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Summer swells bring Oahu surfers together

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    Surfers catch waves at Ricebowl, an outer break near Suis off Diamond Head, during the recent Memorial Day weekend swell.

Ah, summer. Daylight till 7:30 p.m., the smells of sunblock and limu, the taste of sea salt and kalbi, the cannon of a big swell, the sound of your board planing on a wave, the tradewinds, the warm water, the illusion of endless time.

The first big swell of the season was predicted for Memorial Day weekend, not quite summer, but its unofficial start.

Early on the first day, the waves at Suis were small but total glass. I was enthralled by the shimmery light, the remnants of sunrise color, the yellow-and-black manini suspended beneath the surface of the cobalt sea.

It was out of a dreamland, a summer book. To the east rose the Diamond Head cliffs and Black Point, the shape and color of each rock, tree and house distinct as if in a painting by Cezanne. It reminded me of the Grand Corniche on the French Riviera, a place I fell in love with, sight unseen, reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Tender Is the Night.”

It reminded me of a friend’s description of his first sight of land after days in the Transpac yacht race: the lofty cliffs of Molokai rising from the water like a new world. I thought of the many landfalls the crews of the Hokule‘a have made on their three-year sail around the world.

My favorite pau hana is paddling offshore to enjoy summer’s extra hour of light. A surfer friend, who also works all day, has an understanding with her large, close-knit clan: If the surf is good, she won’t come to dinner. So sometimes her ohana brings dinner to her — at the beach.

In a similar vein, Surfrider Foundation will host its annual beach cleanup at Diamond Head from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, International Surfing Day, followed by lunch. After removing pounds of plastic from the cliffs and beach, you’ll remember to take your reusable bags when you shop. Plus, you get that community glow.

Saturday is also the day the Hokule‘a is expected to reach Oahu, completing its Malama Honua voyage to connect us all in caring for our global home.

Today is Kamehameha Day, marking this column’s first anniversary. In its debut I wrote about how, because of surfing, I was nearly late for our wedding and arrived with dripping-wet hair.

A reader emailed that it reminded her of how her mother told her not to go to the beach before her graduation ceremony “because I would look too dark in the pictures. Of course, my friends and I did not listen.” When she looks at the photos now, “I can’t help but laugh.”

Many thanks to her and the many other readers who’ve sent messages and called over the past year. Some have paddled up to me in the lineup with ideas like, “Why don’t you write about us middle-age guys? We used to dominate out here in the ’80s.”

Some have commiserated about overcrowding, grom packs and a lack of respect for others among surfers of all ages.

Others have asked, “What’s a grom?” Answer: It’s not in standard dictionaries yet, but the term, short for grommet, usually refers to a surfer younger than 16.

In the 1960s they were called gremmies (short for gremlin), defined by Merriam-Webster as “a young or inexperienced surfer; especially: one whose behavior is objectionable.”

Many have shared good times, such as surfing Log Cabins the other day on a late spring swell when “young and old, rippers and the rest of us mortals were sharing and hooting each others’ waves,” to throwing a fishnet in the Tonggs channel 60 years ago.

You’ve written from the East Coast, the West Coast, Kaneohe and Mililani.

“You are the voice for us women surfers,” one woman wrote. “Surf 4 life!”

Some of you say you are not surfers, but love the ocean and its shores. Some of you are ex-surfers, like one who wrote, “If you ever see a man in a reverse aloha shirt, with dress slacks and loafers smoking a cigar in the morning at Makalei or Kapiolani Park, that’s me.”

There’s always something to look forward to.

“In the Lineup” features Hawaii’s oceangoers and their regular hangouts, from the beach to the deep blue sea. Reach Mindy Pennybacker at or call 529-4772.

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