I’ve had an internal argument running for years with an Umberto Ecco essay I used to teach twenty years ago. In the essay he questions whether or not you actually experience and truly see an attraction – he uses The Grand Canyon – when you park where you’ve been directed to park, walk the path that has been paved for you to walk, go to the vista you’ve been directed to see, snap a pic, get back in your car and drive off. Maybe you also send a postcard to make sure everyone knows you too have seen what they’ve seen or want to see. The essay predates social media but you can add posting the photo to social media to tell the world you’ve had just as good of a moment as they’ve had or that they should want to have. Ultimately the essay is about consuming an experience to keep up with the Joneses, not as a means of satisfying some deep curiosity. The argument is against shallow consumerism and is an argument and challenge to find ways to experience things deeply on your own terms and for your own reasons.
The tourists that I’ve met met hear all have an agenda, a bucket list to check off. Ride ATV’s through the fake dinosaur park. Do the zip line. Go to the Dole factory. In years past, I’ve done some of the same things. But, sometimes, when I follow the punch list, I don’t see a city or place for what it is. Surfing is a way, even at locations known mostly for a wave, to go beyond the circumscribed vistas and histories of a place, to get off the beaten path in order to understand a location more deeply.
From the water, I learn subtleties those stuck in traffic on their way to their next attraction on the Kam Hawaii never see. The wind this morning was blowing offshore a mile away from the surf spot I had just checked in which the wind was blowing onshore. The big moak in the parking lot said “You can see and feel the surf getting bigger.” There wasn’t much surf at Pipe but there was a lot of water moving around and the air was humid. In the line up off Goat Island the other day, it got dark forty five minutes earlier than it had been getting dark at Turtle Bay, twenty minutes away. I was technically on the East Side of the island. When I looked around, the sun had gone behind the mountain. At Turtle Bay, I wasn’t even aware of the mountain. The sunset from the water at Pipeline doesn’t even seem like its part of the same stretch of coast as the sunset at Turtle Bay. Sure, I’m not getting the history lessons I would normally be getting if I were running around to museums. But in the water, I’m seeing the island the way it is, from the outside in.