A quick water change and I was off, paddling hard. Suddenly, a huge object rose out of the water, not 10 feet in front of me. I blinked. It was a whale! I began to back paddle furiously. The only thought going through my mindbreak Michele's new canoe on a whale!"

In the nick of time the whale submerged and I glided right over the top. Staring down, awestruck, I saw that it was a mother and a baby.

I was honored. Then I kept paddling.

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