Chapter 7

Gone Surfing

Kevin and Leona zoomed northward as fast as the little truck would go. Kevin let out an excited shouting hoot every time they passed a beach where the surf was visible. They had just turned from the main highway and were driving on the smaller road toward the beach when Kevin noticed that Leona had grown very quiet; “Is something bothering you?” He asked.

“I’ve never considered riding surf this big,” Leona responded, pointing to the looming blue-black wall visible through the railroad trestle in front of them.

They turned onto an up-hill fork in the road that led out of the canyon and to the top of the trestle before swinging back in line with the shore. “Those waves are huge plus,” Kevin said. “The truth is, I am actually way more than a little scared. If we are the only ones here, we shouldn’t try it alone.”

“I don’t plan on going out there even if there is a crowd, Kevin. I hope you aren’t disappointed with your new, um, surfing buddy.”

“No way,” Kevin said turning to her with a reassuring smile. “I’ve surfed waves like this in Hawaii, this is just as big as the waves I rode there, maybe even bigger. Waves this big aren’t for everybody, just watching might be plenty for both of us.” He reached across the seat and patted her shoulder. “This surf is no joke,” he said, trying to make her feel more at ease.

They continued on along the small, cliffside road in silence. It was a warm winter day without a breath of wind or a cloud in the sky. The hills were bright green. The ocean and cloudless sky were each their own shades of brilliant blue. All the creeks were running and the little truck floated over water crossings as easily as over solid ground. They stopped at the usual surfing points but only saw huge walls of water and no other surfers so they continued on, traveling up the coast.

Leona still wasn’t saying much and Kevin decided to get her mind off the surf and ask about her grandparents. “What makes you think your grandparent’s death wasn’t accidental?” He asked.

“It was like this,” she said, after momentary hesitation; “Grandfather was invited to a conference on monetary theory and reform by the government of the United States of Earth. He was told that everyone there would be protected, regardless of their views, and that it was necessary for the success of the conference to have all theoretical positions represented. Guards were outside the bungalow they were staying in when the fire started. It happened the night before he was scheduled to deliver his speech.”

“And you think he and your grandmother were killed to stop him from speaking?”

“Believe me,” Leona responded, “I’m not the only one. The guards were stationed right outside the house. They claimed that by the time they saw the fire it was impossible to get in through either the front or the back door.”

“What was he going to say that would make someone want to silence him forever? I mean, according to what I hear, people in the United States of Earth are fed a fairly thick dose of official fake news. Couldn’t they simply have printed up a bunch of stories to discredit him inside their territory and not print any of his books?”

“That’s exactly what the government there did, for a long time. His books kept being smuggled in, though. Some of his textbooks actually became required reading at the better universities. When he devised a method of adding up the environmental costs of pollution using the thermodynamic money we use here in Pacifica, without changing the standard accounting system, their captains of industry simply decided he had to go.”

“I still don’t see why that would make them want him dead.”

“You partially cover this in your thesis, Kevin. It is the reason I requested the assignment to attend your review today.”

“Really? Hmm. Go on. Now I’m listening even closer. By the way, do you call the United States of Earth, Use?”

“Yes," Leona responded with a chuckle. "Almost everyone I know does; the United States uses and abuses Earth so we call it Use. But back to the subject; The concentration of wealth in Use is almost as high as it was prior to the collapse of the old United States of central North America. Today's Use population has been propagandized into almost as high a consumption level as it was back in the old USA. The poor are being deprived of what little they have and the wealthy get government handouts. Public wealth is being privatized as the population is squeezed by austerity to the point that their lifestyle and life expectancy both decline.

“My grandfather felt that the only way to avoid the class wars that led to such bitter chaos during the collapse of the old United States of America was to quantify the environmental and social damages done by corporations which refuse to clean up after themselves and don't pay taxes. Immortal corporate monsters are designed to grow faster and faster forever on our beautiful small Earth, my grandfather proved corporate profits are mainly the money saved by not cleaning up their messes.

“Grandfather even used your brother Shawn’s research into artificial intelligence and was successful in developing a monetary version of something like his distiller of individual thought processes into a group aggreement. He proved how corporations become super citizens who own the government and give political payoffs from the money saved by using Earth as a dump. He showed how small competing businesses and individuals are fined or imprisoned for doing the same thing as a corporation that is free to pollute at will. So he was killed, along with my grandmother.”

Kevin turned left from the main ranch road and carefully steered them down a smaller side road to the beach. “I get what you’re driving at,” he said, after a moment’s thought. “The parallels between the work of our two families is interesting, but none of what you say proves any sort of conspiracy adding up to murder.”

Leona reached behind the seat and found her purse, Happy was sleeping on it. She scooted the dog aside, apologetically, opened her purse, and pulled out two worn photos. “Look at these,” she said, holding them so Kevin could look at them as he drove. “What do you see?” She asked.

“I see what appears to be the front and back doors of a burned-out house. Is that where your grandparents died?”

“Yes. Do you notice anything peculiar in the photos?”

Kevin quickly glanced from the road to the photos again. “Not really,” he answered. “A couple of garden hoses, cinders, and broken half-burned doors.”

“Precisely!” The Leona exclaimed. “The guards said it was too hot to enter. When the fire department arrived they trained their water on the doors and attempted to break in but it was too late.”

“I’m sorry, Leona. I still don’t see why this proves murder.”

“Do you see anything odd about the garden hoses?” she asked, holding the photos up once again for him to see.

Kevin quickly glanced at the hoses again. “Oh. I see what you mean. The hoses are neatly coiled up. The guards didn’t even try to use them to save your grandparents.”

“That’s it! If it was so hot they couldn’t get in, why aren’t the plastic hoses burned or even melted a little bit? They look as good as new.”

“What does our government say about this?” Kevin asked.

“Pacifica is big, Kevin, but it’s not big enough to make the United States of Earth tell the truth. Everybody knows this was a set-up. There’s just no way to get the evidence to prove it.”

“Hmm. I’ll think about this, that’s for sure,” Kevin responded as he parked at the top of the beach cliff. He turned in the seat and looked straight at Leona. “I’m cleared to go to the university library at the Use capitol. Maybe I can snoop around while I’m there.” He reached out and shook her hand. “I’m serious,” he said, solemnly.

“Maybe we can go together,” she said, glancing first at Kevin and then at the ocean. Kevin’s eyes followed Leona’s.

The view outside the car windows made them both gasp. They could see the tops of monstrous waves that seemed as high as the bluff where they were parked. Huge unbroken lines of water wrapped around far distant points, which were obscured by mist from breaking waves. They could see to a far distance and there was only one place where the waves had a shoulder a surfer could even hope to ride, and that was right in front of where they were parked. They watched the huge combers fold over. It was so far from the wave top to the thunderous crash at the bottom that the waves seemed to fall in slow motion.

“Look!” Leona shouted over the roaring surf. “There’s someone out there!”

You’re right,” Kevin said. “Look out there further. They came in a boat. It’s visible when it rises over a swell.”

A tiny little speck of a surfer paddled furiously to catch one of the huge waves. “Is he going to catch it?” they both said at the same time. “Yes! There he goes.”

They watched a graceful white streak turn and race across the face of the gigantic wave.

“It’s Rennie,” Kevin murmured as the second surfer dropped into the next huge wave. “That’s Buzzy taking off now.”

“How can you tell from here?” Leona asked.

“I’ve watched them both since I was a kid. Rennie is about the smoothest surfer of all time and Buzzy is the strongest. Neither one changes their style on the board when the surf is big.”

“I wouldn’t call this big,” Leona said. “I’d call it humongous maximus.” She glanced at Kevin. He just smiled and stared at the surf. She noticed his eyes were on the inner part of the cove.

“What are you looking at?” she asked.

“It’s possible to get out there from the beach,” he answered.

“No way,” she said.

“Yep,” he said. “Look right there in the upper-most lee of the cove. All the water the waves are bringing in is ripping back out through there like a river during spring thaw.”

“But the waves from the whitewater shore break are way bigger than regular big surf. The smallest ones are bigger than the side of a train. How could you get past that?”

Kevin kept his eyes on the inside waves as he spoke; “See the back-wave that bounces out to sea from the cliff and then slaps the shore break coming in?”

“I do. That’s the part that looks really nasty to me,” she answered.

“You’re right. Not the best place to go swimming. Still, if one rides out on the last back-wave of a big set, right into the water ripping outward, and makes it past the next inside wave before it breaks, then the hardest part would be paddling all the way out there.”

Leona looked at him straight on. “You sound like you are going to try,” she said. “Well, I’m not going, there are too many ifs for me. I’ll just wait right here with the dog. No way am I going out in that!”

“I wouldn’t either of those guys weren’t out there. You won’t mind if I go try it?”

“Okay, I’ll watch and come scrape up the pieces.”

Kevin laughed even though he was having his third major case of butterflies in one day. He slipped into his wetsuit, ran down to the beach, and jumped into the back-wave running full tilt. His board hit flat with him laying on it. He dug deep, paddling with his arms and rode the wild outward flow straight toward an inward rushing wall of shore break. He didn’t like what he saw bearing down on him but all he could do at this point was paddle straight toward the frothing wave forming up in front of him and try his best to beat it. When the two waves met and slapped together, Kevin was hurled over the top of the in coming wave and out into the deeper water beyond.

He managed to stay on his board and paddled hard until he was out far enough to feel safe before taking a break and looking outside to Rennie and Buzzy. They saw him coming and waved encouragement. He turned back to the truck and waved. Leona blinked the headlights in response and he felt less alone among the giant waves. Kevin paddled over incoming deep ocean swells that raised him to a vista high in the sky as they passed him by. Each passing wave let him down so deep into the trough between waves that he could see nothing other than the face of an approaching wave or the receding back of the one he had already gone over. He didn’t rest until he reached the other surfers, then he just sat on his board and breathed.

“How did you get out here?” they both asked.

“It was easy, actually. I jumped on a big backwash from the last wave of the set and it threw me all the way to deep water,” Kevin answered in as calm a voice as he could muster. He wondered if they could tell how scared he felt.

“How do you ride these monster things is what I want to know.”

“You just look way out to sea and pick the one you want, then you paddle like crazy until you are sure you have caught it. Watch me.” Rennie said as he turned and started paddling toward shore. Kevin watched the huge wall of water become steep as it passed under him and then, suddenly, Rennie was gone.

Buzzy started for his wave. “Just stand in the middle of your board and go as fast as you can. Don’t let the wind blow you off or you’ll get sucked over the falls when the wave breaks.” Then Buzzy was gone.

Kevin, feeling very alone and far out to sea, started paddling for his wave. He felt himself being drawn to the top as it hurtled under him toward shore faster than he could possibly paddle. He wanted to stop but he knew it would pull him over the falls with itself as it broke. There was no longer a choice, he had to catch it. Finally, when it seemed too steep to believe possible, he gave one more strong paddle and stood up.

Unimagined surprise immediately pummeled him squarely in the face. Baseball-sized globs of water were being ripped from the wave’s surface and were slamming into his face. He felt a moment of panic — he couldn’t see. Then he turned his head sideways, shielded his eyes with one hand and could see a little better between the head-slamming water globs. He was moving fast and looking straight down from the very peak of a huge wall of water being torn apart by its own velocity.

The next instant his board dropped in and he plunged down the face of the wave and out of the terrible wind. Kevin stood transfixed, he was zooming straight down what felt like a mountain. He felt himself as if in a dream and consciously let his trained body do what it knew how to do. Looking around and above, all was hugely quiet and slow-motion, yet he was traveling with a cosmic wave at life speed. He felt himself flying across the wave so fast the water felt hard, like pavement. He saw his feet adjust the trim of his board for maximum speed and watched them as if they belonged to someone else. He did exactly as he had been told, “Stand in the middle of your board and go as fast as you can.”

Then confidence burst through him like a new day. He relaxed into fun and cut back, just a touch. Time froze when the huge wave caught up and curled over him. Turning with the wave, he leaned forward slightly and went rocketing through the final hook at the collapsing shoulder where the wave met deeper water. He was going so fast as he turned out to sea that he flew into the air as he went over the swell. His landing was solid and Kevin rode straight out standing up, gradually coasting to a stop like a water skier who let go of the rope.

He had thought he would rest there and watch the others get rides. Instead, he was shocked to see huge waves further out. Rennie and Buzzy were paddling out to sea as fast as they could. Kevin knew he was trapped inside, these were not normal waves by any stretch of imagination. They looked like the entire ocean was rearing its head in some mighty gesture. There were clearly visible large waves inside the pulsing giants. Kevin started paddling out as hard as he could. His arms began to feel heavy with exhaustion as he willed them to greater speed. His heart was in high gear but he realized he was going to make it.

Then, outside, he glimpsed what he hoped couldn’t possibly be. As he crested the largest wave he’d ever seen in his life, he saw a larger one further out. It was way too big and way too far out for him to make it past the wave to whatever was coming next.

Kevin kept paddling toward the monster even though there was no possibility he could win the race, his arms were powered by hope though there really was none. At the last possible moment, at the base of what he considered the biggest wave in the world, he stood up on his board, jumped as high into the air as he could, and then dove for the deep.

He swam full-speed down. It was deeper than he expected but he kept on going down. Somehow his eyes became super eyes and he could see perfectly underwater. Kevin saw a bare rock ledge with no sharp sea urchins and grabbed it with both arms. He pulled his chest firmly against the rock and held on as he felt the surge of the great wave passing by — the pressure change hurt his ears. He waited a split second to be sure wave turbulence had safely passed and then kicked upward off the rock, the wave’s following surge pulled him smoothly toward shore. His lungs were burning as he struggled toward light and the playful looking surface ripples so far above. Then he lunged through the surface into air and breathed.

Kevin breathed again, and then again. He knew the giant waves were far apart and he had time to breath. Then he girded himself to look at the next wave. He watched for a moment transfixed as it came looming toward him, breathed deep and then dove deep. This time there was no rock ledge. He laid flat on the bottom and dug his fingers into hard packed sand leaving a trail of finger grooves as the huge wave dragged him shoreward, once again waiting for a moment before kicking off the bottom and upward toward breath.

Then he became calm; this was like a repetitive job, he had no choice. Time dragged, he lost count of how many waves he dove under. His only thought was breathing deep and diving deep. Knowing he couldn’t keep this up forever, he tried to keep a clear head and conserve his strength. He was so engrossed with the routine of breathing and diving that he almost dove again before he noticed it was over. The waves were still gigantic but the abnormally huge ones had stopped, for the moment at least. Kevin started swimming for shore. He swam with the strength of a well-trained athlete, changing strokes for endurance, sometimes overhead, sometimes side stroke, then the breaststroke. At first he seemed to be nearer to shore, but after that, every time he looked, he was no closer.

Though he was growing weary, he wasn’t frightened. He just kept on swimming. He had a new job. Kevin decided not to look up for a while and concentrate on forward progress, he had begun to feel like he lost ground every time he stopped to figure out where he was. He was wondering if it might be easier to swim outward to the boat when he finally looked up to check his progress and was completely surprised. There was Leona! Right in front of him, almost within reach, on his surfboard.

“I was tired of waiting,” she said with a smile, as she sat up and turned the surfboard toward shore. “Want a ride?”

Kevin climbed on behind her. They both rested sitting on the board for a moment. With two on the surfboard it sunk to the point that they were underwater from the chest down, their arms paddled slowly for balance. Then they lay down on their stomachs and started toward shore.

“How did you get past the shore break?” Kevin asked.

“Just like you did it,” Leona answered. "But the back waves were bigger."

They paddled on in silence. “Why aren’t you wearing your wetsuit?” Kevin asked.

“I was,” she answered. “I didn’t make it out the first try and was ground up in the shore break. It was bad. My wetsuit was so full of sand I couldn’t even run after the board with it on.”

Leona’s legs were under Kevin’s shoulders to make room for double paddling, his arms reached over her legs as he paddled and she was free to paddle from her position nearer the front of the board. The surfboard’s lifting shape raised their combined weights to the water’s surface as soon as their coordinated paddle strokes reached full speed. Kevin turned his head sideways and rested his cheek on her. “I like this paddling cheek-to-cheek,” he said.

She reached farther back as she paddled and splashed water in his face. “How do we get in through that shore break?” she asked, laughing with a voice that shivered a little. “Those waves are about as tall and thick as a truck and they smash you into the sand about that hard, too,” she concluded, with a touch of fear replacing the laughter in her eyes. "It hurts."

“Okay. Here’s the plan, we let the next wave go by and then paddle like crazy right behind it. We want to be as close as possible to the back of the wave without being sucked over the falls when it breaks. If our timing is good and we paddle strong enough, the wave should pull us far enough inside to be in front of where the next wave breaks. You hold on in front I’ll hold your legs down. Whatever happens, hold on tight and don’t let go, even if it bounces us end over end. Don’t let go and be thrashing around with a loose board and me tumbling beside you.”

The first wave went by and Kevin’s plan actually worked. The wave did pull them in toward shore quite far. Then the outward flow started pulling them backwards, into the crash zone of the next Waimea-sized shore breaker. They paddled toward land and kept paddling even though being sucked ever faster backwards in the previous wave’s roaring out-flow.

Kevin glanced back and saw the next wave swelling higher and higher. Then it exploded just behind them. They were blasted upward and began bouncing toward shore like a rock skipping on rapids. They bounced so hard Kevin heard Leona’s head hit the board. He held them both down with all his might. The board caught up with the whitewater speed for a moment only to flip end over end. They were thrown careening above and across outward ripping water and then slammed into an uncontrolled crash on the beach.

Kevin reached for Leona with one hand and held the board with the other. They were being pulled back to sea by a retreating flood of water and flowing quicksand. Both leaned forward and dug in their toes as out-rushing water roared around them. Then, suddenly free of the ocean’s grasp, they ran for higher ground with hearts pounding and without looking back.

“Thanks, Leona,” Kevin said. He hugged her and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Look,” he said, “I gave you goosebumps.”

Leona looked at her skin. She started to tell him she was cold but stopped. “Maybe so,” she said, looking at him with a smile. “Let’s go get some warm clothes on.” They ran all the way to the truck, hand-in-hand.

“Look outside!” Leona pointed out to sea as she leaned on the truck bed, gasping for breath. “Your friends waited in the boat until we made it in.”

Kevin slipped out of his wetsuit and walked to the front of the truck, where he stood and waved the wetsuit in circles over his head until he saw the boat turn and begin moving away, southeast, toward civilization. He briefly wondered where they would be able to reach shore but didn’t worry too much about his long-time super surfer fishermen friends.

After Kevin changed into dry clothes and stowed away their surfboards and wetsuits, he stepped into the truck and started the power unit. His legs were shaking with cold and exhaustion as he eased up the grass planted strip to what at one time had been a railroad; it was still called that even though the steel tracks had been replaced with the same grass used on other roads.

“It would be nice if we could travel along the straight path of the railroad instead of this curvy little country road,” Kevin mused.

“Don’t you dare,” Leona commanded. “We’ve had quite enough adventure for one day.” Then she laughed and pointed to a train gliding into sight. It was a sleek and almost totally silent high speed daylight passenger train heading north to San Francisco.

They stopped and watched the train flash by in a blur. After it had passed, Kevin pretended to turn onto the railroad. Leona grabbed the wheel and straightened the little car back onto the regular road. They both laughed and then drove on for several miles in silence. The afternoon was turning to evening, shadows of lone oaks stretched across green rolling hills. They were tired refugees from the churning sea. It was warm in the little truck and they were dry, safe and comfortable.

Kevin put his arm around Leona as they left the side road and pulled out onto the main highway. “Let’s leave your car at the university and go straight home for something to eat,” he said.

“Okay,” she responded, enjoying being close. Their harrowing mutual struggle in giant surf had brought them together in a completely unexpected life-changing adventure. They had become fast friends and were inseparable from that moment on. Little did they know that what they had just survived cemented their combined focus on Use, surfing with pioneers, and a future that would include riding cosmic waves at life speed, far faster than the speed of light.

continue to Chapter 8