It was an especially beautiful day on O‘ahu’s west side. I was at Electric Beach for a quick ocean outing with friends, and a slight mist had blown in from the Wai‘anae Mountains, making a double rainbow right over the water’s surface. Marina Miller, also a professional photographer, was on a standup paddleboard with her young son. In a kayak was my friend Tom Anderson, the founder of Myspace, who had recently gotten into photography and was eager to test out his new water housing for his camera.
Then the wind kicked up, and the magical mist turned into buckets of rain dumping on our heads. I paddled forward on my longboard, and moved backward. I wasn’t too worried though—I’m an excellent swimmer and feel at home in the sea. (I think I’ve spent more time in the ocean in my life than most Southern Baptists have spent in church.) When the waves at Pipeline are 10 to 15 feet, I’ve swum out to take photos. It’s probably the scariest thing I do all year, but I love it.
Except, we were really drifting now. My longboard had morphed into a conveyer belt sending me away from the coast. Marina and her son were floating off, their bodies forming a shape resembling the seafaring Hōkūle’a, two glorious sails in the wind. I managed to paddle over to them. Trying not to let Marina’s son see the sheer look of panic that was surely on my face, I gave her my longboard. I would try to paddle him in on the standup board. “Stay low, and Godspeed!” I wished her well, and the wind separated us again.
This, I realized, is what “up shit creek without a paddle” means, except I had a paddle, and the creek was windier than the Pali Lookout. We weren’t getting anywhere—by this time, we had been blown halfway to Ko Olina Resort. Since Tom was the most vulnerable to the wind, I assumed he was already a mile out. I kept thinking of tomorrow’s newspaper headlines: “Myspace Millionaire lost at sea. At fault, his dumb friend John Hook.” I saw a tiny yellow dot on the horizon and figured that must be him. Also in the general area was a dolphin-viewing tour boat, which he could possibly wave down for help.
It turns out that they were there specifically to pick him up. Someone on shore had watched us get blown away, and when they couldn’t see us anymore, they called the lifeguards, who then radioed any nearby boats to see if they could find us. In the end, we got a ride back to shore with the tourists—the smart ones on a boat.
As with all things you love, the sea can hurt you when you least expect it. A wave, for example, can rip your clothes off. Literally. I’ve had a wave hit me, and my fins, leash, and watch were blasted off me instantly; my boardshorts held on to my ankles somehow, and my ears were ringing for a whole day. The current of the ocean is a dangerous too, but it is sneakier than a wave. You don’t really see it coming. If you’re not paying attention, the current will pull you the distance of a city block in the time it takes to adjust your swim fins. The ocean deserves respect. She’s the boss. And that’s why she owns two-thirds of this earth.