Saturday, January 31, 2009


[Editors' note: This is the fifth in a series of posts that recognizes the winners of the third annual creative competition sponsored by Kauai Backstory. This year's theme: Surf. Congratulations everyone.]

by Emily Rider
(Student at Kula High)

Putting a wave in a frame doesn't do it justice.
It has no ceiling, no floor, no walls, just a back door.
It allows me freedom,
Immersion in unfiltered experience.
Its blue eyes are unforgiving,
Never shy in punishment.
Yet it leaves me wanting more,
A path to a spiritual ecstasy that could never fade.
When I sit, stand, and paddle,
There are shadows that follow me,
Signs of reassurance yet, a deep vulnerability arises.

Finally able to let go, it starts,
Allowing me to slide into that parallel universe,
Where time changes.
It flies, runs in circles, flows backward, and skips around.
The subdued voices disappear,
And the winds take direction.
Finally, there's nothing left to be concealed.
In water all my thoughts are pure.
It takes me away from dull existence,
And brings excitement, danger, escape.
It is the peak of my life, the segment of rainbow I have clutched.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Remind Me I'm Alive

[Editors' note: This is the fourth in a series of posts that recognizes the winners of the third annual creative competition sponsored by Kauai Backstory. This year's theme: Surf. Congratulations everyone.]

by Ben House

When I was a kid I asked a neighborhood boy how to pray. He described something like a person-to-person phone call. I tried it once but no one spoke on the other end so I figured it didn't work.

Later I met many people who said god spoke to them, but not in the way that people speak to each other. Some hear god in the in rustling leaves or waterfall's roar. Others hear it in guitar's plucked strings or see it in an artist's brushstroke. Maybe god's voice comes in a baby's cry or a loved one's embrace. In his novel Contact, Carl Sagan wondered if we might find a message from god in the infinite digits of the number pi, a code written into the laws of geometry.

Light waves bring the world to my eyes and sound waves to my ears so I can perceive my world but what about the waves traveling across the ocean to the shores of Kauai? What do they bring? Is there a message for me or for us?

As I stand on the cliff to check the surfing conditions at Hideaways I wonder if my mind is big enough to grasp the enormity of what the sea would be saying if waves were words. Maybe it's more like music, with all the winds of the Pacific blowing a song ancient and unimaginably

With my feet on the motionless ground all I can do is wonder. But in the water on my surfboard I'm no longer a spectator. If the language of the ocean is beyond my mind's comprehension, I can still experience its motion in my body.

Maybe that's what I didn't understand when I tried to pray as a kid. Maybe god doesn't speak in the words we use because there are no words for what god has to say to us. It's only through experience that we ever really understand, anyway. I don't know if I could say what I've
learned surfing Kauai's warm waters. Is god loving or wrathful? The ocean can be both. Ecstasy, frustration, humility and more are all there. Above all, I always want more and the ocean always has more to offer.

I'm one of those people that wants answers but the ocean only gives up its secrets on its terms and it's more like poetry than prose, more like the moon with its shifting rhythms and cloud dances than the sun with its daily, decisive brilliance, more like a feeling than a thought. Maybe my body can feel the entirety of what my mind can only wonder at. It looks like a good day to go find out.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Watching Lincoln Surf

[Editors' Note: This is the third in a series of daily posts that will recognize the winners in the third annual creative contest sponsored by Kauai Backstory. This year's theme: Surf. Congratulations everyone.]

by Sandra Krawciw

now you are four months old
propped against your pillows
between the mountains and the sea
like king kamehameha
your smile is sunshine
your baby gap nightie is soft as sand,
fresh with fallen stars
yours surfer toes stick out the bottom
but it is your arms
that give you away
they are paddles
your eyes ask for the ocean

you stand on the board of my lap
balanced between my hands
your face parallels the lip
your knees bend for the cut
your toes are on the nose
trade winds own your hair
barrels meet you from the left and right
you ride through

your people watch from the shore
of the bed
they are amazed at
this extreme performance
aloha sprays over us all
like a wave

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Waterman

[Editor's Note: This is the second in a series of daily posts that will recognize the winners of the third annual creative contest sponsored by Kauai Backstory. This year's theme: Surf. Congratulations everyone.]

by Michelle Dick

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Surf Dog

[Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of daily posts that will recognize the winners of the third annual creative contest sponsored by Kauai Backstory. Congratulations everyone.]

by Frank Reilly

I moved to Kauai from New York nine years ago. Made a pretty concerted effort to leave as much of the New Yorker I knew myself to be there. But, you know, you can pack your bags as lightly as you’re able – and it’s still baggage.

I worked at a Manhattan advertising agency for fifteen years before that. And for fifteen years, I picked up speed. More to do and less time to do it, faster and faster, until my work life felt indistinguishable from the blur of images that blew by the window on my late night train ride home. Or was it my pre-dawn commute in? And did the direction matter?

At the end, the money was good. So good I didn’t think I could do without it. The urge to chuck it all was always counterbalanced by the fear that I couldn’t succeed at anything else. That I wouldn’t feel the same adrenaline rush I had been taking for granted for so long at the agency. That I wouldn’t be driven by the same ambition that had gotten me to where I was. And that drove me harder still. It was like I was trying to outrun myself.

Which begged the question: How to stop?

Remember that movie, the depression era period-piece? The one where the railroad bulls have the winded hobo cornered in the last box car of the freight train? And the hobo’s ready to jump, but the train is moving quickly enough that jumping promises the same beating that the bulls do? Maybe worse?

Well, I do.

Kauai was going to be my emergency brake. My stop sign.

* * * * *

We got the dog shortly after moving here, my wife and I. A lab mix from the Humane Society. He was sure to be the lap dog we needed. Every night he was going to climb onto the sofa lazily, drop his head in my lap, and fall asleep there. I had it all planned out. I could feel my blood pressure dropping just thinking about it.

Instead, he took to the water.

Turns out he was a surf dog.

We took him to Kealia every day so that he could swim. And he swam like he was made to do it. Like he wouldn’t choose to do anything else. I don’t remember coaxing him into the ocean. I don’t recall tentative pawing at the water’s edge, or the obligatory game of tag that anything young feels compelled to play with the comings and goings of sea
foam at the shoreline. He was just in the drink, always, as if he’d been given the gift of two mediums in which to thrive. He was amphibian.

But being in the water didn’t seem to be enough. He needed to be in the water with intent. He needed to be swimming toward something. And the horizon, as jaw-droppingly beautiful as it can be on Kauai’s beaches, doesn’t offer much to the goal oriented.

So after a while he’d just stand at the shore line–and bark.

Only a dog could get away with that, with a loudly voiced complaint aimed squarely at the Pacific Ocean. Imagine a tourist at the water’s edge, screaming “but it’s listed in 101 Things To Do as an activity! I’m sorry, but gently rolling waves are not a “Thing To Do”!

And so, the lab owner’s favorite verb: fetch.

Which quickly evolved into a routine as complex and unvaried in execution as high mass at the Vatican. He’d burst out of the barely open car door, catch sight of the tennis ball I hadn’t tried hard enough to hide (because chasing sticks was passé after week one), and bounce and spin in front of me wildly, his front paws lurching forward, trying to gain footing on anything – the passing thigh, abdomen, testicle – that could be used to vault him within snapping distance of that tennis ball. That tennis ball!

Within a few months, I’d come to the beach armed with a canister of tennis balls, because he’d never relinquish one if there wasn’t another to pursue. I’d throw them out to sea, again and again, farther and farther, and he’d dutifully retrieve them all, his snout piercing through breaking waves five times his size – like some bizarrely hirsute surfacing submarine – just to get at them.

After 45 minutes of frenetic activity, it would reach the point where I’d be approached by tourists, usually-land-locked dog lovers with worried looks in their eyes, asking me pointedly if it was a good idea to have him swim out so far, if I wasn’t pushing him too hard.

Then I would stop throwing so they could witness his fury. So they could hear, first-hand, his hoarse howls of disgust at a tennis-ball-less sea.

The writing, as they say, was on the wall. We had adopted a pet with a type A personality.

This dog, it seemed, desperately needed an emergency brake. A stop sign.

* * * * *

It was a typical day at Kealia. Warmth in the light breeze, the clouds taking on the rosy tint that comes with a setting sun. The jetty side of the beach was clogged with young families, so my surf dog and I took our Spalding canister to the beaches’ mid-point, where we could engage in our fetch fetish without interruption.

The riptides in this section of the beach were well known to locals long before traffic cones and danger signs started sprouting there, as they have in the recent past, like the mature growth that had to come from our collective fear of liability. But me – what did I know?

When I threw that one ball…that one ball…I knew, somehow, that it had gone too far. I was pushing my luck, our luck, a little too hard. And that was before I realized that I had broken the cardinal rule of tennis ball fetch.

My dog hadn’t watched me throw.

And if he didn’t see the ball arc over the sea, if he didn’t see the splashdown, then nothing had been thrown.

So he sat there, dumbly staring at my hands, waiting for another launch.

I only had one ball left. And one ball meant one thing. After every throw, I would have to wrestle to get that one ball back. And that wrestling match would involve all the attendant teeth baring and flying saliva you would expect. From me and the dog.

So I dove in.

A hundred yards out, no big deal, I could use the exercise, right? And the swimming was easy. It was only when I got to the ball and turned around that I realized why the swimming was easy. Because the swim back wasn’t.

You take those public service announcements for granted. I had no idea it was a waste of time to swim against a rip tide. So I swam against a rip tide. And I kept swimming, blind to my predicament, convinced that I had plenty of energy to get back to shore.

And then I felt that paw come down on my shoulder.

My surf dog saw what I was swimming for, and he’d be damned if I’d get his ball.

I recognized something in his insistence as he was pushing me further and further under water. Something in the adrenaline-crazed look in his eye, in his naked ambition. And that thought rolled through my head a while before I had the presence of mind, when I came to the surface, gasping, to throw the ball ahead of me, to give unto the surf dog what belonged to the surf dog.

* * * * *

Metaphors and allegories are powerful things.

And there’s no sense in writing if you’re not prepared to see the makings of them in just about everything in life. Sometimes those real-world moments of inspiration can be comically over-the-top, too – so much so that they’re completely unbelievable on the printed page. I once watched a bird feather its nest with a ropy strand of bright yellow police-crime-scene “caution” tape.

I remember thinking “that bird will never get published”.

But sometimes you’ll see yourself at the center of a real situation that’s perfect fodder for a story. And if you feel the urge to write it, it is my contention, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, that you have that realization for a reason: Because you’ve refused to acknowledge all the rough drafts that came before it. Like the one where a tightly-wound and less-than-self-aware New Yorker is gifted with a type-A dog. Or the one where the type-A New Yorker, who is unable to acknowledge the type-A-ness of his dog, feeds said dog’s frenzied instincts with too many well thrown tennis balls into the raging Pacific.

As my swimming stroke weakened and I saw the situation for what it was, I calmed down, oddly enough. It was like I had passed through heavy rains of panic and settled into the eye of what I knew to be a nasty storm. Then I had one of those random moments of clarity. The kind that only seem to accompany tragic situations, like those you’d read about in pulpy, Back-From-The-Grave testimonials.

At that moment, I saw the metaphor I was flailing through for exactly what it was: I was swimming harder and harder towards a beach that wasn’t getting any closer. I might as well have been back in New York on that early morning train to work, falling asleep, a three-page To Do List slipping through my fingers.

Then I was out of the eye and back into the storm. I swam as hard as I could for as long as I could, so fearful that I would look up to see that I hadn’t moved forward an inch that I just didn’t look up. And when I couldn’t swim any more, when I was completely drained, I let my legs drift down. And I was beyond relieved to immediately feel sand
between my toes.

As I staggered back up the shore, my surf dog was right beside me, looking none the worse for wear, the bright yellow ball locked tightly in his teeth.

I sat down heavily and looked out at the vast, undulating carpet of blue-green that stretched out to the horizon, the tennis-ball-less sea. And my surf dog lay down lazily at my side and dropped his head in my lap.

No, really.

Then his jaws loosened and the tennis ball rolled back down the embankment and into the water. And we both watched as it was sucked out again by the same tide. He started to move toward it, too, but a gentle tug on his collar was enough to restrain him. He was dog-tired, after all.

It felt good to just cradle him there.

And the ball got harder to see as it drifted farther away. Another metaphor, and fairly over-the-top, too. Still, a pretty clear lesson:

It’s a tennis ball, for Christ’s sake, let the ocean take it.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Reading Date

The reading date for winners and runners up of the 2008 Kauai Backstory Creative Competition is Monday, January 26, 2009 at Small Town Coffee in Kapaa, starting at 7:00 p.m.

All winners and runners up are invited to read and asked to RSVP to, so we can plan accordingly.