I work for a "legacy airline" (that moniker alone deserves its own post) and once a week I am paid to fly to Honolulu and surf. For the average land-locked beach bum, this would more than suffice. Afflicted as I am with a reach that always exceeds my grasp, I hatched a plan to improve on this routine: buy a car on the island, equip it to hold a "quiver" of different surfboards, and drive myself, during my 24-hour layover, to wherever the surf was best.
From April to October the surf on Oahu's South Shore is consistent and world-class. With a bicycle or a good pair of slaps, you can ride or walk to most of the better spots in less than an hour; one of the best is literally across the street from my hotel! From November to March, however, the action is all on the North Shore, from Haleiwa Town to Pupukea and Laie, home to famous spots like Pipeline, Sunset, and Rocky Point. The North Shore is about an hour's drive from "Town," which means Honolulu, and although you can load a bike on the rack on the front of Da Bus, you can't bring your surfboard! So you need a car.
And I found a car—a 1995 Dodge Caravan, described in its Craigslist ad as a "North Shore surf rat van," and that's exactly what it was. I rode the bus to the Foodland parking lot in Pupukea and met the owner, Aki, a haole, who was moving back to Alaska with his island wife and blond kids. The van was as promised: banged up, rusty, sandy, surf racks on the roof, a 140,000-mile piece of crap. But it started, drove, stopped, and had a great stereo, and seemed to be worth the $800 asking price, so I bought it and drove back to Town with my bike in back. ("Hey, honey, the cruise control even works!")
I set to work making the rat van my own: I ran it through a car wash to see if the up-country red dirt would come off (it didn't), tore out the middle and rear seats to make room for surfboards, and scrubbed the interior down with Simple Green. I had the windows tinted black to keep the contents concealed. I signed up for monthly employee parking privileges at Honolulu Airport. I filled it with gas and oil, and covered two gaping holes in the roof with Bondo and aluminum flashing tape to keep the rain out.
Every time I returned to the island, new generations of ants emerged from the dash. The van had a funky smell (maybe it really was a rat van) and when I stepped out of it, I smelled funky too. Various dashboard warning lights blinked on and off, but the thing ran and ran and got me to the North Shore and back half a dozen times. I tried to install a surf rack in the back, and failed. On my last trip to the North Shore, the transmission shifted into "limp mode" (meaning it stayed in 3rd gear all the time) and wouldn't come out. I nursed it back to Town and Kevin at Aamco Transmissions eventually determined I needed a whole new tranny—to the tune of $2400 or $3100, depending.
Even I know you don't put a $2400 transmission in an $800 van. The car would have to go. My conscience wouldn't permit me to sell the van to anyone outside of the dismantling industry. After a call to JunkMyCar.com, some beefy guy showed up with a tow truck and a hundred and forty bucks and I watched him hook up the rat van and haul it down Koa Avenue, and as it went I felt weight literally lifting off my shoulders. Because, while the van offered the freedom to roam the island looking for waves, it also meant sitting in traffic trying to get to the airport. The van provided a rent-free place to store lots of surfboards and a bicycle, but I never stopped worrying about someone breaking in and stealing my stuff. Above all, the van required expensive gas (the average in Town is $3.75 a gallon), a place to park, additional insurance, and ultimately a costly mechanical repair that I could not afford. It turned my layovers into work time—and the greatest irony of all, I actually surfed less when I had the van.
|My version of making a Van Gogh.|
This morning I got up before dawn and walked down Kalakauwa Avenue to the little beach in front of the Aquarium. I carried my new 9'2" longboard and a towel. I paddled out to a spot called Publics, and my buddy Allen was the only other surfer out. We shared waves for 30 minutes before a couple other friends joined us. Just offshore a pod of humpback whales lumbered east towards Molokai. Nearer to us, but just out of reach, green turtles popped up and down. Butterfly fish twirled beneath my feet in the clear water above the reef. A little bump of a wave sprang up, an unpromising 2-footer that I almost let go. It threw more lip across the reef than I expected, hollow and clean on the inside, and it turned into the wave of the day! I stayed out a couple hours, then walked back down the busy sidewalk to my hotel. No car, no problem. Rectified.