At 1:30 p.m., Kyla Langen, the 15-year-old with the sun-streaked hair and sunburned nose, tossed her board into the water, tossed herself on top of it and headed out. She was in the semifinals for junior women. She had 15 minutes to catch three good waves and impress the three judges with the length of her rides and her maneuvers along the way. Her father, Richard, watched nervously, digging his tanned feet ever deeper into the sand. "Get outside," he whispered, but Kyla was too far outside, out of position to catch the best waves. She didn't qualify for the finals.
Along the beach several hundred people, most of them women, watched the surfers, each of whom paid a $40 entrance fee and competed in one of five age divisions, from Menehune (menehune is Hawaiian for "child") to Grand Masters. The Menehunes were 13 and younger. The Grand Masters were 50 and older. They were the picture of grace on their long boards, hanging five, hanging 10, standing on moving water, beach-bound. The winners received leis and beautiful wooden bowls and polite applause.
Shelley Merrick, 51, of Ventura, Calif., won the Grand Masters division. She has been a competitive surfer since 1961 and she had never before been in a surfing event for women only. Late in the afternoon, with the air cooling and her hair still wet and a modest luau breaking out around her, she radiated joy. "The thing that was different," the grand master said, "was that everywhere you looked you saw girls in the water with smiles on their faces. Everyone was rooting for one another. Everyone just seemed so happy."