Surf ‘n’ Turf


THIS STORY FIRST APPEARED IN THE

San Francisco Examiner



I LOOKED at the body lying face-down in the water and said, “The difference between golf and surfing, my friend, is that eventually one can learn to surf.”


No response came from the form stretched out on the half-submerged surfboard, arms dangling limp at its sides, oblivious to the water that sloshed over the deck and into its nose.

Then the head rose an inch. “I’m dying,” it whispered. “If I hadn’t caught that last wave, I’d still be drifting around out there.”


We floated in the calm shallows of the large and at times tempestuous Turtle Bay on the North Shore of Oahu. We unhitched the rubber leashes that connected the surfboards to our ankles and moved up onto a small beach to rest. Behind us ironwood trees made shushing sounds in the slightest breeze, and behind them vast boulevards of rolling, well-tended grass plains marked the fairways of the resort. Beyond those, the forested hills of Pupukea overlooked the home of some of the largest rideable waves in the world.


“Are you OK?”


“I didn’t realize surfing would be this hard and this fast. My arms are so tired I can’t lift them. I could have drowned.”


Looking out to sea toward the rocky point that forms the north edge of the bay, we could see the green walls of water, edged in white--the waves we had surfed--and the Turtle Bay Hilton. The waves were small by North Shore standards--about shoulder-high. They formed at the point off the hotel. From there they traveled down the point, running close and parallel to the resort.


Poolside guests sipped mai tais and watched the waves and surfers pass by, as though reviewing parade floats from a grandstand. The scene played out in the crescent of two excellent golf courses.


“Men born to be hanged are safe on water, David. You’ll be fine. You’re not too sore to golf tomorrow, are you?”


“Don’t worry about that.”


                                       


This was the first day of a bargain we’d struck and I didn’t want Dave to feel cheated. I saw him as a younger version of myself. He was the affable, carefree ringer who had once enabled me and two other novice golfers to win a trophy in a golf tournament. One day, while watching the surf break off the Links at Spanish Bay near Pebble Beach, I promised to teach him to surf--if he would cure my slice.


The plan was simple: Dave, an excellent golfer, would give me lessons. I, in turn, would teach him about waves.


At 40, I am an older surfer. At 28, Dave is a young man skilled at what I considered to be an old person’s game. If successful, we would exchange skills: a mutual passing of the mantle.


In the process, we would define a new vacation profile: Surf ‘n’ Turf. By identifying golf resorts located near good waves, we would create a single itinerary to satisfy diverse tastes. We would blase the trail for vacations families in which the adults like to golf and the kids prefer surfing--or vice versa.


The Turtle Bay Hilton and Country Club has two fine 18-hole golf courses: Turtle Bay and The Links at Kuilima. The latter, designed by Arnold Palmer, opened two years ago and runs alternately between the wind-raked surf and the whispering ironwood trees.


A mile or so south are the most famous big-wave surf sites in the world: Sunset Beach, The Pipeline and Waimea Bay. When the winter swells hit, the waves go from 20 to 40 feet high-- terrifying and exhilarating for the experts who challenge them; awe-inspiring for those who come to watch.


The big waves of the North Shore put on a show comparable in scale to active volcanoes. The beach trembles with the concussion of water. Mist chokes the air on the entire side of the island. A fast riptide runs parallel to the beach: a current so strong that surfers enter the water a half-mile upstream to reach their target. People occasionally die in its torrent.


Golf, on the other hand, threatens only one’s sanity. Our first golf foray was on The Links at Kuilima. A strong wind blew in our faces and shortened our shots.


The par-5, 478-yard ninth hole is perhaps the most difficult. The first shot requires a long wood over a sandy wasteland, with a marsh on the right. Dave launched an effortless drive that flew straight about 280 yards. I gave a mighty swing off the tee but my ball limped about 150 yards into the wasteland.


I was mystified.


“I couldn’t have hit that any harder!” I protested.


“Could you have hit it any lighter?” Dave asked by way of advice. I teed up another ball and tried a light touch: 220 yards to the fairway.


From time to time my instructor offered advice that was more glib than helpful. “Im sinking putts from 40 feet away and missing them from two feet!” I whined at one point.


He grinned. “Just make sure all your putts are 40 feet away.”


                                       


THE MAKAHA VALLEY is on Oahu’s dry, leeward side. It is like God’s own amphitheater, formed by a huge crescent curtain of rugged, vertical cliffs rising some 3,000 feet above the ocean. The vast valley itself is elevated so that, while dwarfed by the cliffs above, it places one high enough to look down on a sweeping vista of the Pacific to the west.


The cliffs are stepped and wrinkled with high ledges and caves, some of which are the sites of heiaus, the sacred grounds of ancient Hawaiian priests and the burial grounds of sacrificial victims. Where the ledges allow, gnarled, thorny kiawe (mesquite) trees cluster.


Immediately below the valley is Makaha Beach, site of the first international surfing championships in the early 1960s. In winter, the waters of this beach churn under the power of 20-foot waves that emulate the shape of the valley above -- curving around themselves in huge semi-bowls, rather than linear walls. Similarly, the rolling fairways of the golf course here mimic the undulations of an uneasy sea.


For tourists and spectators, the waves at Makaha also provide an unusual attraction: the backwash. During big surf, the beach at the water’s edge becomes very steep. Waves slam into that angled ramp of sand, then slide back seaward forming an outgoing wave. When those waves hit incoming waves, both leap skyward. Surfers riding at the moment of collision fly into the air and then free-fall 10 to 15 feet.


As we drive by the beach at Makaha, I note another difference between golf and surfing: sometimes there is no surf. The Pacific lay flat and glassy as a lake. We turned right and headed up into the valley to the Sheraton Makaha Resort and Country Club.


The pride of the Sheraton Makaha is its West Course, designed by William Bell -- a 7,910-yard excursion that is rated as the most difficult in the islands. The course first runs downhill toward the ocean, then works its way back up to the interior valley, then down to the clubhouse.


We began our round on the back nine, then played the front nine. Then we played the back nine again.


“I thought you were an expert!” I howled at Dave after he hooked his second consecutive tee shot into the bougainvillea. He shrugged and vowed never to use his driver again.


Peacocks raced at will through the course at Makaha. White swans graced its lakes. Mongoose scurried through the brush. Sometimes, when we hit well, the ball would contrast against the mountains, giving the illusion of a towering 3,000-foot-high shot. For 15 minutes, a rare mist veiled the mountains, evoking thoughts of the spirits of the heiaus, then it disappeared.


It was a round of weird shots, mostly mine. A 5-wood shot grazed the surface of a lake, skipped twice and leaped onto the green; a 100-foot putt dropped in for par.


“He’s good for one of those every other day,” Dave said to the local guide who played with us. “He can’t make the short ones though.”


We finished our 27th hole of the day, between two swan-filled lakes, exactly as the sun penetrated the calm Pacific horizon far below. No golfers followed us, so we stood in the diminishing light for 10 minutes, looking at the flat waters of Makaha and listening to the only sound in all that great space: the wind-chime songs of evening birds.


                                       


DIRECTLY OFF the par-3, 11th hole of the Plantation Course at Kapalua Bay, Maui, is Honolua Bay. When the surf is up, Honolua has perfectly formed waves that wrap around the northern point of the bay and form tubes in an even sequence from the surfer’s left to right. Depending on the weather, the waves can be anywhere from three- to 20-feet high. Many surfers consider it the world’s best surfing site. When there is no surf, there is excellent snorkeling in the bay, with canyons of coral and abundant marine life.


For golfers, the Bay, Village and Plantation courses on the slopes that rise from the surf at Honolua Bay provide some of the best golf in the world.


The Village Course and the Plantation Course both ascend high into the 23,000 acres of pine trees and pineapple plantation that comprise Kapalua. Occasionally a shot over a forested gorge is required; tricky downhill lies are common.


From almost any hole on any of these courses, one can look down on the ocean and can see the waterfall canyons on the neighboring islands of Molokai and Lanai. The three islands are so close that they seem to be a juggernaut flotilla, anchored within hailing distance of each other.


“Every putt breaks toward the southern point of Molokai. No matter what you see on the green, remember that,” said Ted Crutchley, the Kapalua Bay Hotel bell captain, as we waited for the course shuttle. Crutchley, also a golf assistant at Kapalua’s pro shop, said he likes to get on the course around dawn.


“It’s spiritual up there,” he said. “You see the islands, the ocean, smell all those flowers. You can’t get mad at any bad shots -- you just look around and say, ‘Who cares?’”


Since a relaxed mental attitude is vital to enjoying golf, a setting like this can actually improve one's game. I played my second shot on the 663-yard downhill par 5, 18th hole at the Plantation course. The channel between Maui and Molokai breathed calm and windless, and no surf broke in Honolua Bay. High clouds scattered raindrops in the channel.


"Widen your stance,” Dave said. “Tilt to the left. Now... aim at the rainbow.”


I looked up to see a vivid, wide arc of color frame my target. I smiled and my shoulders relaxed. I hit a smooth layup shot.


Dave, however, having hit a drive of over 300 yards, wondered if he could reach the green with his second shot. I saw him look at the yardage marker – a plaque in the ground indicating the remaining distance to the green – and laugh. He borrowed my 3-wood and rocketed his ball exactly to the green.


That evening we dined at the Kapalua Bay Hotel’s open air Garden Restaurant. A stream stocked with carp flowed beside our table and down the grassy slope that led to the beach. We watched the sun set directly between Lanai and Molokai.


"How far was your second shot on that last hole?" I asked. "What made you laugh?"


"There was no yardage on the marker at all," he said. "All it said was, ‘Dreamer!’ I figured I'd been dreaming thus far, so go for it.”


                                           


FOUR DAYS LATER, sitting on a bench in the silent predawn darkness of the northwest coast of the Big Island, Dave was literally in a dream.


"Is there any way I can get out of this?" he mumbled, after I shook him awake. "I feel sick."


“No. Absolutely no way," I replied firmly, even though I secretly sympathized with him.


We sat in front of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel – rated by Golf Magazine as one of the top 12 golf resorts in United States and generally ranked among the best in Hawaii along with the Princeville resort on Kauai. (The golf courses at Princeville have reopened following last year’s hurricane damage; the hotel and other lodging facilities are due to open next fall).


We suffered from hangovers earned at a friend's wedding luau that ended only a few hours earlier, as we waited for a stranger who had offered to take us to one of the few great surfing spots on the island of Hawaii.


The catch was that the surf was only good between 6 and 9 AM and also required an hour and a half drive up and down the mountainous flanks of 13,796-foot Mauna Kea to the other side of the island – which meant a 4:30 AM departure.


The stranger--Scott--had made the offer before the luau and right after we had played the legendary course of Mauna Kea. At the time, we were up for anything.


Scott arrived in a four-wheel-drive pick-up with three surfboards in the back. He was wide awake and excited. "I've been monitoring the weather stations," he said. "There's an east swell coming. It should be great!"


We dozed during most of the drive through the dark, rainy highlands, but became more alert as we descended again to the ocean. At dawn we passed through the little town of Honokaa, then stopped at the end of the road, on the edge of a cliff. Suddenly we were wide awake.


We peered into Neverland. One thousand feet below us a black sand beach edged a dense jungle valley. The valley formed a deep bowl, and at its most inland point, a 2,000-foot waterfall dropped into the jungle, forming a river that bisected the valley and the beach and ran out into the surf. Opposite us, a thick, thousand-foot waterfall tumbled from the sheer cliffs into the ocean. It was matched by an identical waterfall spouting from a fissure directly below us.


"I'm glad we came,” was all Dave could say, a giddy look on his face.


Getting to the valley floor requires a mule, a four-wheel-drive like ours, or legs of steel and the feet of a fly. The road is narrow, twisting and unbelievably steep--but true treasures are guarded by dragons.


We made it down safely and drove through the wet, ginger-fragrant jungle, coastal ironwood groves, then to the beach where we parked by the river. We looked to the sea. The waves formed 4 to 6 feet high and shone classy as coconut oil.


About 12 local surfers bobbed in the water. We paddled out among them, just beyond the break, and took in the extraordinary view – huge waterfalls on three sides of us, perfect waves, the cliffs and the towering valley onshore.


"I don't care if I ever catch a wave – just being here is enough," Dave said. But just when we thought it could get no better, it did.


Dawn broke through the clouds and created bright, multiple rainbows to frame the waterfalls, valley and waves. Looking eastward, the hanging mist became a pale, yellow glow. 

 

After catching my first wave, I paddled back out and met one of the locals, a talkative surfboard maker named Dean Edwards.


"Woowee. You got the Waipio blessing!” he said. "There was some debate whether you’d have the speed to make that wave and lo and behold you did. Happy?"


I told Dean about my mission with Dave.


"Hmm. I don't know any golfers who surf--or for that matter, surfers who golf come to think of it,” he said.


We watched Dave fearlessly try for a large wave and get crunched. The board remained on the surface while Dave got pummeled below. The board’s leash thrashed about like a bell clapper in a hurricane, allowing us to infer Dave's whereabouts.


"He's the golfer, I take it, "Dean smiled.


"And a very good one too," I added.


                                       


We golfed at Mauna Kea and at the resort’s desert course Hapuna. I doubt I broke 100 on either course; I stopped keeping score early during each round. On the famous third hole at Mauna Kea – a 200-yard, par three over a small bay – I chunked two shots into the bay.


The next day I attacked that hole with a snorkel, mask and fins. I saw a manta ray, numerous green sea turtles and retrieved 30 golf balls.


For all Dave's instruction and despite playing nearly every day for two weeks, I did not improve much.


Dave, however, finally stood up on some waves – not near a famous golf resort, but at the same patch of water near Diamond Head where I had first learned 30 years before.


He decided to stay in Hawaii and enjoy the waves. That's where we left him. Eventually, he will learn to surf.


                                       


Although we didn't visit Kauai on this odyssey, it seems worth mentioning that the widely respected golf courses at the Princeville resort on the island’s north shore are now open for business (even though the property’s guest accommodations are not due to reopen until fall) and are offering a great deal. Through June 30, the green fees--usually $90--have been reduced to $30. For more information call 800-826-4400.


 

 
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