Incident at Eke Moku

Gerry Lopez
Featured in our Summer 2005 catalog

“Surf Realization has a way of sneaking up on you not only in the surf but even more so in daily life. Pay attention because the lessons are fleeting but the rewards of “getting it” are great indeed.”

Before surf leashes we seldom surfed the place they now call La Perouse. The sharp lava shoreline was death to lost boards. Still, we knew that this place often produced waves twice the size of other South Shore spots in the Islands. On a sizeable swell, this bay could create surf of serious intensity.

Once, my friend Brad and I arrived to find the surf small and crowded. Worse, at the lookout a group of loud-mouthed surfers complained bitterly of the long car ride and the lack of waves. Cursing the spot, they packed up and left. No sooner had they turned their backs and started walking out the lava trail, a nice set rolled in over the reef. When the complainers were gone, the surf started pumping. The area is what the Hawaiians called Eke Moku (a place where everyone is equal, there is no difference between ali‘i or maka‘ainana, where one cannot cast a spell, where no evil is – this is the ancient Hawaiian name for the cove). We could feel a pleasant presence there. We believed in the place. We were careful to show respect at every opportunity, cleaning up after ourselves and others as we went.

The outside peak at Eke Moku is difficult to line up because it is so far out in the bay. The sets appear rather suddenly, with little warning. One day when the sets were plentiful and the rides long, we started talking during a lull and a set snuck up on us. Everyone started paddling toward the right shoulder, to no avail. I was sitting deepest and saw no chance in that direction. There looked like a small chance to the left, so without hesitation I headed that way. I somehow managed to duck dive through the peak and escape the pounding the others took. The set swept them inside, and I rode several waves while they made their way back into the takeoff zone.

My friend Brad noticed this, and when he asked I told him that around the left side was an easy escape. When the next set loomed up, again we were too far inside. Brad and I both went to the left. He was a bit farther out when the first wave pitched out. He was in a position to duckdive, while I was right where the thick lip was going to land.

I bailed off my board expecting to let the leash take the punishment. I dove for the bottom. With my surfboard dragging me toward shore, the lateral pull of the leash kept me from being able to swim to the surface. The thought entered my mind that I wasn't going to be able to get up before the next wave. I immediately quit struggling and tried to relax. Holding your breath when trapped underwater produces either a very calming effect or, if the mind generates it, panic.

I figured I would make my move as the next wave rolled over me and the backside rolled to the surface. I hoped to ride this energy up, but the tension from the leash was still too powerful. I could see the surface above me, but I was still in the grip of the lateral current. I had been down a while and would need to breathe soon.

I imagine what happens in these situations is that the mouth opens underwater trying to suck air and then it's all over. I kept my mouth clamped shut.

Finally, in desperation, I clawed my way up and just managed to break the surface when the third wave broke over me. The exploding wave pushed me in, and I felt that terrifying tension on my leash slacken. I finally made it to the surface, sucked some air, and pulled in my surfboard. I got a grip on it just as the next wave hit me like a dump truck.

Nothing was going to get my board away from me now – I held on for my life. The set kept coming, and I could feel myself being pushed in toward the jagged lava shore. I knew the shoreline was getting closer, so I stole a glance behind me to see where I was. I couldn’t believe my good fortune: I was directly in front of a very narrow beach of smooth rocks.

I turned around and quickly scrambled ashore, sucking hard, filling my lungs with sweet air, and thinking about how I had somehow managed to survive being held under for not just two waves but three. The brief corridor was the only smooth access into or out of the water on this whole side of the bay. Afterwards, I would believe that it was just more Eke Moku at work, taking care of those with respect for the Manakai, or “life of the sea.”

I learned to hold on to my board at all costs. I also learned that letting go of the desire to breathe allowed me to hold my breath much longer than I thought possible. I’m certain that the greater lesson was to let go of desire. My inner compass steered me to that release point only for the time I was underwater. I am still working on letting go in the rest of my life. Surf Realization has a way of sneaking up on you. This is true, not only in the surf but even more so in daily life. Pay attention because the lessons are fleeting but the rewards of “getting it” are great indeed. Keep paddling.

About the Author

Entire books could be written about Patagonia ambassador Gerry Lopez. Suffice it to say Gerry made his reputation at Pipeline, riding it like nobody else before him, or since. From there he went on to a lifelong career in surfing – he is as charismatic, intelligent and intuitive on land as he is in the waves.