He paddles out of the calm marina into the dark open ocean chop that chills him despite his thick wet suit. His long board cuts cleanly through the water with each powerful stroke. Four hundred yards away a small red light atop a buoy bobs in time to the current. He pulls hard towards it. A typhoon south of Kyushu is pushing huge waves over the break, but he can’t see them in the early morning darkness yet. He can hear the roar though. Out to sea the horizon is just starting to turn blue.
As he makes his way to the buoy, he hears his father’s voice in his head:
“Hiro, this is your last year of goofing off. You had seven years of university, five in Hawaii. Time to put that MBA to use. The family business is waiting for you to take the reins.”
That was in June at the start of summer vacation. Hiro had spent all of July surfing as many of the famous California breaks as he could. At Mavericks, he’d fallen on a twenty-eight foot wave, the biggest he’d ever ridden, and was held under for over a minute. He didn’t surf for four days after that and nearly flew home early, but decided the risk was worth the extra time he would spend still free from what awaited him at home. In August, he was in Baja California catching his final wave of the summer.
A week later, he landed back in Japan and made his way south from Narita on the Shinkansen to Oita, watching the mix of bamboo forests, square rice fields, evergreen covered mountains, the dark blue of the Pacific, and all the villages, small towns, and massive squat cities with their temples, shrines, modern houses and skyscrapers tucked in between flash past in the window.
The week long Buddhist Obon holiday had already started, a time when most Japanese people traditionally went home tovisit their families and honor relatives and ancestors who had passed. At Fukuoka, he changed to a local train and headed south towards his home town, but he didn’t stop there. His parents didn’t even know he was in Japan yet.
Instead, he kept going south to the south end of the island that jutted out into the Pacific. Hiro had come to this small fishing village three days ago and rented a hotel room, a long board, and a wet suit. He had originally planned to go straight to Oita to his parent’s home, but in Hakata Station in Fukuoka he’d seen the approaching typhoon on the weather report and knew if he timed it just right he could surf some monster waves to finish out the summer, monsters like the one at Mavericks or possibly bigger.
He reached the buoy and used his leash to tie his board to the small metal ladder before climbing to the top. He had surfed this spot one time with a friend about a year before he left for America. That time they had both floated together next to the buoy in the darkness waiting for dawn so they could paddle to the break. But after waiting half an hour they had felt something big cruise just below the surface under their boards. They never saw it, but whatever it was it was big enough to spook both of them up the buoy ladder until the sun was well above the horizon. Bull sharks and Mako weren’t unknown in these waters and Hiro had been nervous the rest of the day. He decided not to take any chances and stayed on top of the buoy in the cold wind.
His second year in college at the Honolulu Community College had nearly been his last. Three times he received progress probation notices because his GPA had fallen so low. He was surfing every day, all day and barely studied. The Pipeline Masters had been legendary that year and Hiro dreamed of turning pro. Surfing friends kept saying, “Ah yeah, Hiro shredding better all the time man,” which fueled his dreams.
When he had to spend an extra year at community college because he didn’t have enough credits to transfer to U of Hawaii his mother sent him a short letter that ended,
“Your father and I should have never taken you to Hawaii as a young boy. Learning to surf at that beach resort in Waikiki has been your downfall in life.”
The rest of that year Hiro barely surfed. And only at Waimea and only during its biggest and most dangerous swells. He would just drop in every chance he got onto those mountains of water and ride straight through or eat it. No shredding, no passion, just reckless fury down the murderous faces.
Three years later, he graduated from the University of Hawaii and applied for an MBA program at a small college in southern California. He spent those two years dug into his studies and working part time for a Japanese import/export business in Japan Town in LA.
“Good Hiro,” his father said. “Learn the business and come home and take your place here with us.”
On the weekends he had driven his battered old ’66 VW van up down the coast surfing every break the locals would let him. Any extra money he saved so he could spend his last summer surfing every break from Santa Cruz to Baja.
The sun was up enough now that Hiro could see the break clearly. He watched dumbfounded the gigantic shoulder of a wave rolled across the reef and broke five hundred yards later on shore. “Triple overhead at least,” he thought to himself. Moments later one twice that big rolled through and the first pangs of fear shuddered through his body. But he climbed down the ladder and untied his board.
“One more wave, one more monster wave and then I’m done,” he thought as he paddled slowly towards the break.