In the early 1950s I belonged to the Outrigger Canoe Club on Waikiki Beach. In those days Waikiki had only two large hotels, the Royal Hawaiian and Moana. The Outrigger Club was between them, at the very heart of the beach. I spent nearly every free day there, playing doubles volleyball on the sand courts, surfing when the waves were up, spearfishing on the reefs offshore, training and paddling in six-man canoe races and, perhaps most time-consuming of all, chasing after girls staying at the hotels. A group of six or eight of us hung out together. We were 13 or 14, just breaking into high school sports, starting to drink a little Primo beer and trying hard to convince ourselves and anyone else who would pay attention that we were kids no longer.
Once, when I was 14, I had a chance to prove how much of a man I had become. I had arrived at the club early, about 8 a.m., which was long before I could expect to see my friends. As soon as I had changed into my swimming shorts, I walked through the passageway from the clubhouse out between the canoe sheds to the deserted beach. The sea was unusually calm, the tide was low, the water very clear. It was no day for surfing, but conditions were ideal for spearing fish.
I was considering going out alone when Sammy came along the passageway behind me. Sammy was a beachboy, a powerfully built Hawaiian of 30 or so, an easygoing sort who was willing to laugh at nearly anything until he had a few drinks, when he quickly became a person well worth avoiding.
"Good day to spear," he said by way of a greeting. "See that? Low and clear. Want to go?"
"Who else? Nobody else around here, bruddah."
"Sure, I'll go."
Five minutes later we had loaded spears, slings, fins and masks, a bailing bucket and an anchor into a two-man canoe.
"We got a long way to go," Sammy said not long after we left the beach. "Can you dive 30 feet?"
I was used to spearing in depths of six to 12 feet. "Sure," I said. "I think so."