The crazy thing is the ocean was flat for an hour before it suddenly tried to drown me.
There were maybe 20 of us in the lineup waiting for a wave, and nothing was happening. Maybe 3 guys caught waves in that first hour. I was starting to think about paddling in a little bit and catching a smaller wave breaking closer to shore and calling it a day. But I didn’t. Like everyone else, I was waiting for the big waves to come.
A couple days prior I’d caught the biggest wave of my life. It was 8 feet, maybe 10, I don’t know exactly because I didn’t see it. I just remember the feeling of being picked up and staring down a massive hill of water as I popped to my feet and dropped down its face, dug in my heels and turned right before hearing it detonate behind me. Then I full-on screamed, I couldn’t help it. I was narrowly avoiding being crushed by a school bus of water. It was the best wave of my life.
Just like all the other guys, I was staring out to sea, watching for the first big waves to come. Then one came. There was a bulge on the horizon, darker than the rest of the ocean. Everyone watched it without much interest because the first wave is usually the smallest. The second, third, and fourth waves have all the power. The shitty thing is because of the up and down motion of the ocean, you only get to see one wave at a time. As one passes below you and lifts you up, you see over the hump and there’s the next one. Maybe it’s small, maybe it’s the biggest wave you’ve ever seen in your life. You don’t know until the last wave passes.
When you’re at the bottom of a big wave you don’t get to see much of anything. This is where nightmares form. I watch the guys at the top of the oncoming wave, and if they go from a relaxed, sitting position to urgent paddling, I don’t even question it. I paddle out like my fucking life depends on it before I’ve even seen the next wave, just based on everyone else’s reaction. Paddling out to sea is how you get over a wave before it breaks. You can paddle over a wave while it’s still forming. But once it breaks, you’re pretty much fucked.
You only have 20 seconds between waves, so acting early is good. When I saw those front guys start paddling as quickly as they did, I knew the time for sitting around was over. I just gave it as hard as I could toward the oncoming waves. Cresting the second wave, I looked over it and was fully terrified. What I saw was a dark wall of water, 15 feet high. The wave was already vertical, and as wide as the horizon. I barely made it over that one and there was another one right behind it. I had enough speed to get over its shoulder without being devoured, but the guys behind me weren’t as lucky. With a loud BOOM and a few seconds of blowback water like torrential rain the wave broke just as I crested it, annihilating all the surfers paddling behind me. I looked back over my shoulder and saw boards everywhere, random heads and harms thrashing in the churning foam. The wail of a jet ski as the lifeguard hauled guys out of the water.
“Look at that!” Someone said. He was off to my right, a bit ahead. He was pointing way out to sea. I looked at where he was pointing and saw a wave far off in the distance to our left, the biggest wave I’d ever seen in my life. It looked 20 feet high and was breaking out on the horizon. It was so far away and the waves around us were so loud we couldn’t hear it, which was terrifying. Like watching an atomic bomb go off and but with no noise.
Seeing a wave that big breaking that far away meant we didn’t have a lot of time before something similar was going to happen where we were. So we paddled, the two of us, like animals. Big waves came, and we got over them. I couldn’t tell how big, but the guy said 15 feet. My eyes were probably pretty wide because he looked at me and said, “We maybe have 10 minutes or so before that happens again, and if it does we’ll get washed back to shore. If it gets bigger though, to 20 feet, we’re not getting in here. We’ll have to paddle to Waimea.”
Waimea was a couple miles away.
“Yup I think I’ll go in then. Are you going in?” I asked.
“Ya we can go together.”
I was pretty fucking happy to have this guy with me. The jet ski was still rescuing people. We paddled for a bit and eventually the jet ski came to check on us.
“IT’S CRAZY OUT HERE!” The lifeguard yelled. “THAT CAME OUT OF NOWHERE!” Then he pointed at me and shouted, “DO YOU WANT A TOW IN?”
“YES!” I shouted back at him. Pretty god damn sure I had never looked so happy about anything in my life.
The lifeguard checked with the other guy, who shouted “I’M A DISTANCE PADDLER, I’LL JUST PADDLE TO WAIMEA IF IT GETS BAD!”
“YOU WOULD!” The lifeguard replied. They apparently knew each other.
I paddled my board onto the raft thing on the back of the jet ski and grabbed the rubber half-rings mounted to it. The lifeguard watched me do this until he was satisfied that I was sufficiently attached to his vehicle, then wasted no more time in absolutely pinning it back toward shore. We were in the air as much as we were in the water.
“WHEN I SAY LET GO, LET GO, OK?” The lifeguard yelled over his shoulder.
I expected him to slow down, but I guess you can let go of a jet ski at a pretty fast clip and you just flop around in the water a bit. Anyway that’s what I did because he didn’t slow down much, and when I surfaced I was only 30 feet from shore. This distance I panic-paddled in no time at all, and was on solid ground again at last.
I found Lia and from the look on her face, she’d been pretty worried. She gave me a big hug. Isla gave me a hug too, but it was her normal hug. She didn’t seem to have noticed that her dad was as close as he’d ever come to not coming back from surfing. I was very shaken up from the whole thing, and was still a bit in shock that evening. I definitely had that feeling of a near death experience where it’s hard to think about much else for a number of hours. I was dazed. Like I didn’t really know what to do next. I still feel that way a bit. Some things seem to matter a lot more, and some things seem to matter a lot less than before. It will probably wear off over time.
Here’s a surfer catching a big wave at Sunset Beach (where all this happened):
In Hawaii there are a lot of people who are very good at being in the water, which often involves being involuntarily underwater for long periods of time. Last week I went surfing with a guy who had spent 17 years as a pro bodyboarder. Here’s a picture of him escaping death (photo credit):
When a man can hold his breath for almost 6 minutes, I immediately respect what he has to say on the subject. There’s a lot to practice to get to that level, but fundamentally there’s also a method anyone can use to significantly lower their heart rate (a skill I previously thought required becoming a monk and years of meditation on a mountain somewhere) and subsequently prolong breath-holding abilities.
They call it “breathing like a mermaid.” This method is employed by free divers hours before entering the water, as well as by professional surfers, bodyboarders, and probably the full gamut of aquatic athletes.
You do this:
Big, quick inhale (only a few seconds) followed by long exhale (a minute or more). Try it. I found it really difficult to exhale continuously for over a minute, but I could see how hours of breathing like this would train lung capacity and slow down my heart rate.
And now you know how mermaids breathe: quick in, long out.
I recently discovered all of my old journals and sketchbooks from my late teens and twenties, high school through college and into “real life.”
The spooky parts were the bits where I wrote about what I wanted, or where I wanted to go, or what I wanted to do in the future. Most, maybe all, of those things have become reality. This isn’t unique to me. I just listened to Debbie Millman’s podcast with Tim Ferriss and she goes into way more detail about it than I do here, so if you’re curious you should listen to the full episode.
It’s as close to believing in baloney like The Secret as I’m willing to go, and the only reason I do believe that writing about your own future is an effective method in realizing your dreams is because that pattern has been revealing itself in my own life.
The exercise goes like this: write down what a typical day looks like for you 10 years from now. Go into crazy detail. Specify everything from what your spouse smells like to how many kids you have and what their hobbies are. Go from waking up to falling asleep at night, and everything in between. Again, as much detail as possible. I’ll do one now so you can read it and maybe do one of your own. I swear, so far whenever I’ve written these, they’ve done way more good than bad. For example, the first time I wrote about wanting to earn $10,000/month passive income I think I was earning $200-$400 passively. That number is now over $2000. Under $8000 to go!
OK here’s my dream day, January 30th 2027:
I wake up fully rested, early. Like, when the sun is just coming up early. The first birds are doing their thing, but not all of them.
My house is quiet. We have land, by the water. I can hear the waves against the shore. There are old trees on the property too, and I can hear the breeze in the branches just outside my bedroom window, which is on the second floor of the house.
Lia’s in bed with me. Maybe some of our kids come running in and jump on us. Maybe two are old enough to do that, and the other one is too small so they had to carry him/her in. The baby’s shat itself and Isla’s 10 so she can do a pretty good job of changing the diaper, which she does. The kids are happy. Lia and I are happy. We’re somewhere warm, or cold, it doesn’t really matter, but we’re together. Is it our house? I don’t know. Maybe it’s somewhere we’re staying for a while. It feels like home, wherever it is.
Anyway, we get up and shower. The bathroom is connected to the bedroom, I know that’s important to Lia and now that I think of it I like it too. The whole family doesn’t shower. Actually I don’t even think I shower. Nobody showers, we just get up and brush our teeth and do our thing, there’s a breeze coming in so it can’t be winter at this point, wherever we are.
Big breakfast gets made. Isla and her younger bro/sis help but mainly I do the cooking. Lia makes a smoothie or a salad or something. The food I make is fucking terrible for you but delicious. I’ve gotten pretty decent at cooking all kinds of things over the past 10 years. I’ve even figured out how the FUCK to make sourdough god damn bread. Fuck.
Isla says “FUCK” when she burns herself on something hot and nobody cares about the swearing.
Things feel easy, calm, peaceful. Real chilled out. There will be higher-energy stuff because that’s in our blood. But for the morning, things are calm.
Family breakfast, no fucking phones. There’s a mini gong and the baby smashes it with something hard and we all hold hands and feel gratitude for whatever until it finishes ringing. Might take a minute. This isn’t religious, it’s just presence and coming together in a token way as a family.
We eat. Food’s great. Kids pack it in like animals. Lia’s smoothie isn’t just greens and water, it tastes good. Dates or something. But we’ve hit that balance between my version of a smoothie (which would include ice cream) and hers (which often smells like a fresh cut lawn).
Off to activities. Do we exist in some kind of permanent vacation? Not in a conventional way. It’s like a ninja-in-the-mountains kind of training. Like when Bruce Wayne becomes a part of the League of Shadows before becoming Batman. We’re all studying different, or the same, things and that sometimes influences our location for a while. If we all want to learn to surf, as an obvious example, we would need to be in a place like Nosara Costa Rica for several months. Or roadtripping along a coast, preferably with waves that wouldn’t drown my god damn children (or me). Soooooo not Hawaii.
This sounds like we live in a trailer, which we very well may.
Late morning, the kids are studying something or another or we’re surfing or have just finished surfing or hiking or doing something we’ve never done before. Safe to say there’s a good deal of variety in our lives at this point. Lia’s a yoga pro by now, of course. Nobody doubted that for even a second.
I think I’m much better at web design than I currently am – like scary good, and “Full Stack” so capable of building full-on god damn anything I want. With databases and users and automatic two-step verification and payment processing. I know how to do all kinds of shit, and I have clients that love it and pay me to do it from wherever I am.
I am the ninja in the mountain.
Lunch time – again we maybe get food somewhere or eat something simple. I don’t want my family to get too extravagant. I’d like to be able to feed us but I’m also horny about efficiency. When I cook, there are leftovers (which taste damn good) and nobody complains about eating it for a day or three after the fact. I make good money but I don’t spend it like an asshole. In fact, a decent amount of it gets invested, donated, used for travel in a modest way.
The kids are awesome. I’m reminded of that every so often. Not every time I look at them or my brain would burn out, but a couple times a day let’s say. They piss me off too but I like that about them, they challenge things. They’re not pussies. They speak back and fight me the best they can and I usually win but sometimes they do and that’s the best moment of all, because it means they’re learning and they’re independent. They’re learning how to use their tools, and they’re pumped about it. Lia and I reward their efforts profusely. Our kids are really starting to turn into gritty little bastards, and it’s awesome. Sure, they’re weak sometimes too, and that’s OK – so am I and so is Lia and we show them that it’s OK to be vulnerable. These aren’t machines. They’re kids, but you get where I’m going with this.
Lunch is done and we’re driving, why not? I know I woke up in a house but I think I was confused. I’m probably in a kick ass trailer. We own a property or a couple properties but Lia AirBnBs them when we’re away.
I think we’re driving somewhere none of us have been before. It isn’t sketchy, it’s safe. There’s no real stress about this trip.
I don’t think we own the trailer. I think we’ve rented it, because we’re going to leave it in some town in Sweden and get in a rented sailboat and sail somewhere cool. Lia and I have heard about these islands where people sail and camp throughout them. Maybe we’re there. Maybe we know some Swedish and that’s what the kids were studying before lunch.
I check in with the office and things are normal, I have a bit of work to get through and it takes me an hour or so. Nothing crazy. All of my clients are very cool people, they know who I am and what my life is like. They’re cool with it.
We set sail, maybe we catch a fish or something and maybe by then I know how to clean and cook a fish. That’s dinner.
The kids are documenting these things. They already have developed little followings of their own. They get the value in connecting with their own online audiences and communities and they also earn modest incomes of their own and I probably don’t really understand it fully because I’m 41 and the social side of the internet has long left me behind. I just don’t have time for that shit.
Evening is closing in, the sun is setting. The water is glass. Maybe I do some sketching or watercolour painting or writing. Lia and I have some alone time. The kids have friends I guess, they’re hanging out with them for a bit. Things get steamy on our boat, BOW CHICKA WOW WOW.
Everyone is together before bed. We hang out on the boat and watch the stars. Lia still almost shits herself every time she sees a shooting star. The kids have inherited that from her so actually all of them almost or actually shit themselves as a result of shooting stars. We heat up some hot chocolate, Lia puts cheese in hers. Isla crushes cherry tomatoes into hers. The other kids are normal, they just drink it plain like I do.
We pack into our small sleeping quarters, chat a bit, then one by one we pass out. The kids talk in their sleep but I can’t hear it over Lia’s epic snoring.
It’s my first shot at sharing virtual reality files, so I’m not sure how this will display on your various devices but probably the best thing to do is to download Google Cardboard and get a Google Cardboard viewer and view these files that way. The viewer allows for audio and the two lenses create an immersive experience. It’s pretty cool.
This is the view from our Waikiki condo rental:
In the distance in the previous image you can see a mountain-looking thing. It’s actually a crater called Diamond Head. We hiked to the top of it one day and here’s a VR shot of that too:
All this was done before 11am. Crazy what can happen when you’re up an hour before sunrise. Of course, no virtual reality tour of a day in Waikiki would be compete without a sunset beach panorama:
5 hours jet lag and a toddler waking up at 4am puts a different kind of spin on travel. It’s like we’ve relapsed into newborn-era sleep deprivation, but redemption comes in the form of everyone being extremely nice to us (on account of the toddler). That and the weather is fucking incredible. The rain isn’t even rain. It happens daily, it’s like that falling mist for anyone familiar with the same effect occurring at Niagara Falls. With the heat, it’s generally welcome. Like those stupid mist-yourself-in-the-face bottles that were popular last summer with joggers.
So far my big fear of surfers bullying me out of good waves hasn’t happened yet because there haven’t been any “good” waves – just modest hip-high stuff the local population doesn’t care about. But I gobble it up! The worst surf here is still as good or better than the best on the Lakes.
Working remotely hasn’t been a problem. The timing is also good because most of my clients have wrapped it up for Christmas anyway.
Waikiki is expensive. Pave The Beach in Toronto and plant Yorkville directly along Ashbridges Bay, and that’s kind of what Waikiki is – this yuppy offshoot of a much more urban Honolulu. Things are white and asian and rich here. Japanese writing on everything. Walking the sidewalks is an opportunity to trip over $5000 miniature dogs while their owners struggle to manage armfuls of shopping bags embossed with brands I can’t pronounce properly. Real Christmas trees shipped in from mainland.
Step outside of Waikiki and into a dramatically less manicured Honolulu for a chance to see an Asian woman chasing a shoplifter down the street, hitting him with a broom stick while her husband attempts to hit the man with a projectile Diet Coke. The can misses and ruptures, spraying wildly all over the sidewalk, which was already covered in broken glass. I don’t think you can quite call it poverty, just a perfectly contrasted bit of rich and poor America sharing the same stretch of coastline.
Throughout the day intermittent bursts of urgent yelling drifts up 25 storeys and reminds us of our proximity to the canal, and to a thriving dragon boating community.
Dollar pints and $4 pitchers are available if you don’t mind hiking 20 minutes into town to get drunk at the mall in the Shirokiya Japanese Food Court. Apparently it’s the place to be on Saturday nights. Cheap beer and a wild variety of menus covering everything from sushi to curry udon to gyoza and garlic chicken. I asked a fat security guard what his favourite place was in the food court, he refused to commit to suggesting one because he eats at all of them and apparently they’re all awesome. Isla found a Christmas display and tore into the cotton snow before peeing on the floor.
We’ve made her an igloo out of the memory foam mattress I used to pack my surfboard for the flight over. Air Canada still managed to smash the side of it, the cunts. No free food on a 10 hour flight either, so we bought $7 Kraft Dinner and some other airplane food. The foam igloo muffles sound and keeps it dark while Isla sleeps, day or night.
Having the stroller is a godsend. We weren’t sure if it was the right thing to do to bring it or not, which adequately illustrates how inaccurately Lia and I imagined what it would be like to move around with a toddler and without a car. We have a lot of shit wherever we go, and we make full use of the stroller’s ability to take a respectable amount of said shit in addition to loads of groceries. It’s bad when the downward force on the frame causes the wheels to buckle outward and make me wonder what the actual weight restriction is on the thing. I don’t imagine it’s built to withstand what we’re putting it through – but so far it’s holding up!
4 more days here then onto Makaha with a rented car. From there, excursions to other parts of the island to scout for potential locations to stay for longer spans of time. I’m working on getting my paddling up to par before exposure to larger surf. The West and North are supposed to offer impressive conditions during these next few months, and I’d hate to be in a position to not be surfing because it’s too good.