The Universe According to Guava

Respect is All You Need to Surf Monster Waves

May 1, 2002
Outside Magazine

An aerial view of Kauai's Hanalie Bay

GUAVA JOE HAD LINEBACKER SHOULDERS, bowlegs, sun-bleached dirty-blond hair, and that hint of cynicism that comes from carving a life out of instructing landlocked tourists in Hawaii's highest art form—surfing. My friends and I met him at Kayak Kauai, an outfitter and boat rental in the north-shore town of Hanalei.

"You ladies looking for a surf lesson?" he asked, without introduction.

We were. But we'd heard that monster winter waves had killed two tourists and one local surfer in the last week, and all we knew about this guy, aside from his fruity name, was that he appeared to be a Coppertone cliché. So we chatted him up.

"I'm just a soul surfer, I've never really competed," he told us. But the 42-year-old did seem qualified. He grew up in New Hampshire, started surfing at age five, sailed from the U.S. Virgin Islands to Massachusetts before he was 20, and moved to Kauai for the waves in 1983.

"Girls are so much easier to teach," Guava baited us. "Guys try too hard."

We bit.

The next morning, we met Guava and our longboards at the pier on Hanalei Bay. Spanning two miles, with the crenulated mountains of the Na Pali Coast to the west and the combed sand of the luxurious Princeville Hotel to the east, Hanalei Bay is the stuff of honeymoon fantasies. Much to our surprise, it was also an excellent spot for a newbie surfer to catch a wave, with a distant reef breaking the 12-foot tubes and allowing them to reform in the bay as gentle, slow rollers. And we figured the chalky sand bottom would soften the rub when we crashed.

"You can't control the ocean, so you gotta have respect," Guava preached as we sat on the beach. "You're taking energy created by another type of energy and coming in harmony with it." Amen, brother.

Out on the water, Guava floated on his board 20 yards beyond us. He reminded us to pop to our feet, showed us where to position ourselves in a set, and then, when an ideal ankle-slapper approached, enthusiastically called, "Paddle! Paddle!" at the top of his lungs. "That-a girl!" he yelled as I fell off my board, communed with the ocean floor, then bobbed back up through the surf. I paddled and crashed until my skin felt like sandpaper. By four, we were parched. So we bought Guava a six-pack, sat on the beach, and basked in the glory of those few seconds when we had stood on our boards and come into harmony with the universe.