The World Has a People Problem(1/21/06)
By Dyana King
One of Darrick Doerner’s signature sayings is, "The world has a people problem." People create all kinds of problems for themselves, other surfers, and the ocean. As a lifeguard with more than 20 years experience on Oahu’s North Shore, Darrick knows about a few of those problems. He has seen it all. Get him talking about his vast experiences in the ocean, and you’ll understand why he is one of the most respected watermen in the world. You’d also be hard pressed to find anyone who loves the ocean more. I, on the other hand, have been surfing for little more than a year, whereas Darrick is one of the most accomplished surfers in Hawaii, even the world. He is Laird Hamilton’s right-hand-man when it comes to towing into 60-foot monsters at Peahi. So, when Darrick Doerner told me that he wanted to help take my surfing to the next level, I knew this was an opportunity I’d be insane to pass up.
I first met Darrick during a series of water safety and awareness seminars he was giving this summer. While the North Shore was as flat as Lake Tahoe, Darrick was giving something back to the surfing community in California. Darrick’s laid-back style of communicating helps surfers to appreciate the serious message he sends to wave riders and water people from all walks of life: We have a responsibility in the water. We must know our own physical limitations and avoid becoming a liability to others and ourselves. We must look out for fellow surfers using our knowledge about basic first aid and CPR in order to act as a first responder in an emergency. We must respect the ocean and our environment. We must set a good example for the next generation. This means packing our trash off the beach, educating ourselves about pollution and the threats it poses to our shores, and assessing and re-assessing the conditions and hazards wherever we surf. Lastly, we must practice good will and good manners, which will promote camaraderie among the surf community. Darrick often quotes Eddie Aikau, a famous Hawaiian surfer: "Welcome all new-comers," Aikau said. As any surfer can tell you, this is isn’t always easy, especially considering Darrick’s other favorite saying about the world and its people problem.
After I met Darrick and heard his message I was so inspired that I booked a trip to the Oahu’s North Shore in the fall to attend his surf camp, DD SEA (Darrick Doerner’s Surf Education Adventure). I also decided that it’d be a great idea to take advantage of the surf rescue and CPR course offered through SurfPulse, Half Moon Bay Fire Department, Pillar Point Harbor, and K38 Rescue on October 22, 2005. The SurfPulse course covered adult, child and infant CPR. They also taught us how to be a first responder if we had to apply basic first aid in an ocean related emergency. As the 20 or so attendees and I shivered in the chilly waters of Pillar Point Harbor, we practiced how to bring an unconscious person through the shore break, how to use our surfboard as a back board, and the proper way to be scooped up by a PWC operator. While there is no substitute for actual experience, I felt more confident that I would be able to help someone or even save a life if an emergency occurred while I’m in the water. The class also helped prepare me for the North Shore, my next destination just a few days later.
My two best surf buddies Lloyd and Michelle and I arrived in Honolulu where we were warmly greeted by Darrick and his beautiful and savvy business partner Kyoko (who reportedly is capable of Jedi mind tricks). At the moment I felt the warm humid air on my skin, I was eager for the following morning when I’d have my first look at the North Shore.
Darrick commented that he could feel the energy growing as the pros began to arrive for the initial qualifying heats of the Triple Crown. Multiple board bags in the oversized luggage area and various broad shouldered, twenty-something's clad in flip-flops, board shorts and logo shirts only confirmed Darrick’s instinct. As I watched one bronzed Australian wheel his board bag through the baggage claim area, I became anxious about my performance alongside a legend like Darrick. I was the least experienced surfer out of my companions. The last thing I wanted was to commit some kook-like move out there, embarrassing myself, or worse, Darrick.
The next morning we were wide-awake at first light. We took advantage of the fact we were still on California time. Our day started, like everyday started with a light and healthy breakfast. Darrick, had already consulted the coconut wireless, (a locals word-of-mouth way to communicate ocean conditions), so he was able to give us the surf report as we munched granola and drank our coffee. Within an hour of waking we were loading up our gear to head out and do what Darrick calls “scene assessment.”
The North Shore is Darrick’s home; he eats, breathes and lives this place everyday. We couldn’t have had a better guide to teach us how to assess the conditions there. He explained how the wind, swell direction, tides and weather impact each break. He shared his knowledge about all the idiosyncrasies of each break, born from years of hardcore experience. He told us about the “toilet bowl effect” at Haleiwa, and how to deal with big close outs at Sunset. We soaked up everything he said like sponges. As we drove up the Kam Highway, Darrick pointed out all the famous and not-so-famous surf breaks. After checking everywhere, we decided that Laniakea Beach (Lani’s) was the best choice for the day’s conditions.
The waves were around five feet to a little overhead. A definite challenge for me, but one I had prepared for. I also felt comfortable knowing that I was paddling out with one of the most experienced lifeguards in the world. And we were on his home turf. The sun was shining, the water color a turquoise blue. Sea turtles swam below me, but best of all, there was no wetsuit required! The line-up wasn’t too crowded, only a handful of locals getting in some rides before work and various tourists from around the world. While it wasn’t completely obvious, I did notice locals giving way once they saw I was with Darrick. At one point he observed aloud, “Hey, looks like we have this peak all to ourselves.” We did. He grinned while coaching me on my wave judgment skills and paddling technique. He genuinely enjoyed this! Darrick Doerner was having fun surfing with me! Suddenly, I had an a-ha moment. So this is what it’s all about, I thought. A little over a year ago, I’d never been on a surfboard. I knew little about the ocean and nothing about the blissful joy one can experience while riding waves. How is it that I could I be so blessed? After having just discovered the joy of surfing at age 39, I am then invited into the center of surfing culture to surf with one of the world’s best watermen. This was more than fun.
Sitting at the peak, I realize that I’m in position for one of the biggest waves of my life. I feel a familiar rush of adrenalin, and the taste of metallic flavor in my mouth. I turn my board to paddle. Darrick instructs, “Wait… wait… wait… NOW! PADDLE! PADDLE!” I dig in and try to make my strokes powerful and efficient. At first it feels as if I’m not moving at all. I’m dead in the water despite my vigorous strokes. But in another instant, I’m looking down the face of what I imagine to be a 10-foot wall, although I know it can’t be more than six. This is typically the moment when I lose my nerve. I sit up on my board and watch the back of the wave power toward the beach, deeply disappointed in myself as I watch the white foam spray off the top. 'But not this time,' I said to myself under my breath. Darrick Doerner was watching me for God sakes! I thought, ‘Don’t be a wimp, don’t be a wimp!’ Placing my hands on the rails, I swung my body from beneath me, planted my feet and pressed down on my heels as I stood up and angled the nose. I’d made it! I could still hear the sound of the water slapping the bottom of the board as I slid down the face. Better yet, I could hear Darrick’s voice calling, "Perfect! That was perfect!” as I paddled back out.
That wave was my personal best. I won’t be charging Pipe any time soon or perhaps not ever, but in the end I know what surfing is all about. It’s about taking the risk and creating your own experience. Measuring yourself against your own personal standards. It’s about feeling the power of nature through the ocean’s energy and realizing that humans are simply a small part of an infinite cycle of nature’s energy. Ultimately, surfing is a gift that allows us a glimpse into the divine.
I’ll never forget my trip to the North Shore, or the time I spent with Darrick and my friends. I’ll remember the laughs, while sharing a meal together, exhausted, at the end of the day. I’ll remember the tour of Haleiwa and Darrick’s tales of what is was like back in the day. This trip was one of the highlights of my life. I agree with Darrick. The world definitely has a people problem, but I’m so glad my first surf trip to the North Shore was with Darrick and my friends.
DD SEA (Darrick Doerner’s Surf Education Adventure) is an intermediate-to-advanced level surf camp on the North Shore of Oahu. Led by big-wave pioneer Darrick Doerner, the program focuses on taking your surfing and ocean knowledge to the next level. For more information, please visit www.dd-sea.com or call 1-888-HALEIWA. Tell 'em SurfPulse sent you.