If man is not ready to risk his life, where is his dignity?
"Lumahai. Ten minutes. The ocean's a little wobbly, so we're just going for some, uh, massage. Some chiropractic.... It'll be good for the aches and pains. Let's get wet. Ten minutes. Aloha."
The voice on the other end of the phone radiates a manic energy, the sort of devilish intensity that makes imperative what most rational adults would deem, at this bleary predawn hour, questionable. The voice wants to go bodysurfing. The voice belongs to Laird Hamilton, one of the best big-wave surfers in the world. The waves he surfs for a living are too large to describe. A city block in mid- Manhattan conveys the scale of one of these things, the breadth and the tonnage, but not its evil velocity or murderous intentions. These are great, fat, 50-foot growlers that travel thousands of miles to lift you up, fill your spirit with the giddy music of the spheres and then kill you. You won't find enough figurative language to evoke their enormity in any dictionary or thesaurus. The one literary source eloquent on things of such monstrous surge and speed and malevolence is the Bible. Old Testament.
This morning, though, it's little waves, he says. Just for fun. Puny, really. A lark. Mr. Hamilton has promised several times not to make anyone dead.
So. Seventeen minutes out of a warm, dry hotel bed, the sun no more than a bright idea behind the razorbacked greenscape of Kauai, a chalky, rumpsprung mainlander is going over the falls in six-foot surf, maybe eight—puny, really—getting rag-dolled, biffed in the shorebreak, swept up and spat out at the top of the wave (Hey, I can see my hotel from here!), flung far into space and then down onto the hardpan of Lumahai Beach, an epic crash, hammered into the sand headfirst like a countersunk nail and held there until that mouthful of Hawaiian seashore has been chewed 32 times (Just how Mama taught you!), and then it's skywatersandskywatersandskywatersand as you get sucked back into the white tumble of the next wave and your many useless body parts reorient themselves sequentially through the four points of the compass (Hey, I can see my own ass from here!), and maybe it's the rupturing filter organs or the imminent anaerobic blackout, but you realize this is just like being mugged—first the thing sneaks up behind you, then it knocks you down and stands on your throat while it goes through your pockets—and as you're thinking all this and your bathing suit wraps itself around your ankles, the last wave of the set sweeps you back onto the beach and deposits you there, brine-salted and boneless, for the crabs and package tourists to gawk at.
Time passes. Mr. Hamilton, beaming, handsome as an action figure and back-lit by a 24-karat sun that now seems much higher in the sky, leans down, checking in to make sure we've all had fun. Strikes a pose like the Rockefeller Center Prometheus and says, "This is what you looked like inside that last wave. Very powerful. Very Fifties. A classic."
Shouldn't someone be scrambling the rescue helicopter?
"We oughta call you Crusher!" Hamilton says. "That was a dynamite wave! Two sticks! Ka-BOOM!"
Who here has CPR training?
"Man, you just exploded!"