Surfing away from sanity | AspenTimes.com

Surfing away from sanity

Alison Berkley

Guess what. By the time you read this, I’ll be lying on a beach in Hawaii. Na-na-na-na-na-na!Yep, I’ve been there before. I used to spend a month on the North Shore of Oahu every December back during my illustrious days as a contributing editor for Surfer magazine. Our staff would stay in a house on the beach with views of Pipeline out our kitchen window. I vividly remember sitting there one morning eating a bowl of Lucky Charms and watching Kelly Slater get spit out of the barrel only to arch a few more cutbacks and then air to 360 off the back of the wave. I sat there stunned, my mouth open, milk dribbling down the front of my shirt like baby spitup.The truth is, Hawaii scared the hell out of me. I was always totally over my head and walked around feeling like I wanted to apologize to everyone for being there. The air was thick with this hardcore vibe that was part “we hate you because you’re white” and part “we hate you because you’re a stupid little blonde girl from the mainland.”I’d paddle out when everyone was complaining it was “flat” and end up getting pitched on every wave, only to have ripping surfers come flying straight at me while I struggled not to drown, just waiting to have my scalp sliced open when their fins raked over my head.One day during a big swell, my friend Tiffany and I surfed a point break at the harbor because someone told us it would be more protected there. The next thing I know, I’m scratching to get through a big outside set. These bombs would come at me and right before they landed on my head, I’d brace myself and duck dive as deep as I could, watching the massive wave roll over me like a giant steamroller. I’d get spit out the back, the force of the breaking lip exploding water straight up into the air like the blowhole of a whale. It was like getting rained on, with little prism rainbows appearing all around me like the stars you see when you hit your head too hard.I make it to the outside only to realize I have no idea where I am. I can barely see the lineup, which looks to be at least a half-mile away and realize I’m caught in a rip current. The proper thing to do is paddle out to sea and out of the current before you try to paddle back to shore. Of course I panicked and did exactly what you’re not supposed to do and paddled against it.The current took me right into dry reef, a boulder-sized formation of razor-sharp coral that stuck up from out of the water like the god-damned Rock of Gibraltar. I braced myself and tried to leap onto it and throw my board under one arm. Filled with adrenaline, I hardly felt the impact and was able to walk around to the other side where it was pretty much a still-water paddle to shore. I hid under a palm tree and cried.What’s worse, I had to interview all these scary she-man pro surfers like Keala Kennelly. Born and raised in the rough waters of Kauai, Keala is an intimidating girl to say the least, known for her fearless ability to charge in big, heavy waves like Pipeline and Teahupoo in Tahiti. She’s tall, with broad shoulders, long legs and a manly figure with a waist that seems to blend right into her hips. She has pale blond hair and brown eyes that slant upwards like a mean cartoon character.I get to her house and am about to pull out my tape recorder when she looks at me like she’s about to pull a gun and says, “Let’s go for a surf.”She takes me to this secluded break on the far side of the island that’s accessed via a long walk through sugar cane fields. I felt like I was being lead through the forest by the Mafia or being forced to walk the plank.When we got to the beach, she looks at me and goes, “Are you going to paddle out or what?” She looked me up and down with the kind of dirty look I haven’t seen since eighth grade. I kept waiting for her to tie my hands behind my back and put a black sack over my head.It was straight out of the scene in the movie “Blue Crush” when Keala, (who plays herself in the film) is helping Anne Marie (Kate Bosworth) catch a wave during the contest.”I’ll block for you, but you better take it or I’ll kick your ass,” she said. In other words: no wave, no interview.Naturally, the wave that came through was a little out of my comfort zone, but when she said go, I paddled with all my might. I could hear my mother’s voice in my head going, “If so-and-so told you to jump off a bridge, would you do that too?”The wave formed into what is known as an A-frame, a perfect peak that stands up and forms into a glassy wall before arching over and peeling down the line. If you can stay in front of the breaking lip, there’s nothing but smooth water in front of you that’s as delectable as an untracked line in G-8.I could hear her cheering and hollering as I careened down this perfect wave, overcoming my top 10 fears simultaneously. Needless to say, I got the interview and enjoyed my own private little victory.This trip will be totally different – different island, friends from Aspen and no pro surfers around. Still, chances are I’ll be over my head at least once in those Hawaiian waters. Part of me knows that’s exactly how I like it.Check out the Princess’s new web site at http://www.alisonberkley.com.