South Pacific Memories (& a Future?)

Alex new LR.jpg

I get inspired to write when reading a really good book. Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, by William Finnegan. Won the Pulitzer Prize. The book is about, quite literally, what the title suggest. It also dredges up a LOT of nostalgia in me. I just finished reading a section on Fiji, in the 1970’s, when the author and his buddies discovered Tavarua, in Fiji.

I was there too, LONG after it was discovered, off the coast of Nadi, south of the Mamanuca’s, where I first met Clint and his brother Glenn, the first meeting on that trip that would change my life forever, almost exactly 11 years ago as I write this today. 

  The lineup.

The lineup.

I didn’t surf it. We were in a small aluminum open boat. Alex, a Dutch guy, and the real surfer in the bunch of us who were living in that hostel, was the instigator (there were only 12 of us tourists on the island then - this was in 2006, right after a bloodless military coup had overthrown the government. The US State Dept. had issued a travel warning, and the whole country was devoid of travelers. At one place, on the south coast of the big island Viti Levu, I was the ONLY person in the entire hostel. I had a 9-bed building to myself. Apparently, Fiji has these ‘changings-of-the-guard’ every 20 years or so, and there was nothing to worry about, I was assured). 

We woke up at dawn and piled into the boat, maybe 6 or 7 of us out to surf that morning. I had my big camera along with me, and knew I wouldn’t be getting in the water. The waves looked huge to me. And I had never surfed. Neither had Clint or Glenn, but that didn’t bother them. I watched from just outside the break, particularly enchanted by Alex and his long blond hair, and one of the locals who came along and showed up both Alex and anybody else that managed to stand up on their board that day.

  Alex surfing.

Alex surfing.

Alex was up and about on dawn patrol every morning that week. The next night, I stayed up late, teaching sailing to an Irish couple by using the caps from the bottles of whisky we were drinking to illustrate racing tactics. We wouldn’t need the caps anyway, the bottles were soon empty. Alex banged on my door at 0500. I declined, went back to sleep in a foggy haze.

These are some of the memories of my South Pacific journey that this book I’m reading is churning up. I’m surprised they’re coming back in such detail. Despite the whisky, I can see the bamboo walls on the interior of my little hut on that island in the morning light when Alex banged on my door to go surfing. I was slam-bang hammered that morning, with no right to remember anything. But they’re there, clear memories from that tumultuous time, when everything changed.

  Me and the Fijian family that invited me to dinner on the beach.

Me and the Fijian family that invited me to dinner on the beach.

I want to go back to the South Pacific. We haven’t even gotten Isbjorn through the Arctic yet, hell, haven’t even finished her Arctic refit (haven’t even seen the boat since September) and yet my mind is occupied Down Under. There’s a strong pull in my heart to return to those places where my life changed. They’re oh so far away. What if we have kids by then? Will I still want to go? Will they come too? Is it simply nostalgia? These are the questions I think about hourly.

Partly it’s inevitable. I’ve done well, done best, by making gut decisions in my life, have learned to trust that part of my unconscious mind and to follow through not on what’s practical in a logical sense, but on what is spiritually, philosophically more satisfying. Often these decisions are harder, and sometimes come with short-term regret, for not following the more sensible route, but every time they’re followed up in the long-term with deep satisfaction and memories like the ones I just described above. 

Mia & I have a hard time reconciling this, despite the fact that we know this is how both of us work best. She’s the logical, practical, down-to-earth counterweight to my lofty, emotional rocketship. My roller-coaster of emotions swings real freakin’ high at times, but it also goes straight underground at other times, and it’s rough and dark down there. Mia’s is more like a Sunday ride on a slow-moving steam train - no danger here, but you know exactly what’s around the next bend, and the train takes the curve slow enough that you might not know it.

  John Alden Schooner 'Arcturus' in Auckland Harbour, 2006, two days before I met Mia (I got to sail aboard her on Boxing Day). We'd later name our first boat after her.

John Alden Schooner 'Arcturus' in Auckland Harbour, 2006, two days before I met Mia (I got to sail aboard her on Boxing Day). We'd later name our first boat after her.

Incredibly, she trusts me. My ‘gut’ is usually right. I don’t know this in the moment sometimes, which leads to those vomit-inducing plunges, but as time goes by, I’m learning more and more to trust it and let ‘er rip on the downhills, arms high in the air, mouth wide open hooting and hollering all the way down. 

There’s always another peak after every valley, and damn they just keep getting higher.