By Rita Kungel
Hawai’i—azure blue waters, palm tree-lined beaches of sugary sand, endless sunshine, verdant green vegetation and the scent of exotic flowers wafting in the warm tropical breeze—a true destination of dreams. In December of 2004 I was fortunate enough to accompany my husband for a week on the island of O’ahu in Hawai’i. He had an academic conference at the University of Hawaii and I went to relax and visit a dear, long-time friend from high school days who lived on the North Shore.
Sunset Beach, Hale’iwa Beach & Banzai Pipeline
O’ahu’s North Shore, away from the tourist hustle of Honolulu and Waikiki, hosts the annual Triple Crown of Surfing, the world’s premier professional surfing events for men and women. For 39 days between mid November and mid December, competitors wait for perfect-wave days to compete for more than $1 million in prize money. During the big wave season swells reach up to 50 feet on the famed Sunset Beach, Hale’iwa Beach and the Banzai Pipeline.
Stunned by the news
Two days before we departed Colorado for Hawai’i I had a biopsy procedure on my left breast suggested by the radiologist who read my recent routine mammogram. As it was an area that had been monitored for several years, my attitude remained pretty sanguine about the results. Consequently when I received a call on the morning of December 15 and the radiologist informed me the lesion proved to be invasive ductal carcinoma, I was stunned and perplexed. How could it be, when I was currently in paradise, basking in warm sunshine and eating mangos and papayas daily, that next week I would be facing surgery, radiation and probable chemotherapy for a potentially life threatening disease? How could my body, one that was nourished with healthy food, got regular exercise and never subjected to tobacco or drugs, betray me like this? When I allowed myself to dwell on the situation, my feelings ranged from melancholy to uncertainty to anxiety for the future, but somehow my spirit remained strong.
We had planned that Wednesday to drive around the North Shore from our friends’ home in Mokuleia to perhaps Kailua—wandering and exploring with no set itinerary being one of our favorite activities. Driving the coastal Kamehameha Highway offers one spectacular view after another, with Waimea Bay’s stretches of sand framed by palms and lava rock formations providing a postcard perfect scene.
Power of the ocean
As we drove further east, the traffic began to crawl approaching Sunset Beach and the Banzai Pipeline, alerting us the surf championships were on that day. Stopping to watch the best surfers in the world paddle out to attempt riding the 30-foot waves, I couldn’t help but reflect on the power of the ocean.The northeast part of the island, country-like with farms, grazing cattle and sugar cane fields, includes roadside stands selling sweet corn, shrimp and local produce to tempt passers by. Somewhere between Laie and Ka’a’awa we stopped and ate killer fish tacos with pineapple salsa. The waves are gentler on this side of the island, revealing the ocean’s strength in a steady, pacifying way.
Beseeching Mother Ocean
Ten Years Later
Ten years later, December 15, 2014, we were again on O’ahu’s North Shore. This week the waves weren’t yet ideal for the surf championship and the beach only offered printed bulletins stating hopes that the competition could begin in a few days. After a leisurely drive as far as Kane’ohe, we turned back, approaching Hale’iwa just before sunset. We walked to the same beach we had visited on the day exactly 10 years before. The sun slipped down towards the sea and I raised my arms with joy and thanksgiving.