Colossus: The Monster 200 ft. Waves of Thalassa

Her heart skipped a beat as a small blue dot swung into view. Thalassa. She had traveled 70 trillion miles to surf its oceans. Giant, slow-moving monsters are what Milo had promised, the largest rideable waves in the stellar neighborhood due to the low gravity of the Mars-sized ocean planet.

Sage, in Songs of Thalassa

Colossus. If you’re a surfer the name will terrify you. Although it is a fictional surf break on a fictional planet in my book Songs of Thalassa, I designed it to be the giant of all monster breaks. The largest wave in the galaxy. Cortes Bank and Nazaré all in one. In my book, media-star Milo invites the heroine Sage and her trainer Dina to set a new giant wave record; one that will never be broken — ever. So he searches for an ocean world and discovers Thalassa and they travel 12 light-years to ride Colussus. Is a 200-foot wave possible? Yes, but not on Earth.

So, here are four reasons why Colossus would create the largest waves in the galaxy.

Global storms, a string of islands like Indonesia or Hawaii, a giant offshore shoal like Cortes Bank, all surrounded by deep water. Add the effects of reduced gravity, which make the waves bigger and slower, and you have the perfect surfing planet…

Dina, Songs of Thalassa

1. Thalassa is a water world, 99% ocean

She’s an ocean world, 99 percent water to be exact. There’s a single continent, about the size of California, broken up into hundreds of islands, cays, and islets, and there are two small polar ice caps.”

Milo, Songs of Thalassa
The water world of Thalassa.

Wave size is determined by Fetch, the distance over which the wind blows to create waves. On Earth, the Pacific is the largest ocean and thus has the largest fetches and generates the biggest waves. The North Pacific, which is known for the largest wave, is about 8,000 wide. The ocean on Thalassa is 8,200 miles of uninterrupted ocean with a small continent the size of California.

2. Waves on low-gravity worlds are large and slow

… the gravity on Thalassa is only 30 percent of Earth’s, so with my new motoboards and the slower waves, I’ll be invincible.

Milo, Songs of Thalassa
Size comparison: Earth, Mars,Thalassa

Colossus is based on the science from Mars’ oceans, the only extraterrestrial ocean that has been studied. For this reason, and because small ocean planets will create the perfect rideable waves, I made Thalassa close to the size of Mars (it’s 21% smaller).

Scientific research has shown that Mars had an ocean 3-4 billion years ago (see NASA, 2015). According to Banfield (see Choir, 2015) the waves on Mars were large and moved significantly slower compared to Earth. Because a 100-foot wave on our planet may simply be too fast and too big to ride, slow-moving waves give surfers an edge on giant waves.

Low-gravity planets like Thalassa have the potential to generate monster-size waves that might double or triple up as they encounter a shallow reef (see Surfing on Mars). Additional factors, such as the effects of tides (Thalassa has two moons), depth of the ocean basins, bathymetry, and the shape of the shoreline is likely to also be equally important.

3. The “Bulge” is an offshore shoal that captures massive swells

The geomorphology of the Bulge makes it a high-probability target for waves, potentially large waves, as it’s an offshore shoal in deep water. But the shoal is fairly deep, so it only breaks on big swells.

Georgia, Physical Oceanographer in Songs of Thalassa

Models for the Bulge: an offshore shoal (Cortes Bank) with massive submarine canyons (Nazaré)

The “Bulge” is the fictional shoal on Thalassa which includes Colossus reef. Small planets like Mars and Thalassa, with <10% the mass of Earth, cool rapidly and create large, stationary volcanos like the 70,000 feet giant shield volcano on Mars, Olympus Mons.

In the book, once the Bulge was formed it was eroded by wind and rain for millions of years which formed deep canyons on its sides. Later, rising sea levels created underwater (submarine) canyons. Thus, the Bulge creates the perfect conditions for giant waves: a large offshore shoal on an ocean planet with loads of deep submarine canyons.

4. Two submarine canyons focus waves and create a triple wave

One of the swells began slowly building in front of her as it merged with wave energy bouncing out of the canyons. Awed by the raw power of the mammoth peak, she felt like the entire ocean was amassing before her. It was as if every wave she had ever surfed was gathering into one, all of her life now piling up in front of her to test her courage.

Sage, Songs of Thalassa

When the team arrived on Thalassa in Songs of Thalassa (set in 2090) they discovered the geological processes of volcanism and erosion had created the perfect surfing spot: two submarine canyons in proximity to a thumb-shaped reef. Milo named it Colossus.

Colussus is based on Nazaré Portugal, one of the top big wave surf spots in the world, Colossus is a rocky reef surrounded by two submarine canyons. The waves move fast in deep water until the hit the offshore shoal and encounter the submarine canyons (see below). Then, the canyon walls focus the energy of incoming swells onto a sharp, jagged reef to create the largest waves in the galaxy. This tripling of swell energy (incoming + 2 canyons) results in waves over 150 feet.

The Thumb-shaped Colossus Reef on the Bulge with two submarine canyons.
Canyons focus incoming swells on the reef which triple up.

Reality Earth

We’re not riding 200-foot waves, that’s impossible. It’s simply too dangerous, and we can’t move fast enough.

Dina, Songs of Thalassa

So there you have it. Four reasons why Colussus reef can create the biggest waves in the galaxy. To experience the waves, read Songs of Thalassa; only $0.99 on Amazon.

But can a surfer ride a 200-foot wave? The truth is, the current world record is 80 feet, so even riding a 100-foot wave on Earth may simply be too fast and too big for someone to ride. Of course, surfers have been down that road before: that’s what they said about Waimea Bay for years before Greg Noll pioneered it in 1957. The truth is there is no limit to the courage of surfers, whether they can survive a wave that size or not. On Earth, we will see. On Thalassa, we know the outcome.

Further reading

Big Wave Surfing:

Science of Surfing on Mars:

  • Banfield, D., M. Donelan and L. Cavleri. 2015. Winds, waves and shorelines from ancient martian seas. Icarus: 368-383.
  • Choi, C. Q. 2015. Ancient Mars May Have Had Slow-moving Monster Waves. Retrieved Dec. 9, 2015.
  • Iijima, Y., K. Goto, K. Minoura, G. Komatsu and F. Imamura. 2014. Hydrodynamics of impact-induced tsunami over the Martian Ocean. Planetary and Space Science 95: 33-3
  • Nasa, 2015. NASA Research Suggests Mars Once Had More Water Than Earth’s Arctic Ocean.

What Lies Beneath: the mutant slab of Shipstern Bluff

Ryan Hipwood flying through “the steps” at Shipstern Bluff in 2009. © Andrew Chisholm/A-Frame

The Reef Beneath

While surfing I have always been torn between watching waves or looking at the reef and critters beneath. As a terrestrial mammal, we focus on surface manifestations and less on the aquatic. In this series of posts, I focus on the narrow interface between the ocean’s surface, the propagation of waves, the reefs they encounter, and the sea life below; a happy merger of my interests as a surfer and marine biologist. Anyone who has taken a tour of the seafloor beneath their favorite surf spot cannot help but appreciate the reef, and how it influences the waves and marine life alike. Here is their stories.

Russell Bierke at Shipstern Bluff. Photo: unknown.

Shipstern Bluff

It takes a special breed of surfer to surf such a wave..

Mick Fanning

For a long time is was a myth. Both a dream and a nightmare, A perfect mutant slab far off the trail. A slab of epic proportions. It’s Teahupoʻo, arguably the gnarliest wave in the world, on steroids. A place at the end of the world that required hiking through hours of rugged forests. To get there you had to travel through “the neck” the narrow peninsula that guarded Australia’s most hardened penal colony in Port Arthur. It’s a wave in front of a vertical jagged ship-shaped cliff that’s at the end of an isolated peninsula, on the south end of an island at the end of the world. Add to that,Tasmania lies smack bang in the path of the “roaring forties,” and experiences some of the fiercest winds in the world which have been a bane to sailing for centuries. There is nothing between it and Antarctica, 2000 miles away, and it receives the brunt of giant swells blasting out of the southern ocean. Welcome to Shipstern Bluff.


In the blink of an eye, the waves hit the shallow ledge and transform from a lump in the ocean into a 20-foot (six-metre) face.

David Guiney
The Dolerite Cliffs of Tasmania. Photo credit: Nishi Wojnar/Flickr

You can see the bottom in the cliffs, you can see it as you paddle out, and you can see it you ride the “steps” the wave within a wave within a wave that defines the break as it blasts in from deep water onto a super-shallow stairstep reef.

Looking towards Shipstern bluff on the Tasman Peninsula

The reef beneath the wave is ancient, It was created hundreds of millions of years ago. The Dolerite cliffs, as they are known, were forged by fire when dinosaurs roamed the planet, 180 million years ago. It was created by a massive eruption so large that ir covered a third of Tasmania and some of Australia, it is igneous rock (formed by magma) that defines the island with its’ distinctive mountains and soaring sea cliffs. It also created the reef.

Coastal mapping created from field surveys using small vessels equipped with sonar sounders, video drop cameras, and differential GPS (Barrett et al., 2001) reveals a high profile rocky reef close to deep water. This unique geomorphology sets the stage for a wave that comes flying out of deep water, hits a shallow reef, then jacks up in height, often several times the size of the swell, then peels over in thunderous tube.

The ocean entry to Shippies, showing what the reef looks like.Photo source: SurferToday

As the wave crashes into a very shallow reef, it encounters two elements that make the wave unique: 1) a stair-step reef; and 2) water sucking off the reef into the wave. As water piles up and ther wave hits the reef, it creates a series of waves-within-a-wave that define the break. But it’s more than the reef that defines the wave, its location is critical.

The tube ar Shippies. Photo: Sean Davies.

Shipstern lies of the path of a major exposure gradient, as the waters to the south are maximally exposed to the prevailing southern ocean swells (Barrett et al., 2001). These giant swells create an unparalleled wave, a huge body of water that arcs up seemingly out of nowhere to create the most exhilarating eight-second rush in Australian surfing.


After a 4WD drive through dense Australian wilderness, then an hour’s trudge through the Tasmanian heat, photographer Sean Davey peered over the edge of a 300-meter cliff. Next to him Kieren Perrow, Mark Mathews and Drew Courtney looked out into the Southern Ocean and saw waves breaking off the base of a distant bluff that resembled a ship’s stern.

Ben Mondy, Surfline.
Surfline’s article on discovery, 2020.
Surfing at Shipsterns Bluff, 2001. Photo: Sean Davey.

Legend has it that Andy Campbell, David Guiney, and Mark Jackson had it to themselves for most of decade before it was exposed to the media in 2001. Prior that time, no one had seen photos or video of the wave.I have to ask: what raw courage (or madness) drives surfers to risk life and limb in such an isolated wave on a monster, unforgiving wave and shallow, sharp reef? Like Jeff Clark at Maverick’s, who surfed it for years by himself far offshore but in plain sight, shippies extreme isolation protected it from the masses, at least until 2001.

The site can only be accessed by an 18 mile (30 km) jet ski/boat ride or a two-hour hike through the rugged Tasman National Park. Its remote location is why it went undiscovered for so long. Add to that the giant swells, bitterly cold water (53F [12C]), and dangerous marine life and you have one of the scariest waves in the world. While charging monster slabs moved into the media arena and competitive circuit, a slab militia developed and scoured the world for rivals to Shippies and Teahupoʻo. Still, Shipstern Bluff with its mutant steps, remains as one the world’s most challenging breaks.

The Science of Shipstern Bluff, by Redbull.

The Steps

Rides are short and intense, normally running into dry reef or cliffs.

Koby Apperton

“Shippies” is unique due to the mutation of the face of the wave as it hits the reef, where several unique challenges emerge.For surfers, riding through the steps is the main challenge.As the air drops off below them, they try to maintain their balance and composure as they repeatedly land back on the mutating wave face creates multiple waves with a wave. If they navigate the steps surfers are rewarded with a huge, fast-paced barrel. It’s a few seconds of terror followed by an exhilarating tube big enough for a bus.

Marine Life

The Bruny region of Tasmania, which includes Shipstern’s Bluff, was identified as a priority for mapping due to its high degree of marine endemism, high habitat diversity and the more urgent need
for protection (Barrett et al., 2001). But there is not much known about the reef as it’s a dangerous place to dive. Due to the rich marine life of the area, seals, orcas, and white sharks are not uncommon so exploring the reef is difficult at best.

The challenge

Most tragic surf accidents happen in heavy, hollow surf.

Mike Stewart.

The future of Shipstern’s is now in the hands of a new generation of surfers. Under the intense competition of today’s talented professionals (including many women) and the glaring lights of global social media, surfers are being driven to ride dangerous slabs in increasing frequency. Pruett (2019) addresses the elephant in the room: why haven’t more people died on slabs like Shippies?

Pruett (2019) has a number of theories about slab surfers. 1) they have more skill and can cope with mutant waves; 2) theyt get into fight-or-flight mode and have a heightened ability; and 3) As the massive lip unloads on the reef, a layer of water remains and dampens their impact. Still, as Fregel Smith (Pruett 2019) said about a new slab in Ireland: “Tom Lowe broke his foot a few weeks back and dislocated his shoulder twice. Mickey snapped his arm. Another smashed his kneecap in seven places. Another mate broke his whole face and had plastic surgery. One guy broke his back. I smashed my face in, 16 stitches. The list would go longer if I were to name all the injuries here.”

Why do surfers ride slabs like Shipstern’s bluff? Because despite the risk the ride is awesome. The fear barrier is still there but now many are facing their first thick slab rather then contemplating the risks from shore.

Others in the Series:


  • Barrett, N., J.C. Sanderson, M. Lawler, V. Halley and A. Jordan. 2001. Mapping of Inshore Marine Habitats in South -eastern Tasmania for Marine Protected Area Planning and Marine Management. National Heritage Trust, 2002 pp.
  • Mondy, B. 2020. How Shipstern’s Bluff Broke. Surfline. Accessed May 1, 2020.
  • Pruett, Matt. 2019. Slabs, a brief history. Surfline. Published April, 26. 2019.
  • SurferToday. The mechanics of Shipstern Bluff. Accessed May 5, 2020.
  • Wilmoth, P. 2006. Conquering the beast., accessed June 5, 2020.


Trinidad in a blood fog, Sept. 8, 2020. Photo: Susan Tissot.

A record amount of California is burning, spurred by a nearly 20-year mega-drought. … Death Valley hit 130 degrees in mid-August, the hottest Earth has been in nearly a century. …But experts believe we’ll probably look back and say those were the good old days.

Seth Borenstein, Associated Press

The orange-red sun glows in the crimson fog. Ash rains down, the smell of smoke hangs on the air. The raucous crows, silent. The streets are sparse, only a few walking cautiously with black face masks, looking sinister. The setting for a futuristic dystopian scientific fiction novel? Unfortunately no, it’s now.The future of our nightmares is with us. Armageddon? Not yet. This is the beginning.

I’ll keep this brief. Few have an attention span longer than 15 seconds these days, everyone buried in deep thought. Stunned by how much their world had suddenly changed. Wondering when life will return to normal. The answer: never. We have passed a threshold and there’s no going back. Is this the new normal? No, it will get worse.

Climate smacking California in the face.

Thomas Fuller and Christopher Flavelle, NY Times

It didn’t have to be this way. Many scientists, myself included, have been warning those responsible for protecting us from these calamities for decades. I published papers in the 90s, wrote op-eds in the 00s, blogged in the 10s. I lectured to my students and the public for 30 years, telling anyone who would listen about the dangers on the horizon. Sure, many would recycle, bike and walk instead of driving, minimize air travel, and other sacrifices. But it was all in vain. No one with the power to change our trajectory cared. To many, scientists were view as part of a socialist conspiracy, threatening to take away your cars, your electricity, your hard-fought freedoms. But it was an honest warning of what would come. Of the world we now live in. What we didn’t see was how the effects might pile up, overlap, and trigger or amplify each other.

This summer has seen more fires, more heat, more storms — all of it making life increasingly untenable in larger areas of the nation. Already, droughts regularly threaten food crops across the West, while destructive floods inundate towns and fields from the Dakotas to Maryland, collapsing dams in Michigan and raising the shorelines of the Great Lakes. Rising seas and increasingly violent hurricanes are making thousands of miles of American shoreline nearly uninhabitable.

Abrahm Lustgarten, NY Times

Pandemics, wildfires, hurricanes, floods, droughts, acid oceans, extinctions, rising sea levels, heat waves. For many years we didn’t know how it would play out. But now we do: all from our warming earth, from climate change. Massive climate migrations have begun, adding to the upheaval. Again, this is just the beginning. Can you imagine our world 30 years from now, 100? What world are are leaving for our children and future generations? It scares me to think of it. It’s not too late to improve our future. But we are running out of time. The future is now.

Here’s how to make a difference:

Do Plants Have Souls?

Yggdrasil, The Life Tree. Artwork by Alayna Danner

“Evidence now supports the vision of the poet and the philosopher that plants are living, breathing, communicating creatures, endowed with personality and the attributes of soul. It is only we, in our blindness, who have insisted on considering them automata.”

— Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, The Secret Life of Plants

We perceive the world through five senses– sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. That is our universe. But maybe it’s more than that. Snakes see heat, dogs smell fear, elephants hear clouds, manatees feel tides, and catfish taste things far away. Since perceptions create our world, perhaps there’s another universe we don’t see because we can’t. Enter the world of plants.

Glacier Mice (Moss) in Iceland that move like a flock of birds. Photo: Ruth Mottram.

The Enigma of Glacier Mice

While studying glaciers in Alaska, scientists encountered something unexpected: balls of moss that move around in a coordinated, herdlike fashion. Intrigued, they followed tagged individuals, named “glacier mice” in the 1950s by an Icelandic researcher. Stunned by their findings, they discovered the whole colony of moss balls moved at the same speed and same directions. They initially believed they would all roll downhill, with the wind, or with sunlight, but they didn’t. Instead, these mini spaceships composed of complex colonies of moss species and thousands of invertebrate critters moved around in a choreographed formation — like a flock of birds or a herd of wildebeests (Greenfieldboyce, 2020). Scientists are still scratching their heads, trying to explain their behavior in physical terms. Maybe they are looking in the wrong place. Maybe the answer is metaphysical.

The Secret Life of Plants

In 1971, Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird came out with an explosive book, The Secret Life of Plants. Pulling together science from the ages, they countered the belief that plants were motionless and feelingless because we never take the time to watch them. Importantly, they point out that without plant life, we would neither breathe nor eat, and we would miss the spiritually and emotionally satisfying presence of plants in our homes and our gardens. Plants are anything but static and devoid of life. If we watch carefully, plants are constantly bending, turning, and quivering. Their roots can bore through concrete, and their tendrils can attach to an object in 20 seconds. But that’s just the physical dimension of their existence.

The bulk of Tompkins and Bird’s book focused on experiments by Cleve Backster in the 1960s. At the time, Backster was an expert and leading authority on lie detectors. On impulse, Backster hooked up a plant. What he found challenges the world’s scientists to this day. Thinking of ways to elicit an emotional response in the plant, just like a human, he imagined burning a leaf which elicited in an instant response to the plant. Baffled, he repeated the experiment in the next room and recorded the same response. Eventually he tested more than 25 varieties of plants, and even fruits — some when he was in other cities when the tests were conducted — and was astonished to arrive at a new view of life with explosive connotations for science: plants perceive human thought and respond to our intentions. He decided his results demonstrated a form of ESP, which he called “Primary Perception,” a new sense unique to plants.

After years of research, he surmised that plants had a special form of communication, which included an affinity with their plant kin and with the animals that eat them. Astounded, he found the communication was unaffected by distance. Backter’s believed their mental and emotional messages operate outside time as we perceive it, and outside of the electromagnetic spectrum we see. He concluded there was an oneness among all living things and that sentience, the capacity to feel, perceive and experience subjectively— the definition of conscious beings— was present in plants and may go down to the molecular, atomic, and even subatomic level (Tompkins and Bird,1971).

Not surprisingly, Backster’s theories were rejected by the scientific community. The main reason: plants don’t have a nervous system and can’t perceive the world as we do. In other words, because they don’t have what animals do, they can’t possibly have senses beyond ours. Admittedly, I’m skeptical of his work but intrigued by the metaphysical connotations. I’m also not entirely convinced efforts to repeat his work– which have never replicated his results– were done correctly. Maybe the plants sensed the researchers were not open to the possibility of their perceptions? Well, how about some music?

The Sound of Music and Plants

Dorothy Retallack published her research on plants and music in 1973, and her The Sound of Music and Plants was an instant hit. These books came out during a time when people in the 1970s were opening their minds to the spiritual side of life, a unique time in our cultural history. Retallack’s experiments, which were part of her senior thesis at the Colorado Women’s College, showed that playing music to plants increased their growth rate. And it wasn’t just music but certain types of music. According to Retallack, the best music for plant growth is soothing, positive classical, or Indian music. Interesting, like my parents, plants don’t like Rock ‘n Roll, and its harsh, heavy, angry, or discordant sounds.

Although her work has received significant criticism by the scientific community (e.g., Chalker-Scott, below), her work was repeated by scientists that have supported her conclusions. For example, the numerous experiments summarized by Chowdhury and Gupta (2015) showed that specific audio frequencies in the form of music facilitated the germination and growth of plants, but non-rhythmic and inharmonious sounds had a negative effect on the growth of plants. (e.g., rock music — sorry Led Zeppelin).

Songs of the Trees

When you know that trees experience pain and have memories and that tree parents live together with their children, then you can no longer just chop them down and disrupt their lives with large machines.

— Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees

Trees truly live in a different world than we do, a world where time, at least from our perspective, is slow and endless, where seasons roll by like days, decades like weeks, centuries like years. Where life is measured in millennia. If any plants benefit from something like primary perception, it would be our ancient long-lived trees. So it is written in the Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohllben (2016).

Wohlben, a lifelong forester, writes that trees speak a sophisticated silent language and communicate complex information via smell, taste, and electrical impulses. He discusses significant scientific research showing that neighboring trees may help each other through their root systems thorough intertwining roots or connections via extensive fungal networks. They are not the solitary individuals we see, but families that help each other through an extended nervous system very different from our own, one which connects to nearby trees. It is analogous to the Tree of Souls in the movie Avatar, which connects to all life on the planet through its global root system or it’s wind-borne seeds, the Atokirina.

The Tree of Souls, from the film Avatar. Source: Pandora Foundation.
The seeds of the Tree of Souls, the Atokirina. Source: Pandora Foundation.

Clearly, their is much more to plants than we see. Even without a deeper understanding of their significance, plants are intertwined with our lives at so many levels that we have worshiped them, especially trees, since the dawn of humankind.

Celtic traditions & Pantheism

Plants are a key part of worldwide myths and legends. In Celtic traditions, for example, people believed that different trees served different mystical purposes that helped them through their lives. As such, they were considered sacred and the abode of nature spirits. Similarly, in Norse legends, the Yggdrasil was an immense ash tree at the center of the cosmos and was considered holy. Its was connected to the nine worlds of the universe with its roots and branches and was the center of Norse governing activities.

This connection of all life with the universe is a philosophy that embraces the belief that all things, the physical, biological, and spiritual, are connected. These are elements of Pantheism a belief that everything in the universe is linked in a profound unity of spirit; everything is interconnected and interdependent and that both in life and in death in humans is an integral part of this cosmos-wide unity (Harrison, 2016). Pantheism was the dominant belief of many philosophers and poets from Wordsworth to Whitman and is still very common today.

In my book, Songs of Thalassa, the main character Sage develops an environmental consciousness based on her Hawaiian culture and Pantheism that supports environmental protection of all life.

Songs of Thalassa

As the vibrations washed through, her mind soared over Thalassa’s landscape, passing the ridges and valleys covered in a pastiche of red, yellow, and orange colors….The humming was low, vibrant, and intense. There was joy in their union and strength in their harmony; they were conscious of themselves and each other. With a shudder, she realized their consciousness included her.

Excerpt from Songs of Thalassa by Brian Tissot

In Songs of Thalassa, all things on the planet Thalassa are interconnected in a profound symbiosis. One way this is illustrated is through the red, orange, and yellow lichen-like organisms that cover the land and sea floor. At several points in the book. Sage experiences their spirits which are connected across the landscape and seascape of Thalassa and ultimate to earth. Sage’s experiences on the planet lead her to embrace her Hawaiian beliefs of connections to her ancestors and a new believe that all life is connected, even across the universe. My inclusion of this philosophy in my book is based on the idea that plants, indeed all things, are sentient and have souls.


What this means in your life is the path before you. Maybe you feel a connection to plants when you are in your garden or see a beautiful flower on a hike, or you have a relationship with a special tree. Maybe now you’ll give extra thought to what you are feeling and how plants around you are responding to your emotions or the music you play. For if plants truly have souls, then we are missing essentialconnections to spirit in our lives, the spirit present in all things. A life-force we should all embrace. Honestly, I don’t know if plants have souls but I chose to believe they do and seek their wisdom and solace throughout my life. Only time will tell.


  • Chalker-Scott, L. The Myth of Absolute Science “If it’s published, it must be true.” Unpublished handout. 2pp. Accessed 6/10/20
  • Chowdhury, A.R. and A. Gupta. 2015. Effect of music on plants–an overview. International Journal of Integrative sciences, Innovation, and Technology. IV(6): ISSN 2278 – 1145
  • Coulson S.J. and Midgley N.G.The role of glacier mice in the invertebrate colonization of glacial surfaces; the moss balls of the Falljokull, Iceland. Draft manuscript. 24 pp.
  • Goodavage, M. 2019 Amazing Facts About Your Dog’s Sense of Smell. Accessed 6/10/20
  • Greenfieldboyce, N. 2020. Herd Of Fuzzy Green ‘Glacier Mice’ Baffles Scientists. Accessed 5/28/2020.
  • Which animals Have the Best Hearing Abilities? Accessed 6/10/20.

Dr Abalone Posts

Did Rey Skywalker ride a monster 260 foot wave on Kef Bir, the Ocean Moon of Endor?

Rey looks pass giant waves to see the ruins of the Death Star on Kef Bir in Rise of Skywalker

When I first saw the giant waves in the latest Star Wars movie, Rise of Skywalker, it took my breath away. Massive, huge and slow-moving, they were the perfect menacing grey-green monsters to create a barrier to the ruins of the second Death Star and the location of a Sith Wayfinder. But the Falcon crashed, so how was Rey to cross the giant surf? With a skimmer of course. And within minutes, we see a woman raised on a desert planet skillfully riding a skimmer through massive swells, deftly navigating the giant waves. Real or fantasy? How big were those waves? Could a small moon of the planet Endor create such surf? Let’s check it out.

Endor System

First, we have to calculate the gravity on Kef Bir as that influences wave height. The planet Endor is located in a binary star system in the Moddell sector of the galaxy’s Outer Rim Territories, an area rife with hyperspace anomalies. Endor itself is a gas giant with nine moons. One of the moons is the forested moon, also called Endor, where the Battle of Endor was fought in Return of the Jedi. One of the other satellites is the ocean moon Kef Bir. The forest moon’s diameter was 4900 km, 70% the size of Mars. However, the forest moon supposedly had a lighter-than-standard gravity (Wallace and Fry, 2000). The diameter of Kef Bir itself is either 3,725 km (Wookiepedia, Star Wars) or about 4,000 km based on the size of the Death Star 2’s impact in the surface (Bressar, 2020); or about half the size of Mars (6,792 km). With that diameter, if the mass was similar to Mars, the gravity on Kef Bir would be greatly reduced, about 20% of Earth’s.

This is both interesting and important as it is 30% smaller than the planet Thalassa in my book, Songs of Thalassa, which features monster waves at a surf break called Colossus. The waves on Kef Bir looked exactly how I pictured Colossus in my mind, which is why the scene was so stunning. See, waves on low-g planets are super cool, which is why I used them in my novel, because oceanographic theory predicts waves should be bigger and move significantly slower than on Earth.

Waves on Mars

Believe it or not the theory is derived from Mars’s oceans. If you went back 3-4 billion years Mars had an ocean, Oceanus Borealis, that covered about a third of the planet with an average depth of 450 feet (137 m). Research by Dr. John Banfield at Cornell and his colleagues (Banfield et al., 2015) demonstrated that wind blowing across the surface of that ocean produced wind waves, just like on Earth.

But what would the waves have looked like? According to Banfield (and see Choir, 2015)  they were likely large and moved significantly slower when compared to Earth. Since Mars has only 10.7% of the mass of the Earth its gravitational field is only 38% of Earth’s so it is easier to generate large ocean waves. However, gravity also acts to push waves along and determine their speed. Thus less gravity also means slower waves. Since Kef Bir’s gravity was only 20% of Earth’s the waves would have been even bigger. Check these babies out to see what I mean. How big do you think they are?

Waves on Kef Bir

Monster waves on Kef Bir. Scene from Rise of Skywalker, Disney Corporation.

To find out I did some frame grabs of the wave where Rey rode her Skimmer up a wave’s face (I subscribe to Disney+) and I applied a little math. First I calculated the size of the skimmer relative to Rey:

Rey in her 20 ft. Skimmer.

With Rey at 5’6” I calculated the length of the skimmer to be 20 feet (9.1m). Then I calculated the size of the wave as she went up the face using three frame grabs by comparing the wave size to the skimmer size.

First frame grab as she rises up the wave face. From Rise of Skywalker.
First frame grab with skimmer and wave lengths. From Rise of Skywalker.
Second frame grab. From Rise of Skywalker.
Third frame grab. Will she make it? From Rise of Skywalker.

The challenging part is locating the bottom of the wave. If you looks closely there is a smaller wave building in front of the Rey’s wave but I ignored that and focused on the main wave. After measuring three wave heights, the average estimated wave size was 287 ft. (87m). Yikes, yeah. But hold your horses as we’re not done yet. Because we are looking down on the wave it appears larger than it actually is as we are looking at the slope of the wave, not it’s height. Assuming a viewing angle of 20° and applying a little trigonometry the average estimated wave size is 260 ft. (79m)!

Yes, that’s unreal, and much bigger than the largest wave ever surfed on Earth, currently set by Rodrigo Coxa at Nazaré 2017 at 80. ft. Importantly, the size is consistent with what you would expect on the low-g planet of Kef Bir so Disney got it right (although the team should have been bouncing up and down like John Carter on Mars).

What about Thalassa? Yes, the whole reason it is a low-g planet, 20% smaller than Mars, to create a setting for massive waves and the big-wave surf off between Sage (the main character) and her nemesis Milo.. To find out how big the waves are on Thalassa, you’ll have to read the book but they are pretty big.

Rey in the Waves

Rey in her Skimmer. From Rise of Skywalker.
Rey navigating through waves. From Rise of Skywalker.

As to Rey riding giant waves; is that possible? Because she was raised on the desert planet Jakku it is unlikely she had any experience with waves or oceans. So Kef Bir was probably her first encounter with big waves. Could she have realistically ridden those waves with the skill she showed in Rise of Skywalker? Of course, because she’s a badass Jedi and the Force is with her.


Songs of Thalassa: Chapter 7

This is the last chapter preview of my new book which is available in softcover on the BookBaby BookShop and Kindle on Amazon. To learn more about the book visit

Chapter 7. Thalassa

Sage thought she was in a dream as they descended in the lander over the deep-purple water of the eastern Thalassian sea. She held on to her seat with shaking hands as her heart almost burst from her chest. The rest of the crew, Milo, Byron, and Georgia were watching with open mouths and frozen gazes as Dina panned a camera to record the views from the lander and the team’s first reactions.

It was a clear, sunny day with swirling white clouds hanging over the smooth ocean as they dropped within a few miles of the planet’s surface. Sage scanned the vast sea, and it reminded her of a summer day on Earth with the dark California-sized continent emerging in the east. Accustomed to Earth’s views, the shorter horizons and smaller brilliant white sun reminder her that something was askew. As they approached land, the blue sea ended against a mountainous ridge of steep-sided volcanoes rising rapidly in the west.

Georgia narrated for the cameras. “We are looking at a deep submarine trench next to the eastern shore, probably a subduction zone. Plate movement has pushed the seafloor below the edge of the continent here, creating these volcanoes in the process. It’s like the Andes or Cascades. Most are in the 5,000- to 6,000-meter range, about 18,000 feet.”

“But why steep volcanoes instead of mound volcanoes like Hawaii or Mars?” asked Sage.

“Ah, good question,” Georgia replied, staring at the growing volcanoes. “I’m not sure, but it may be due to the lower gravity of the planet or perhaps the higher mineral content. If they are anything like Mars, these volcanoes may erupt at highly irregular episodes but are capable of massive eruptions.”

Milo directed Byron to fly over the top of the volcanoes and head down the western slope toward the offshore islands. As they approached, Sage looked down and saw the east coast was a long series of steep volcanic cliffs, dropping into deep water. Good for ocean productivity, she thought, but not the right shoreline for good waves. The tops of the volcanoes were lumpy and eroded, and she didn’t see any obvious calderas, but there were dark areas everywhere, probably recent lava flows, streaming off the sides of the volcanoes and down the valleys to the west.

Georgia kept narrating. “As we predicted from the probe data, these volcanoes are active, but probably at a late stage in their history. Once we’re on the ground, I’ll install seismometers to see if we can detect any earthquakes. We don’t want to get caught off guard if these babies erupt.” Georgia laughed and smiled at Sage, who couldn’t keep her face from pulling an anxious grimace. “Don’t worry. It’s just like your home, the Big Island.”

As they passed over the line of volcanoes, Sage was surprised by the rapid change in the land below them. Expecting a dark volcanic landscape, she was startled as they emerged into a series of deep, dry, highly eroded valleys draped in pastel shades of yellow and orange with large red-black mosaics covering the higher elevations. As they dropped closer to one valley, everyone craned their necks to get a better look at the hillsides, which appeared dry and barren but painted in a montage of colors.

Georgia pointed out the porthole. “The sides of the canyons are lined by dark caves, probably lava tubes. The bottoms of the valleys are dry, deep arroyos created by large rainfall events. Look at the river cuts! Erosion has exposed layers of debris from past eruptions, which looks like a mix of ash, basalt, and sedimentary rock sculpted into a wide array of complex landforms. I see arches, chimneys, and mushroom-shaped rocks. Many valleys show dark rivers of old lava flows that connect to the sides of volcanoes. Some extend to the western sea. That’s almost 50 miles distant.”

Sage had been scanning the hillsides for life and spoke as Dina panned the camera toward her. “I don’t see any obvious plant structures—there are no trees—but the colors are intriguing and could be biological in origin. Georgia is right; this place is honeycombed with lava tubes from past eruptions, even more than the Big Island.”

As they approached the western edge of the continent, the land flattened into yellow-orange coastal hills bisected by narrow canyons. The color change was so abrupt it was almost as if an artist had changed palettes in the middle of a painting. Offshore of the coastal plains, but separated by an inland sea, Sage saw a long string of islands of varying sizes running north and south disappearing over both horizons; each island was covered in speckled white sand surrounding yellow-black remnants of former volcanoes, with red on the tops of the bigger islands.

Once offshore, Byron turned and headed south over the island chain. As a line of breaking waves became visible, Milo and Sage began to hoot and holler. Dina was nearly breathless when she said, “Wow, this is amazing, Milo, just like you described. And with deep water offshore, the islands are perfect for large, fast waves.”

Sage nervously glanced west and saw a large powder-blue area surrounded by the dark-blue ocean on the horizon. “That must be the Bulge.”

“Yes,” said Milo. “That’s it! But I don’t see any waves today. It must be too small.”

Byron piloted the lander above the beaches along the string of islands heading south as Georgia continued to lecture. “These are remnants of old volcanoes. They’ve been eroded down to small islands surrounded by white sediment with a yellow tint of some unknown origin.”

Milo had been scanning the islands and water along with everyone else. “No evidence of life,” he said, as they flew down the island chain. He pointed at one of the sandy islands near the end of the chain. “This looks like a low-priority habitat under the PPP.” Dina pulled her head away from the camera and gave him a quizzical look. “The Planetary Protection Protocol. Sand is an unlikely habitat for life and hence a good place for a first landing. Anyway, Sage will be taking bacterial samples so we can check for local biota if any. Georgia, you also have your marching orders.”

Georgia nodded. “Roger that.”

As they dropped down to the surface and prepared to land, Milo opened the door. “OK, everyone, remember to apply sunblock to exposed skin as the UV is strong. I doubt you’ll notice the difference in the air composition—it’s very similar to Earth except for a few noble gases—but be mindful of the reduced gravity.” He motioned to the ground as Byron landed softly on the beach. “Let’s do it!”

Sage was the first one out and jumped down with a backpack full of gear, including a camera and petri dishes, to get her first personal look at Thalassa. Jumped wasn’t the correct word; she thought it was more like floating. In the low gravity, her 110-pound frame weighed 45 pounds. Moreover, as she landed, her instinct to cushion her fall resulted in a rebound that propelled her 20 feet away. She felt like a kid on a playground.

“Woo-hoo!” she screamed, looking back as Dina jumped after her. “The low gravity is awesome.”

“Yeah,” said Dina as she bounced down the beach like a pogo stick. “I can’t wait to get some serious air surfing!” Milo and Georgia also jumped out and began falling and bouncing around.

Sage moved away from the small group assembled on the beach toward the eastern shore of the island. Adapting to the low gravity was difficult; she fell several times but finally perfected a bouncing gait that moved her along without stumbling. Standing in the sand, she realized it was her first moment on Thalassa. It looked so Earth-like she almost forgot where she was, yet it felt alien. Feeling the warmth of the coarse sand on her feet, she looked down and noticed she barely made a dent in the white sand, sprinkled with specks of yellow and black. She laughed as she realized the sand looked like oatmeal with dried garlic flakes and pepper as seasoning. “How cool!”

Facing the wind, she saw the tops of volcanoes dotting the eastern skyline across the inland sea. The warm breeze blowing over the water from the distant land was fragrant in a way she had never experienced. It was musky, like mold or mushrooms, with a hint of sharpness, like mustard, and the added salt smell of the sea. But also something else, something she couldn’t quite place. Something unique. Something Thalassian.

Captivated by the sights and smells, her body trembled, her face grew warm, and heat spread to her arms and legs. Startled, her concern grew until she remembered the feeling from another time. She was four years old, and it was the first time she had seen the stunning vistas of Waimea Canyon on Kauai. She was overwhelmed by the raw beauty of the view and recalled the thrilling feeling of that moment. Here, however, she felt awe but a faint memory from her past. It felt alien, but at the same time, it was eerily familiar, like a distant dream. Her knees went weak as she realized it was like coming home, but to a place she had never been before. It was a déjà vu moment where time stopped, and past, present, and future merged into one in her mind. All her senses were alert, and she felt fully alive. Have I been here before? Perhaps in my dreams.

Basking in the high emotion of the moment, she smiled as she realized she was the first human to see these vistas, smell these scents, and the first Hawaiian to stand on an Earth-like planet. She felt incredibly fortunate and thought about her grandmother pushing her to go. I’m here, Tutu.

The memory of her tutu was eternal, and she could picture her in her mind, sitting in her rocker on the front porch in a long floral-print dress like she had a million times before. Her dark, soft, wrinkled skin in contrast to her long gray hair pulled up in a tight bun. During her last trip home to visit her ailing tutu, Sage was startled at her iconic appearance—it was timeless. They greeted using a traditional honi: nose to nose, staring into each other’s eyes for a long moment as they shared the divine breath of life, the : a pure expression of aloha. Tutu taught her that sharing a honi was special and a way to connect souls.

“How’s my little Hoku?” her tutu had said in a soft, gentle voice. She never used her given name but always referred to her as Hoku, “star.”

“I’m fine,” replied Sage. Her tutu looked weak and trembled in pain. “Are you OK? Aren’t you mad at me like everyone else?”

She held Sage’s face with both hands. “I’m glad you’re here, but we don’t have much time.”

Sage started to ask her questions again, but her grandmother cut her off. “Do you remember what I told you when you were little? About your inoa pō, your dream name?”

Sage searched her memory for the old story. “You mean about the stars?”

“Yes, about the stars, but you have forgotten the story. I named you after the stars, yes, but your mother ignored that, and you ignored it, and you’ve been paying the price. You still have something important to accomplish in your life.” Sage’s eyes widened in recognition, but she couldn’t quite remember the details—the last time she heard Tutu’s story, she was young, and it hadn’t made sense.

“On the night you were born, right before dawn,” her tutu continued, “I had a dream, a vision about you and your connection to the Akua, to the gods. In my dream, I was standing on a pali, on a dark cliff, looking at a stormy ocean, and I saw Ke Kā o Makali‘i rise in the east. You remember that one, right? The great bailer of Makali’i? It is one of the constellations that the Hawaiians used to find their way at sea. They used it to find Hawaii.”

Sage’s chest tingled at the memory. “Yes, of course, but what does that have to do with me?”

“In my dream, as I looked at the stars that night, a bright one blinked on the horizon, Puana, the one they call Procyon.” Sage stared at her in disbelief, recalling the fate of her father and the target of Milo’s expedition. “The waves were huge and rose and fell from a great storm. The storm of all time, raging far out at sea, sent by Kanaloa, the Hawaiian god of the sea. Some say he is a giant squid or octopus that lives deep in the ocean, stirring up the sea with his arms when he is displeased. But from the star, I saw a mighty force descend, pushing the waves down, creating a calm path through the storm and spreading throughout the vast ocean. It was calming the sea amid the violence of the storm.”

Sage was transfixed as her tutu continued, “At that moment, I saw who you would become. I saw your name and your connection to Kanaloa.”

Her tutu stood up, her frail voice suddenly becoming loud, strong, and clear. “You are kamaʻāina of these islands, child, born here and forever connected to Hawaii and the sea. You are kānaka maoli, descended from the original Hawaiians, the ones that discovered the islands using that star, and others, to find their way. That means something now, something important. You are a Wayfinder for a new generation. It makes sense that a Hawaiian should lead a leap into the stars just as we did into the vast ocean. But what you will find, I do not know.”

Her grandmother grew in size and power as she spoke. “When I awoke that day and saw your beautiful, strong face, I remembered my dream, and I named you Hōkūlani e hoʻāla i ka moana: a heavenly star that awakens the ocean. It is your name, and it is who you are. It came to me, and I gave it to you. Now it’s time for you to live it, to become who you were meant to be. If you don’t, you will die; we may all die. Kanaloa will see to that. He’s been warning you, but you haven’t been listening.”

Sage tried to speak, to defend herself, but her tutu shook her head and said, “I’ve been trying to remind you, but you were always too busy doing this or that, too busy wasting your time surfing. But now you must accept who you are. I can see that your past is holding you back.” Then her voice grew passionate, and she held Sage’s face in her hands. “It is time to let your past go and face your future. I can see your journey is dangerous, but Kanaloa is a powerful protector, and you have the family ʻaumākua to guide you, so you are blessed.”

Startled at the rebukes, Sage was incredulous nevertheless. “Holding me back? From what?”

“From your life, your path.”

“My future in surfing?”

“No,” Tutu replied. “Your life is much bigger than that. It’s about your passion, your love, your connections to life, your bright aloha spirit, your beautiful voice. It’s about who you are, not what you do.” Then she collapsed into her chair and looked old and weak once again.

Sage was stunned as she stared at her tutu, who looked like she was sleeping. She vaguely remembered the story from when she was a girl, but in the context of her father’s fate and Milo’s challenge, it took on new significance. Frankly, it scared the shit out of her. As Tutu spoke her powerful words, Sage felt them moving through her body, right to her core. It was confusing but made sense at the same time. But I don’t need another challenge right now. Shit!

Her cousin Lani who had been watching from a distance walked across the yard and sat down next to her. She looked at Sage with her soft brown eyes and long, light brown hair and noticed she was visibly shaking. “Is Tutu OK? What’d she say?”

Sage took a deep breath. “Well, that’s what I’m trying to figure out. She reminded me of my future; you know that crap about awakening the ocean and saving the world she told me when I was a kid.” Then looking at Lani, Sage shook her head. “Sorry, I probably never told you about that.”

She launched into a long diatribe about Tutu’s message, her waning surfing career, Milo’s invitation, and her feelings about her father and troubles with her ‘ohana. While she spoke, Lani was quiet and respectful, occasionally nodding her head. Like many Hawaiian children, she was taught to be attentive and patient.

After she finished, Lani spoke in a gentle voice. “You should go. This is your chance to set things straight. To get your pono back.”

“I can’t. It’s dangerous, and a long trip. It’s bad enough that my dad died, but…” Sage let her voice trail off as she thought of her fears about her surfing career and competing with Milo. She gave her cousin a stern look. “I’m not going. I don’t care if Cutten fires me, but I’m not going to waste a year in space to explore a dead planet with big mushy waves. I can’t chase after my father’s death. I don’t want to know what happened. It won’t change anything.”

Lani broke into a big, bright smile, her braided pigtails shaking as she spoke. “Relax and stop worrying. Surfing and science, your two things in life, right? It sounds perfect. Plus, you can ride the big waves and fulfill your destiny at the same time. Your ‘ohana is seriously worried about you. And you definitely need to work on your pono. But we’re here for you and always will be.”

Tutu woke with a weak smile and spoke with a soft voice. “Lani’s right, Hoku. This is your life’s journey. You must go and find your purpose among the stars and that planet’s ocean. It makes sense now what the star meant. You must connect with our ancestors and bring their wisdom back to Hawaii.” Then looking into the distance as if seeing into another dimension, she said, “Maybe you are meant to re-establish the ancient connections to the Koholā.

The Koholā?”asked Sage. “The whales? What do they have to do with anything? Aren’t they extinct?”

Lani looked like she could cry, as she loved whales. “No! But there aren’t many left. The planet is too warm.”

Tutu lowered her eyes in shame at Sage’s comment. “You have forgotten your lessons!” she said. “The whales are a manifestation of Kanaloa and move back and forth between here and the ancestral world. They are the record keepers, the messengers. They are the link between us and our ancestors, the source of the Polynesian people. They bring love, and patience, and understanding. From the zenith star `A`a they came. But…” she said, as if in a trace. “…you may not recognize them, for they are creatures of an ancient time. Without the wisdom of the Koholā, we are doomed, our connections to the ancestors broken. You must go.”

Then, becoming very weak, she closed her eyes and breathed her last words in a whisper as the two girls leaned in. “Look to the waters, my child, for they are sacred. Listen for them, for the ʻāina is singing her song. When the white mists part, you will see her. She is always there: waiting, patient, the source of all life. Beautiful is the ʻāina. You must protect her. We live or die together. But remember your ʻaumākua and trust your dreams and visions. They will guide you.” She beckoned Sage to move closer, and they shared a honi, with Tutu’s last breath passing to her as her tutu’s eyes closed forever.

Several days later, Sage and Lani were invited by the kāhuna to assist in a kākū ʻai ceremony, a traditional Hawaiian ritual where offerings were made to the gods to transform their tutu into an eternal guardian spirit, a aumakua, for the family. As Sage stood watching on a high cliff, the wind blowing through her long hair while tears ran down her face, Tutu’s sister Halina chanted as Tutu’s body, wrapped in tapa cloth, was lowered into the sea. The sun was setting as dark clouds moved across the volcanoes, and a rainbow appeared. As Tutu disappeared into the ocean depths, thunder rumbled across the waves, and Sage saw a bright star peak below the clouds on the western horizon. It was Procyon. The star was beckoning to her across the sea as she stood straight and strong before the sacred volcanoes of Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. As intense grief and fear ran through her body, everything she knew as a person and as a Hawaiian told her that Procyon was calling to her. She knew she had to go.


Sage must have been in a trance, because she didn’t notice when Georgia bunny-hopped up to her on the beach and said, “Pretty amazing, huh?” Sage wiped her face, but didn’t say anything as Georgia scooped up a sample of sand. “The sun and gravity will take some getting used to. It’s weird because Procyon is seven times brighter than our sun but three times farther away. This sand is bizarre, and what’s that smell? It’s like a wet dog.”

Yeah,” Sage said with a weak smile. “The sand almost looks edible. And that smell feels familiar and alien all at once. Weird.” Georgia turned around and quickly bounced back toward the ocean.

As Sage watched Georgia spring away, she wondered about the larger significance of standing on Thalassa. Sure, she thought, I have a job to do, but this looks like a lifeless planet. And I have an opportunity to revive my surfing career. But my tutu was wise, so maybe there’s something else I need to do here. But what is it? Despite years of rejecting her traditional Hawaiian upbringing, the old chants and stories occupied a well deep in her subconscious. She knew the legends and traditions were rooted in time immemorial and represented an accumulation of important knowledge. And within her genealogy, which extended to the creator, were mythical links to the gods and the stars. But the role of whales and the meaning of Tutu’s challenge remained a mystery.

As she shuffled toward the ocean collecting bacterial samples, she heard whistling and saw a flash of brown quickly disappear in the surf. What the hell? She ran down to the water’s edge but whatever it was had vanished, and she only heard the crashing of waves on the shore as a shiver ran down her back. It must have been sand in a wave. But what if it was something else?

The Akoni Four Challenge: How Surfing Can Teach Us How To Live

Today is Earth Day, 2020, where we celebrate 50 years of honoring our planet. We should all take a moment do something to recognize the importance of the Earth in our lives. Here is my contribution.

As we strive to survive during the first true global pandemic, we should reflect inward and rejoice in the many gifts we receive from mother Earth that we depend on, especially the sea. Here I focus on the lessons we learn from surfing and how it teaches us to live.

Akoni Four

The Akoni Four is a fictional challenge based on a character written for my science fiction book Songs of Thalassa, which was ultimately deleted. The story is partially based on the life of Mark Foo, as described in Andy Martin’s 2007 book, Stealing the Wave, and Foo’s dedication to living the way of the Tao. Here is Akoni’s Story.

Akoni was of Hawaiian-Chinese descent and an avid surfer. His stern and vocal Chinese father taught him to follow the path of the Tao and he became a firm believer of the Tao Te Ching throughout his life. He believed that water in the ocean is flexible, humble, benefits all things, and transcends all obstacles. Competition was not the way forward but instead he needed to be humble and become one with the all-encompassing ocean. These are the concepts he lived by:

  1. Embrace simplicity, patience, and compassion — the greatest treasures in life
  2. Go with the flow — allow things to take their natural course
  3. Let go — change and death are the only constants in life
  4. Harmony — embrace the yang and ying

As a child, Akoni surfed for fun but as he grew up he sought media attention and realized that big wave surfing was the ultimate way to name recognition. But through deep meditation, and by living the Tao, he was able to transcend common beliefs about surfing and began to feel the energy of waves as it moved through the water, through him, and dissipated on the reef, and he began to seek another path. He realized that riding the biggest wave wasn’t a notch on his belt but a way to experience the ocean’s energy in full force. Like many, he began to think of mother ocean as a creator, a woman, and tube riding became the ultimate way for him to experience the core of the sea.

Akoni believed in the ying and yang; the idea that seemingly opposite forces are complementary and interconnected. For as he rode big waves and pushed the limits to feel the energy of the sea, he experienced delight and suffering. In addition to riding big waves and experiencing the tube, to be complete he had to experience the humbling lessons taught by the ocean; to feel the strength of the reef and be one with ecology of the ocean. Only by having all four of these experiences could he follow the Tao and become one with the ocean.

His quiet Hawaiian mother also taught him an important lesson: the Hawaiian concept of pono and how be in balance with the waves and the ocean. To be pono he needed to avoid elements of Hewa (wrong conduct) that prevented Pono (right conduct) in all aspects of his surfing life. She taught him that he needed to avoid coveting things with longing and desire, as he did with his world title and big wave awards, and avoid the restless yearning for these achievements. For covetousness leads to greed, deceit, and trickery, and must be avoided at all costs. Akoni found her lessons difficult to achieve in the highly-competitive professional surfing arena.

The Challenge

Late in his successful life, as he began to truly understand the teachings of the Tao Te Ching, he set up a Foundation to promote the way of the Tao in surfing through a challenge. The Akoini Four, as it was known, evaluated surfers during a five year interval for their experiences, which were based on two concepts and four categories.

YANG: Focus Outward, Ascend

  1. Biggest Wave: feel the unlimited power of the ocean.

2. Deepest Tube Ride (wave > 10 ft.): join passionately with the raw vortex of a wave.

YING: Focus Inward, Descend

3. Worst Reef Encounter: accept the strength of the reef that breaks the back of the wave.

4. Worst Encounter with Marine Life: be humble when part of the ocean’s ecology.

Anyone judged to have achieved all four at any point within the 5-year period would be given the highly coveted award, which had no cash value but tremendous prestige among the surfing community. Started in 2050, no one even won the award, or even won two of the four categories as judged by Akoni’s Foundation, except for Akoni himself who died while completing all four on a single wave at Raptor Reef.

Encounter with Raptor Reef

Raptor Reef. A secret atoll deep in the heart of Micronesia. It was a perfect wave that broke along a razor-sharp reef on the edge of a small island. Tavarua on steroids. At first, Akoni was awed by the flawless but dangerous break and he surfed cautiously. But after a few days, as a monster swell grew, his ego for fame overcame his caution and he began to take enormous risks, dropping in deeper and deeper behind giant peaks, seeking a longer and deeper tube ride for the cameras.

Tavarua. Photo:

As the waves began to break on the outer shoal and funnel onto the reef as massive tubes, Akoni paddled out alone to ride the 30 foot waves. After aggressively riding a few waves, he discovered the limit to his abilities: he dropped in on a giant wave and aimed for the massive tube building up on the almost exposed reef. Deep in the tube, he was hit by the huge lip and pitched full force onto the jagged coral.

Upon impact he broke both his arms as the wave dragged him along the bottom through the shallow reef carpeted with sea urchins, their needle-like spines breaking off in his body. As the wave dissipated, it deposited him on the edge of the channel where the current pinned him against a wall of fire coral. As he floated in agony, his arms useless against the current, his body a pin cushion on fire, sharks attracted by the blood began nipping at his legs. As his team scrambled to help, he realized he had breached the invisible wall the Gods had created to prevent mere mortals from tackling the impossible might of the sea, and this time, unlike his past mistakes, the ocean was teaching him a lesson.

During a tortuous three-hour boat ride back to the main island his excruciating pain gave him a brief moment of clarity as his life force drained from his body. In that moment, he realized that although he had followed his outspoken father’s path of the Tao, he had not listened to his mother’s quiet lessons on pono and he was being punished for his lack of discipline.

Near death, he directed his foundation to include a new overarching element to the challenges based on pono: evaluation for the award would be based on the concept of “action without intention.” Surfers had to achieve each benchmark through naturalness, simplicity, and spontaneity. Not through dominating competition or open bravado. Hence, they could not seek the ying and the yang, it had to come to them naturally through patience and by going with the flow.

As he died, Akoni’s whispered his final wisdom: listen to the quiet words.

Further Reading:

  • Chun, M. N. 2006. Pono The Way of Living (Ka Wana Series). Univ. of Hawaii, Honolulu, HI. 21 pp.
  • I Ching (text), Wilhelm Translation, 1950.
  • Martin, Andy. 2007. Stealing the Wave: The Epic Struggle Between Ken Bradshaw and Mark Foo. Bloomsbury Publishing USA , 256 pp.
  • These 4 Teachings of Daoism Will Help You Navigate Life,, 2018, Accessed April 19, 2020

Past Earth Day posts:

Songs of Thalassa: Chapter 6

This is a preview of the initial chapters of my new book which is available in softcover on the BookBaby BookShop and Kindle on Amazon. To learn more about the book visit

Chapter 6. Orbit

Over the next few days, the blue dot grew until it filled the viewports of the Duke. Eventually, its small continent emerged from among the swirling clouds. “It’s so beautiful,” remarked Sage, crammed tight into the fish-eye porthole with Dina while staring at Thalassa. “It reminds me of Earth but with two stars.”

Dina pointed out several large, tightly spiraled storm systems in the vast oceans. “Look at the size of those storms. There is definitely big-wave potential on the planet.”

Byron overheard them. “Thalassa rotates faster than Earth—it has 18-hour days—so Coriolis forces are stronger, which causes higher deflections of the atmospheric winds, including clouds and storm systems, especially near the poles.”

The next day, Thalassa’s moon came into view. It was small, slightly bigger than Mars’s Phobos, and Sage, who saw it first, named it Lona, after a Hawaiian moon goddess. Everyone began using the name, except Milo who called it a misshapen potato.

As they prepared to enter orbit, Milo convened an early briefing. “OK, everyone, it’s showtime! I’ve sent the major networks and vloggers an alert to expect a high-priority broadcast in the next few weeks. However, nobody knows where we are or what the broadcast contains, except that it’s from me and I’m in interstellar space. I want it to be a big surprise.”

“Is that safe?” Sage asked. “What happens if we need help?”

Milo waved her off. “Cutten knows we’re in the system, and they expect an update within a few weeks or so. After we’ve scouted and surfed a few spots and we get a big swell, I’ll alert them with more specific information. The major goal of this mission is to break the news with the ultimate big-wave holoscreen broadcast. I don’t want to tell them anything until we’re ready to blow their minds. Then we’ll have the world’s attention. I can’t wait for the homecoming following that!”

Sage smirked at Milo’s bravado and high expectations, but it was nothing new.

He held up a softball-sized probe. “Before Byron establishes geostationary orbit above the planet, about 15,000 klicks out, we’ll send scanning probes such as this to the surface. One array will scan the ocean bottom to create a detailed bathymetric map of the seafloor; others will pan out and deploy on the ocean’s surface to measure a suite of environmental variables—wave height, period, direction, winds, and atmospheric pressure systems. Several others will be sent down to map the continent and the islands. Although these probes are pretty fast—they are made by Cutten by the way—it will probably take a week or more to complete an initial scan then months to fill in the details.”

He walked over to the instrument panel, pushed a button, and the blue globe of Thalassa reappeared above the map table. “All the data we collect will be stored on the Duke and integrated into a cloud database linked to this holoscreen projection. When we have enough data, we’ll be able to select areas on the map to zoom in and pull up everything, including videos, scientific samples, reports, wave predictions, anything you want to view.”

Georgia brightened at the mention of wave data. “I’ll have probe buoys positioned all over the ocean plus an array around the Bulge. In addition to monitoring oceanographic and weather conditions, they have integrated sonobuoys to record sound.”

“Why is sound important?” asked Dina.

Sage knew this one. “Lots of marine animals make sounds on Earth, like fish and shrimp and whales, so it’s a great way to monitor sea life.”

Georgia cleared her throat like she didn’t appreciate the interruption. “After we receive the oceanographic and weather data, I’ll upload everything into my wave model and generate predictions for wave heights, period, and directions anywhere on the globe. A basic model will be ready in a few days; a full model in a few weeks or a month. In between swells, we’ll explore the planet’s oceanography, geology, and biology, if there is any. Milo, Sage, and I have discussed scientific missions to the continent and all major islands, and we’ve planned submersible dives in major habitats, starting with the Bulge. Hopefully, we’ll get started soon. I can’t wait!”

Milo gestured to Moshe, who spoke with a soft, low voice for the first time in days. “With Byron’s help, I’ll be shooting and editing a hyperview video for a holoscreen broadcast. The first one is a short introduction to the mission and its objectives along with our initial findings, which will be followed by Milo’s big news.” Moshe held up a button-sized black object. “I’ll install these small cameras that will film and upload an integrated data stream to the lander while you’re surfing. Your surfboards already have built-in cameras, and I’ll launch some microdrones for additional perspectives. The holoscreen projection requires a minimum of 27 cameras for a full experience, and we want to document everything in HD VR for the historical record.”

Sage smirked at Moshe’s words. The holoscreen had helped her achieve fame but constantly reminded her of past mistakes. It had also played a major role in Milo’s ascension into stardom. Given the Earth’s rapidly deteriorating environment, near-constant wars and riots, and failed governments, most people plugged into their holoscreen units to escape reality for fleeting moments of personal pleasure. Thus, the holoscreen was front and center in most people’s lives, and the focus was on “big news”—events that grabbed everyone’s attention—while the small, daily crises that slowly destroyed the planet and humankind were background noise. But, it was very useful if you had something important to say. Sage knew Milo had learned that lesson well.

“Yes, 27 cameras. You don’t want to miss a thing, right?” added Sage, winking at Milo.

Milo turned to Byron and Moshe. “And remember, we want to get as low as possible for the best shots. Da Bull is built to handle it.” Moshe nodded while Byron started blankly back at him.

“Continuing on,” Milo said. “After we’ve received some preliminary probe data, we’ll move the Duke into low orbit, and Byron will pilot the lander down to the surface. Our first goal will be to take a look at one of the islands and field test Da Bull. Next, we’ll launch the submersible for initial underwater explorations. We’ve planned a shallow dive to test the sub’s instruments and look for the presence of microbes. Given Thalassa’s history and Procyon’s intense UV, the best place for life will be in the ocean. If everything goes as planned, we’ll be on the surface tomorrow.”

“And the Duke?” asked Dina.

“Good question,” Milo said. “The AI will maintain the ship in orbit, but I’ve asked Moshe to stay behind as a backup. At least initially.” Then he quickly added, “Look, folks, if we have problems with the lander—which we won’t—the Duke’s control hub can detach from the torus and land on the surface. I designed it as a backup. We can also summon it remotely. However, its main role is to serve as our orbital base camp, with the lander providing transportation for the surface missions. That way we always have orbital support and safe repository for the data we collect. We are not repeating the blunders of the Proteus.”

Sage winced at the hint of her father making mistakes. “Yeah, you seem to have thought about everything. But what if an asteroid hits the Duke? How do we get back to Earth?”

Georgia came to Milo’s defense. “First of all, that’s unlikely to happen. And the lander is tough, like the real Bull. And although it’s small, it is also designed for interstellar travel. Moreover, it’s been waterproofed, inside and out, so we can get close and personal with the waves if needed. But it’s not designed to go underwater—that’s why we have the submersible. If we had to, we could all squeeze in the lander and make it back to the portal. But that’s for emergencies.”

“But how do we get back to Cassini?” asked Sage. “The worm portal disappeared after we came through.”

Sage was awed when they arrived at Cassini Station after a four-month journey from Earth. Approaching Saturn, she thought the large multi-wheeled structure with massive solar panels was like a glistening golden bird in space. Located in the outer Lagrangian point near Tethys, it served as a way station for Earth and its space elevators, adjacent to the optimal location for worm portals to several star systems, including Procyon. Cassini mined Tethys for water for the portals, which required a prodigious amount of water and hydrogen. The high level of energy required to open the portal limited the size of interstellar ships. As a result, NASA focused early explorations on 52 star systems within 16 light years of the Earth where it could send large generation ships using sub-light methods to establish space stations and planetary colonies. So far, there were colonies in two star systems, Proxima and Ross. Milo had said that Procyon was next.

Byron cleared his throat. “When we came through the worm portal into the Procyon system, I launched four communication satellites.” In response to Dina’s puzzled look, he elaborated, “The satellites allow us to communicate with the Tethys worm portal to Cassini and from there to Earth. We can transmit to the comm sats from Thalassa and send messages, video feeds, whatever, and the satellites will archive the data until they’re ready to be uploaded through the portal. Plus, we’ll use the sats to open a portal when we’re ready to go back to Cassini.”

Sage hadn’t noticed the satellite launch, but was curious about the technology. “How do they work? I mean, is the portal always open? It’s 12 light years back to Cassini!”

Byron chuckled. “It’s actually 11.46 light years, but the portal only opens upon request. It’s way too expensive to keep open all the time. When scheduled, Tethys Station creates a tiny threaded worm portal—just enough to send or receive signals to our comm satellites—then closes it. When we’re ready to go back, we use one of our scheduled times to request a portal for the ship. Bam, we’re home.”

“That’s how we acquired the data for the holoscreen projection of Thalassa,” said Georgia. “Last year, after Milo picked Thalassa as our target, Cutten sent orbiting probes through the portal for a preliminary physical scan. When we entered the system, we downloaded the data from the probes to the Duke, then uploaded them to the outer satellites for transmission to Earth. They have copies of everything.”

“Yes, that’s correct,” Milo said. “And it’ll all very expensive.”

“Then we must know a lot about the planet, right?” asked Dina.

“I wish,” added Milo, gesturing at the ship. “As I said, everything adds up, not to mention building all of this, so we just focused on a basic physical-chemical scan of the planet from orbit, which helped us develop this holoscreen map. Our job now is to fill in the gaps with additional surface and aquatic probes and personal explorations of the planet. We don’t know that much about the planet or even the system. After the failed Proteus IX mission, interests went elsewhere.”

Sage and Dina had pressed Milo for more information about Thalassa many times during their seven-month journey, but now he was telling them he didn’t know much about the planet. Glancing out the porthole at Procyon surrounded by the tails of comets, Sage chewed on her lower lip. “What about all those comets? Are they dangerous?” she asked. “They’re all over the place, and I want to be safe.”

“Yes and no,” Byron flatly replied, acting like it was some scientific study rather than a real danger. “I’ve run a few simulations, and asteroid collisions are more frequent on Thalassa, but still rare, every 10 to 30 million years. At least for the large dinosaur-killing megacollisions. But we won’t be here very long, so the chances of experiencing something like that are small. There’s even a smaller probability for comets.”

“But what about bolides—you know, the large meteors that create tsunamis?” she asked.

“Well,” he replied, scratching his head, “that’s a good question. Of course, they are a lot more of those. But based on my estimates, they occur every 50 to 200 years. But even when they do—”

Milo jumped in, “So that means we don’t need to worry about it.” Byron looked like he might argue, but Milo didn’t let him get a word in. “To assure you, let me quickly review the built-in safety features of the Duke.”

As Sage watched Milo talk about the Duke, her doubts about his assurances of safety grew. The idea of holding back on their location and communications until they could make a big media splash felt risky, not to mention the long intervals between scheduled updates. But she remembered that Milo loved taking risks. The first day she met him to discuss the mission she thought it was suicidal.

“But I’m invincible, Sage, don’t you know that?” Milo replied, reclining in the living room in his Sea Cliff house in San Francisco. “I’ve done so many crazy shit things in my life, I shouldn’t even be alive. Yet here I am. Remember that. I can take anything this planet can dish out, so why not take on another planet? I know we’ve had our differences in the past, but let’s make history together.”

Sage just shrugged at first, too deep in depression to comprehend a long mission in space. But as she thought about it, it made sense given their life’s trajectories. Despite surfing all her life, she had never heard of Milo until she met him a year after winning the big-wave contest at Jaws. Sage was near the peak of her career when he suddenly appeared on the competitive big-wave scene. Before that time, he didn’t exist in the media surf culture. Suddenly he was everywhere: on the cover of Surfer magazine, performing dangerous stunts on the holoscreen, in interviews surrounded by movie stars recoiling at his harrowing stories.

She heard rumors that he fast-tracked his way into the surfing world in private wave pools with the best professional trainers money could buy. As he quickly got better, he entered a few big-wave contests to test the competition. At first, he lost, but over time, with big help from cutting-edge tech and his obvious ruthlessness, he became an accomplished big-wave rider. Anyone could tell he wasn’t a natural surfer, and he didn’t bother riding small waves. As he improved, he began battling with Sage for the big-wave record, and their struggles were epic until he finally beat her, with Georgia’s help, with his record-setting 130-foot wave at Cortes Bank. A year later, after Nazaré, she disappeared from the competition circuit.

Now, his record wasn’t enough for him, and he had come up with this hair-brained idea of finding and surfing giant waves on an Earth-like planet. But not just any planet, he told her. It had to be a mind-blowing social media event. No space suits, tropical seas, and low gravity to create slow, giant waves. When Milo brought up Thalassa, she quickly rejected it as the fate of her father stabbed through her mind. Surprisingly, the idea grew in her mind. Maybe this is a way to get back on top, to regain my edge. But despite the rare opportunity to revive her career in one fell swoop, in her despair she couldn’t see her way to going down a rabbit hole to Thalassa.

She also couldn’t forget Milo’s aggressive and manipulative self-centered nature. Despite that, looking at him as he sparkled in the idea of a history-setting moment, she felt a strange kinship with him. They both had lost connections to their families and had sought it through other means; they had survived the peaks and valleys of their careers and experienced the happiness and depression it can bring. So, in many ways, she understood his zeal for attention and his quest for the big event. She came to realize that her life could benefit from renewed attention. But still, she didn’t trust him, and their previous history together held her back. Plus, if she had learned anything about Milo, it was that he was single-minded to the point of recklessness, and she had allowed his behavior to change hers. That was a mistake. Sage turned her back on Milo and his proposed mission with a firm No, then headed back to Hilo to be with her ailing tutu. But her tutu’s words had changed her mind.

Now, staring at Milo wrapping up the meeting, she began to wonder how his recklessness would play out on Thalassa. She trusted Byron and Georgia and knew they had interstellar travel experience, but this mission was clearly Milo’s, and she hoped he wasn’t holding back important information from the rest of the crew.

Milo ended the safety briefing. “Enough of that. I suggest you organize your gear and be ready for tomorrow. If all goes according to plan, we leave for the surface at 0600 ship time, which is synced to the diurnal time on the Bulge, our primary target. Remember, Thalassa’s days are shorter, only 18 hours, so daytime is limited, and it will take some time for us to adjust to a new diurnal cycle. So rest up.”

As the briefing ended and the group began to disperse, Sage watched as Milo pulled Byron and Georgia aside. Byron spoke in a whisper she could barely hear. “I didn’t want to say it in front of the group, but we are receiving interference that is causing havoc with our communications. It’s gotten worse as we approach the planet.”

Milo looked uninterested. “Are our messages still getting through to the outer sats?”

“Yes,” Byron said, “but they could potentially—”

Milo cut him off and changed the subject. “Once we establish orbit, can you two start a gravitational scan in the proximity of Thalassa? I want to make sure we haven’t missed anything. The AI’s been visually scanning the area, but it can’t see anything until it gets close because there’s so much debris in the system.”

Byron nodded his head in agreement, but looked pensive. “I know. We’ve tracked dozens of comets and asteroids in the proximity of Thalassa—some the size of that moon—but so far none are predicted to make a close pass to the planet, so there’s nothing to worry about. But as you said, they’re difficult to detect, and I assumed the AI initiated a gravitational scan. It was on the Procyon system entry procedure list.”

Sage watched with interest as Georgia hurled a rare rebuke at Milo. “It’s standard practice once you enter a new planetary system. The last thing we need is something coming out of nowhere and hitting the planet. Why wasn’t it started earlier? We’ve been in the system for three months!”

“You’re right, it should have,” he replied, tripping over Georgia’s tone. “But the AI’s been offline with all these debris fields, and I’ve been focusing on the video preps, training, and surfing sims. I was distracted, and I didn’t want it making course corrections without my—without your…well…it fell through the cracks. But Moshe’s scanned Thalassa, and we detected a wobble in its orbit, one we can’t account for.”

Byron’s eyebrows raised in interest. “Is that so? OK, I’ll start a scan, but it will probably take several weeks to obtain sufficient data to get everything sorted. Perhaps longer given the communication issues. It would have nice if you had—”

Milo cut him off. “Yes, yes, I understand. Thank you both. And you’ll get some time on the surface to do your work, I promise. I want to be ready if a swell comes up. No surprises, right?”

After Milo walked past Sage shaking his head, she overheard Byron whispering to Georgia, “I can’t believe he didn’t do this sooner. Does he even know what he’s doing? He’s not a scientist, but he’s leading the mission, and he holds back everything. He’s the only one that talks to Cutten, and he doesn’t tell me anything. You know, Thalassa’s anomaly could explain the strange orbital dynamics of those asteroids.”

“I trust Milo,” she replied. “But I admit, it does seem a bit…careless. At any rate, the scopes should be able to pick up any near-Thalassian objects we need to worry about, and we can evacuate to orbit if necessary.”

Byron didn’t seem convinced. “That’s true, but I always prefer to know what’s coming. I guess we’ll keep our eyes open, but I can’t stop thinking about those asteroids. Something out there perturbed their orbits. Hopefully, it doesn’t come anywhere near Thalassa.”

As they entered a geostationary orbit, Sage sat next to Byron as he launched a small legion of probes down to the planet and Georgia began a gravitational scan of the region around Thalassa. Staring at the visual tracking console, Sage was surprised by the high number of objects being followed by the ship’s AI. Pulling the map around, she looked back through the asteroid field they had passed through and saw a bright field of clustered objects, a dense aggregation of asteroids and long-tailed comets masked by the bright glare of the white dwarf. Alarmed, she turned to Byron and asked, “Have you seen this cluster? What’s in there?”

He glanced at the bright constellation of lights and raised his eyebrows. “That is what worries me. It’s so dense anything could be in there, even a small planet. Now that we’ve initiated a gravitational scan, we can sort that all out, but it will take a few weeks.”

“But we’re heading down to the planet tomorrow!” she replied.

Georgia leaned over. “That true. But even if there is anything to worry about, which I doubt, it will take weeks or months to get here. So relax, the ship will let us know of any approaching danger.”

Thinking of walking on the surface the next day, Sage couldn’t sleep and spent the night gazing at the blue planet. Although she was excited about surfing, a cauldron bubbled in her stomach. She didn’t know what she felt most uneasy about—battling with Milo, her father’s death, her fame on edge, or all the unknowns on Thalassa. Unexpectedly, her tutu’s words came to her, frightening her even more: It is time to let your past go and face your future.

What Lies Beneath: Conquering Fear at Banzai Pipeline

Da Bull” Greg Noll. Contemplating surfing the Banzai pipeline in 1964. Photo: John Severson.

The Reef Beneath

While surfing I have always been torn between watching waves or looking at the reef and critters beneath me. As a terrestrial mammal, I tend to focus on surface manifestations and less on the aquatic. In this series of posts, I focus on the narrow interface between the ocean’s surface, the propagation of waves, the reefs they encounter, and the sea life below; a happy merger of my interests as a surfer and marine biologist. Anyone who has taken a tour of the seafloor beneath their favorite surf spot cannot help but appreciate the reef, and how it influences the waves and marine life alike. Here is their story….

Banzai Pipeline

I remember one day Pat Curren and I were looking out at perfect waves at Banzai, which it was called then, and he said, ‘Maybe in 2,000 years that’ll be surfed.’ It was so beautiful . . . so radical. We thought if we could move the place out 300 yards it’d be perfect, because it looked to us like an impossible shorebreak.

Fred Van Dyke, 1957/58

PIPELINE. Just the name shoots fear through my heart. Insanely hollow tubes breaking over a super-shallow reef. The steep drop, crazy speed, and all the while the fear of the dark reef gliding below, always reminding you of what happens if you fall. Conquering that fear is the ultimate challenge. And for many years it prevented anyone from riding it. It still does today.

December 1977

I surfed it once, on my way to Bali with my brother, and experienced a traditional newbie christening. After a few days surfing various spots on the north shore to gather our courage, my brother Craig and I paddled out at Backdoor on a small day. Of course I, as a goofy foot, had to try the legend. Paddled over. Only two others in the lineup. Small, sloppy, seemed tame. But as is common in Hawaii things changed rapidly and a big set rolled in. I couldn’t believe the speed, the way the swells jacked up fast on the reef. Then, Gerry Lopez paddled by. Shit!

Pipeline from the air showing the reef beneath. Source: Reddit, Mailbulivin.

With a lump in my throat I pushed deeper into the lineup as the crowd swelled and the swell grew. I paddled into a mound of glass as it hit the reef. Stood up on what quickly became an 6 foot wave. Looked straight into the vertical maw and down at the thin veil of swirling water over the dark, jagged reef. I hesitated and was pitched out into space and thrashed. As I scraped the reef the warning was clear — you are not ready! I swam through the strong rip currents and collapsed on the beach; humbled but feeling good that I had faced my fear. And 40 years later I still remember the power of that place and the lesson it taught me. Pipeline!

Deadliest Wave on Earth

Pipeline is definitely the most dangerous spot on Earth.  I’ve seen a lot of guys die there. That’s what makes it such a proving ground

Kalani Robb, Momentum Generation

Surf spots have their legends, and a few have big legends. Some, like Waimea Bay and Mavericks, had a high bar separating the waves from us mere mortals. But once men summoned the courage to breach that wall — the line draw by the Gods of the sea — the floodgates opened and the masses, ready or not, poured forth to ride them; the myths and legends no longer a barrier to men’s courage. But Pipeline has always been different. It’s personal, not cultural.

Photo: Sean Davies.

At Pipeline, each person that stands on that beach has to face their individual fear before entering the water. Each one has to imagine their fate, summon their courage, and paddle out. Many never try. For the break occurs close to shore in very shallow water — a ten-foot wave will break in six feet of water — and much of that water gets sucks up into the wave as it cascades over the reef. Very shallow indeed. And the fear, the possibility– of hitting the flat but uneven black-coral reef is high. I’ve felt it and it ain’t pretty. Indeed, over the years it has killed an average of one surfer every other year plus may broken shoulders, ribs, and other nasty encounters with the reef.

Pipeline’s reef: jagged coral reef eroded into sharp channels. Photo: Sean Davey.

As you enter the right of way on the beach to pipeline there is a plaque engraved with a list of fallen heroes and it is almost as long as the list of Pipe Master champions. And for every life lost there are tens of near-death accidents. There is a reason Pipeline is final spot in the Triple Crown of Surfing — it is the ultimate proving ground for surfers.


Phil Edwards at Pipeline in 1961 on the first recorded day it was ridden. Source: Bruce Brown’s film Surfing Hollow Days

Although Phil Edwards was the first to officially ride Pipeline in Bruce Brown’s 1961 film Hollow Days, it was Butch Van Artsdalen that made Pipeline a household name. In Matt Warshaw’s epic book, The History of Surfing (online), back in the mid 1960s, when it was first surfed on a regular basis, Pipeline was synonymous with tube-riding. At the time it was much more stylish to hang ten or make smooth sweeping turns across the wave as tube-riding on a large board was a short-lived, difficult affair that often amounted to a short head dip or wipeout. Van Artsdalen perfected the art of tubriding and became known as “Mr. Pipeline” and was featured in multiple surf flicks (including Endless Summer) that brought the break into a cult-like media fascination.

Van Artsdalen at Pipeline, 1962. One of the first to successfully navigate the tube. Source: Endless Summer.

The short-board revolution changed all that because it allowed a maneuverability that significantly increased the chances of successfully navigating the tube. Soon a succession of great surfers conquered the hollow waves, such as Jock Sutherland and Tom Stone, until the the king of pipeline arrived in 1969, Gerry Lopez.

Gerry Lopez, the master of style at Pipeline in the 1970s and 80s. Photo” Lance Trout.

Lopez was a master at calmly dropping into a wave, hands at his side, then disappearing quietly into a massive tube only to be spit out in a explosion as the wave demolished itself on the reef. According to Warshaw, he “raised the art of a tube-ride from a mere surfing maneuver to an advanced Zen practice.” His application of yoga and meditation to surfing led him to transcendental beliefs about surfing that ultimately became a movement in the 1970s: “Surfing is a meditation exercise.” he said, and “I started to see there was something much deeper about surfing than I’d originally thought.”

The first thing that got my attention was how the noise of the crashing wave suddenly went silent. … Another interesting aspect was how everything seemed to slow down. This slow motion sensation, combined with the silence, had me wondering whether I had entered a different world from the one outside the tube. The most distinct impression I experienced inside the tube was a feeling of complete awe. 

Gerry Lopez on Tube Riding in The Inertia

Because of Lopez’s dominance at Pipeline, tube-riding developed into the quest among surfers and soon became the ultimate experience that everyone strived for. It certainly was for me throughout my early years in the 1970s, which led me to buy a Lightning Bolt surfboards, seek the tube at Pipeline, then on to the shallow, razor sharp reefs at Uluwatu. I fondly remember seeing Rick Griffin’s comic books in surf shops and its psychedelic, almost space-like quality sent me out every day seeking tubes up and down the coast. Pipeline started all of that.

The Reef

It picks you up and just slams you down and that reef is so hard. It feels like your hitting a sharp sidewalk.

Taylor Know, Momentum Generation


Offshore of north shore O’ahu beaches, the submerged shelf is shaped by a distinct stair-step bathymetry sculpted from ancient reef limestones created by past sea-level changes (Fletcher et al., 2008). This feature has several consequences for the reef at Pipeline. First, it creates a series of reefs of successively deeper depths known as First Reef (200 feet offshore, 10-15 ft. waves; 2-8 ft deep), which is the main break, Second Reef (400 ft. offshore, 15-18 ft. waves; 15-20 ft. deep), and Third Reef (1000 ft. offshore, 25+ ft. waves; 30-40 ft. deep). The reef, based on studies at nearby Sunset Beach and Pūpūkea (Shark’s Cove), is composed of a thin veneer of small living coral colonies resting on an ancient Pleistocene limestone foundation 10,000-20,000 years old (Grigg, 1998).

Integrated picture of the reef around Pipeline using nearshore aerial photograph and offshore lidar to penetrate the water and display the reef. Source: NOAA.

Lidar technology reveals the reef beneath, which extends over 1,000 feet offshore and has a strong effect on the waves at Pipeline. Despite popular misconceptions that the reef at Pipeline is black lava, it is not. Instead the main break is a highly eroded flat, carbonate rock with a dark-brown algal turf mat covering the surface (Grigg, 1998; Friedlander et al., 2010). It’s just like a nice fuzzy carpet — over concrete. Closer to shore in very shallow water, there are sharp, black basaltic rocks, which adds to the fun of the pounding shore-break.

Take a journey underwater at Pipeline. Source: Ricardo17274.

Streams and Currents

This flat solid pavement has been cut by freshwater streams (mostly in the past) and also by underground springs, both of which killed coral and created channels and holes on the reef filled with sand. Without this influence Pipeline would not be the surf break it is today but instead just a crashing shorebreak.

The channels cut through the reef, the most significant one being the Ehukai channel, were created by freshwater runoff from Pākūlena Stream. The stream historically exited where the Ehukai channel is today but the stream flow has been interrupted and redirected by access roads, and water now flows down the roadway on its way to the ocean where it exits further southwest (Karau, 2012). In addition, longshore currents generated from waves piling water along the coast converge on Ekuhai Beach and move through Pipeline’s deeper channel (Sean Collins, Surfline) further enhancing the reef break, and moving sediment and broken reef fragments offshore and onto second and third reef. In the summer, sand can pile up on the reef, creating close-out waves, but conditions can quickly change when large west swells blast sand off the reef in the fall and winter.

Longshore currents at Pipeline and the Ehukai channel. Photo: Sean Davey.

This dynamic geology creates many options for damage and death including slamming into the hard reef, hitting the sharp edges, or getting struck underneath one of the ledges or in a hole. As the waves jack up, the reef appears very close, like sinister dark Swiss chess with intense swirls and bubbles from air trapped beneath the ledges. It has variously been described as “a sharp sidewalk” (Taylor Knox), or according to Bruce Brown in Endless Summer, the reef is studded with coral heads that “stick up like big overgrown railroad spikes.” The ride is short but intense, often lasting only seven seconds, but then you are spit out of the gaping maw unto a smaller shoulder in the gentlier shore break.

The waves are also enhanced by the offshore geomorphology created by the ancient limestone reefs. Large swells hitting the curve of the reef past Outer Log Cabins (60+ ft. depths), are refracted into Pipeline increasing wave height. This condition is especially true with large, long-period swells (>15 s) which have deeper swell energy and are more affected by the deep offshore reefs. On certain swells the waves refracted by the reef at Outer Log Cabins converge with the original swell lines to create doubled-up, crossed up peaks (Surfline).

The reefs at Pipeline. Source: Surfline.

When the waves move into the 15 ft. range they began to jack up on second reef, which offers an easy drop and long walls before it spills onto the hollow perfection of the main break. On giant swells, Third reef, which is another 1000 ft. from shore, can jack up, feather in the wind, and either back down or it can break and turn into huge mass of boiling white water that rolls through second and third break to the beach. As Sean Collins wrotewhen the waves begin breaking out there, all hell breaks loose.”

In 1943 Woody Brown and Dickie Cross paddled out at big Sunset and were caught in a stair-step swell that likely forced them to paddled outside waves breaking on third reef and outer log cabins. They eventually arrived at their destination, Waimea Bay, in darkness, where Cross drowned in the giant surf. On giant swells the outer reefs come alive and few can survive their onslaught.

Third reef breaking. Photo: Jon Steele.

Marine Life

With its pounding surf and low coral cover the reef isn’t a hotspot for marine life. However, the abundant turf algae and refuges on the reef do attract a small number of fish and an occasional turtle. Based on observations and a species list from nearby Pūpūkea (Sharks’ Cove) (Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources data) the most common critters are (in photos from bottom left going clockwise) Green sea turtles, surgeonfish (brown, convicts, Kole, whitebar, orangeband, bluelined), damselfish (oval and blackfin chromis, Pacific Gregory, brighteye), wrasses (saddle, pearl, belted), and goatfish (yellowstripe, sidespot, manybar) which forage in the sand channels. There is also an occasional butterflyfish (bluestripe, fourspot, multiband). The reef itself, is studded by a few live coral colonies, mostly cauliflower coral, and is covered with patches of coralline algae.

The challenge remains

The future of Pipeline is now in the hands of a new generation of surfers. Under the intense competition of today’s talented professionals (including many women) and the glaring lights of global social media, surfers are being driven into the water in increasing frequency. On good days it’s not uncommon to see 50 people in the water, most of which probably don’t belong there. The fear barrier is still there but now many are facing their on their first vertical drop rather then contemplating the risks from shore.

A typical day at Pipeline these days. Just you and 50 others. Source.

Like the challenge to ride the big waves at Waimea and Mavericks, and now Nazaré, Pipeline was considered unrideable for many years. It was just too shallow and too fast for someone to survive. But like many mythical spots, once the barrier was broken many surfers tested their courage in the hollow tubes above the dark swirling reef. The truth is there is no limit to the courage of surfers, whether they survive riding the tubes at Pipeline or not. The future is unwritten as surfers continue to push the limits of tube riding at the Banzai Pipeline.

Others in the Series:


Songs of Thalassa: Chapter 5

This is a preview of the initial chapters of my new book which is available in softcover on the BookBaby BookShop and Kindle on Amazon. To learn more about the book visit

Chapter 5. Waves of Change

Dina closed the hatch to the training compartment as Sage collapsed into a chair with tears in her eyes.

“Well, that went well,” Dina said. “So much for focusing on the waves.”

Sage tried to smile. “I know. Shit, I can’t help it. He knows how to push my buttons, and he’s such an asshole in the water. He’s been doing it for years.”

Sage wiped her face and started pacing around the room. In addition to housing all their water gear, the training compartment contained the simulation chamber, which was used to teach methods for operating the Duke, Da Bull, the submarine, and other technical equipment. Sage had spent considerable time on the sim during their seven-month journey, both bored and curious about operating the different vehicles in between her workouts. Despite the long journey in space, she had avoided looking at Milo’s quiver of surfboards and tech gear designed especially for Thalassa.

“I know,” Dina said. “He just wants to win, like you, and he understands your weaknesses. He knows you’re a better surfer and your two-a-day workouts are making him nervous, hence the attacks. He hasn’t seriously hit the gym since we left.”

“That’s because he relies on his tech. He thinks he barely even needs to swim!”

Dina grabbed Sage’s arm and looked in her eyes. “Yes, and we know better. You have to let all that go and focus. I know you have a competitive history together, but his recklessness will eventually catch up with him. The worst thing you can do is try to compete at his level. That’s not our way.”

Sage dropped her face into her hands. “You’re right. But…it’s just…whenever I think of Nazaré, it’s like I can feel the wipeout all over again, and it throws me off. I’ve lost my confidence in the water, and if I can’t set a new record, then I have no future and my life is shit!”

Walking over to the wall, Dina pulled a surfboard off the rack and placed it on the floor. “Have you checked these out?” she asked. Sage knew Dina was trying to distract her, but she wasn’t sure if she wanted it to work or not. “I know they’re Milo’s, but they’re super cool. He custom-built an awesome quiver of boards.” Sage got up to look at them as Dina walked past the rack of two dozen boards attached to the wall. “Most of these have extra built-in weight. We thought they’d be too light on the low-g planet, and the heaviness provides stability. You don’t want to go flying off into space, do you?”

Sage shrugged. “I guess not.”

“Oh, come on, cheer up. Remember this one?” She pulled out Sage’s personal 9’6” gun charger and placed it on the floor. It was a heavy Hawaiian-style wooden board her father had custom-made for her. It was built from koa with inlaid sandalwood made from trees on the Big Island with a balsa wood core. It was strong and weighed 50 pounds, which made it steady at high speeds on big waves. Sage named it Kekoa, or “brave one,” and used it throughout her teens and to win her first big-wave surfing contest on Maui.

Sage knelt next to the board and ran her hand over the familiar surface. As she touched the deck, memories of her father unveiling the board on her 13th birthday flooded her brain. The grittiness from the sharkskin sanding and smell of the kukui nut oil finish reminded her of how it was carefully crafted. Her father used traditional Hawaiian methods with attention to the proper offerings, chants, and use of traditional tools. It hurt her to look at the board. As she stood up to walk away, her face went red with anger as she noticed holes in the tail of her board. “What did you do to my board?”

“Given the big potential wave here, I thought you needed an addition,” Dina replied. “So I had a pulse motor installed in the tail. It’s one of those new super small motors, but it will get you moving up to 40 miles per hour.”

“Damn Dina,” Sage said. “You should have checked with me before you did that! It’s probably good to have, but shit, I love this board, although I haven’t ridden it in years. And it doesn’t really need a motor. It works just fine paddling. Ha, I could barely carry it at first. But once you get it going, it’s like a steamroller.”

“Well, just paddle and only use the motor when you have to.” Dina pulled Milo’s 10-foot motoboard, red with yellow flames, off the rack and placed it on the floor. “Look at this one. With the rocker in the nose and tail, it’s tapered perfectly for big waves. Plus, the pulse motors are superlight and solar powered, with tiny panels built into the tail of the board, just like yours. And it has both ring and board button controls. I bet it cost a fortune.”

Sage shook her head in amazement, remembering her early days riding waterlogged boards full of holes with loose fins.

Dina pointed to the wall lined with gear. “Have you looked inside these backpacks?” She pulled a bag down. “They’re full of amazing stuff, like a rechargeable emergency breather, good for 15 minutes underwater. You’re such a little fish, it will probably last you twice that long.”

Hearing the fond nickname Dina had used for many years, Sage reached out and examined the breather, a shiny marvel of new technology. It used tiny solar-powered, rechargeable vials of liquid oxygen to supplement the dissolved oxygen it extracted from seawater.

Dina continued going through the pack’s inventory. “There’s also a locator beacon tied to the lander’s navigational system, a first aid kit, synthetic hippo sweat sunblock, laser light for signaling, and a small supply of water and high-energy snacks. Milo also had several custom full-length Lycra skins made for each of us. They have carbon-nanotube reinforcement and detachable booties. They are light, warm, shield out UV, and are virtually indestructible. We also have these lightweight emergency flotation vests.” She pointed to two small cords hanging below the shoulders. “Pull the right one, and the vest fills with air and shoots you to the surface. The left one deflates instantly, and you can go back and forth up to half a dozen times if needed. Great for those two-wave hold-downs, huh?”

“Yeah, sure,” Sage replied with downcast eyes.

Sage wished she could match Dina’s enthusiasm. There was a time when hippo sweat and space-age life vests would have thrilled her. If only she could be half the kid Dina met so many years ago, back when her energy level was boundless and her eyes glistened with adventure. Her dad was preparing for the Proteus mission, so Dina and Sage began spending a lot of time together, much to her tutu’s disappointment. Sage was so excited she bounced around telling everyone that she had a professional trainer and was going to be a real surfer.

Dina and Sage were quite the pair: the tall, lanky California blonde and the small, stout, dark Hawaiian. Dina was a world-class professional surfer who grew up in southern California; both of her parents were professional athletes. She started surfing at a young age, quickly rising through the ranks into big-wave surfing. As she started competing and riding big waves, she found—the hard way—what it took to survive a bad wipeout.

As their lessons began, Dina taught Sage to be ultra-tough, both mentally and physically, to surf big waves. The sport required the ability to hold your breath for two to three minutes and demanded a body in peak physical performance. Through free diving, Dina taught Sage to hold her breath, stretch her lungs, and lower her heart rate while relaxing and remaining still. A big-wave wipeout was a high-intensity hold-down with little chance to grab a good breath or keep calm. To prepare, Dina made Sage run underwater while holding large rocks, as the first big-wave surfers had done. Sage found it extremely challenging at first, but eventually, after months of training every day, she mastered the art of enduring the stress of being held underwater during a wipeout.

At the same time, Dina taught her that dropping down the face of mountainous waves was also an emotional challenge, and she needed the ability to face intense fear, but not let it rule her instincts. Fear was natural, Dina told her—you can’t fight it—but if it creates hesitation, even for an instant, it can kill a surfer and others around her. She had learned to respect fear because it was a natural instinct, but Sage needed clear thinking to truly assess the danger of a situation and how to deal with it. Too much fear could cloud her judgment.

Dina reached out to brush Sage’s hair away from her face. “Don’t you remember the day you won your first big-wave contest? You were flawless. Focus on that moment.”

Sage smiled. “Of course, I remember it. That day changed my life.”

It was her 18th birthday, and with Dina’s blessing she had signed up for her first big-wave surf contest at Peʻahi on Maui, a place known as Jaws, the ultimate big-wave spot in Hawaii. During the last minutes of her heat, a monster set came in, easily 70 feet, and her competitors were caught inside and washed out. But Sage had seen it coming and was paddling hard on Kekoa. On the largest wave of the set, she turned around and paddled in despite the paralyzing fear in her heart. As the giant swell crested over, she made an unforgettable vertical drop that was captured by every camera, every surf magazine, seen by the entire world on the holoscreen. The unforgettable moment was a portrait of a young woman dropping in on an ocean behemoth, her face steeled in focus, determination, and courage against insurmountable odds. Riding her traditional Hawaiian board, she made the drop with style, carved gracefully out onto the shoulder, and rode the bowl inside. When she kicked out, she had not only won the contest but through the power and realism of the holoscreen, she had also won the hearts of the world and was an instant public figure. Sponsors rushed to endorse her. In the next few weeks, Sage was on the cover of a dozen magazines, the subject of innumerable articles, and her wave had gone viral on the holoscreen.

“What do you remember most about that day?” Dina asked, mirroring the excitement that Sage couldn’t hide from her face.

“Sitting in the winner’s circle was awesome. I was surrounded by hundreds of yelling, hooting fans, my neck was piled high with leis, and dozens of cameras from all over the world were pushed in my face. It reminded me of when I won the Menehune contest. But this time it was a veritable sea of love and devotion. The feeling was amazing.” Despite Dina’s obvious pride in Sage’s accomplishment, it felt hollow because her father wasn’t there to share it. But the adoration from her world of supporters helped mask the void. I feel the love.

Dina replied with a frown. “I meant about the surfing.”

“Oh,” Sage said. “That was a gnarly day, and that wave scared the shit out of me. I accepted my fear as natural, just like you taught me, and didn’t hesitate. Focus and commit or die!”

Dina laughed. “That’s exactly right. That’s how you won. Don’t forget that.”

“How can I?” Sage replied as she picked up Milo’s red board and ran her hands over the yellow flames. “That was the first of my many titles.”

Dina obviously wasn’t impressed by her vanity, but seem to warm with the memories. After Jaws, they traveled the big-wave competition circuit to Chile, Australia, Tahiti, Mexico, France, Portugal, Oregon, and finally to Mavericks in California where Sage set a new big-wave world record by beating Dina’s previous record. As her titles and trophies piled up, so did her focus and determination, but also her recklessness as Milo appeared and she began to battle for an even bigger wave.

Only in retrospect did Sage realize she had used the sadness around her father to fuel her competitiveness. But her titles weren’t enough, and she became a wild woman in the water. Gone was the young girl with so much aloha. Now, it was all about riding the biggest wave. No longer content with her stunning accomplishments, she was addicted to the constant adrenaline of big waves and started to do crazy things. Dropping in on a huge wave was like nothing else on Earth, and it invoked an almost primal response in her body. Hooked on the thrill, she couldn’t hold back.

To win against Milo and his gang, she began taking off from suicidal positions, too deep in the wave’s peak to make it, but she usually pulled it off with her innate talent. And on those occasions when she didn’t make it, she became good at surviving, breathing underwater with an emergency air supply or blasting to the surface with an inflatable vest. Dina objected, trying to keep her focused on her mental and physical training, but Sage had learned from Milo that she had to fight to win; she had to be an asshole in the water. So she started cutting other surfers off, too, and tricking them into going the wrong way—things she had never done before. It didn’t feel right, and she could almost see her tutu looking down in shame at her lack of pono, but it felt better than losing.

After Milo beat her record at Cortes Bank, she surfed with wild abandon trying to get back on top. But with her new recklessness came beatings; she was repeatedly slamming into the reef, getting pounded by massive walls of water, and running into other surfers. As her actions grew to frenzied proportions, her body started to suffer. First, a gash across her face from hitting the reef, then a broken leg, and at Mavericks she threw her back out going over the falls and spent a month in rehab.

Dina warned her about the risks she was taking, but she was too driven to win and ignored her counsel. When her popularity grew, she became more dependent on the adoration of her fans; their love tamed her mounting anger and filled the void in her heart. But it was an endless race against the emptiness consuming her as the gulf with her ‘ohana widened. On the rare occasion she went home, her family was stunned at the change in her behavior. No longer the smiling girl with the radiant aloha spirit, she was sullen, combative, and bragged about her victories and fan base. The Sage they knew was gone, and her tutu became increasingly despondent.

Nazaré was the last straw. As she stood up on the monstrous 130-foot wave, she knew she had beaten Milo. The distraction caused her to hesitate at the top of the wave. Without a final push to drop in, she was stuck in the lip by searing winds and was pitched down the face of the wave. She was falling so fast when she hit the water it felt like concrete, then the white water rolled over her and tumbled her around until she hit the hard sandy seafloor. With her arms broken, she couldn’t reach her vest or emergency air, and without her tech she was dragged helplessly along the bottom into the raging shore break until she blacked out. When she came to, although her physical pain was excruciating, her emotional pain was worse.

She woke up on the beach with Dina giving her CPR. On the torturous ride to the hospital, Sage tried to make sense of what had happened. In her agony, it slowly became clear. “I’ve lost my pono with the ocean,” she cried. She was being too aggressive and wasn’t focusing on the wave and the flow of water as she was taught.

Few surfers had ever witnessed such a horrific wipeout, and it was on the news for weeks, playing over and over on the holoscreen. Despite an outpouring of sympathy and support, she knew her career was over. I’ve destroyed my life.

Despite the pain and injuries to her body, she rushed back into competition, hoping she could get back on top. But she had lost her passion and grit, and Dina was furious at how quickly she returned to the competitive circuit. After Nazaré, Sage began to hesitate at critical moments, and bad wipeouts became more common. And for the first time, she began to doubt herself. She had lost her edge; she dropped out of the rankings and was unable to compete.

“I’ve got to get it back,” Sage said. “I’m done living in the void.”

Dina frowned. “Big-wave surfing is an unpredictable sport. You can’t have the ultimate highs without the ultimate lows. That just the way of it.”

Sage nodded weakly. “Yeah, but I wasn’t prepared to live a life outside of professional surfing. I mean, one minute I’m famous and flying all over the world to challenge life-threatening waves, then it all comes to a grinding halt, and I’m sitting in a classroom, staring blankly at a blackboard.” After her career collapsed, she knew she needed a job to make ends meet, so she went to college in California and majored in the only subject that made sense of her life: biology. From there, she got an internship with Cutten and then a job as a microbiologist in the Natural Products division. Without her fast-paced life, her fans, and the love of her ‘ohana, her world turned dark, and she fell into a deep depression. She was a broken woman when Milo contacted her about the mission.

Dina interrupted her thoughts with her soft voice. “Looking back, I realize it came too easily, too quickly for you. One day you were a young innocent Hilo girl, the next a global celebrity. Everyone loved your natural talent, your ocean wisdom, your laidback and gritty style, and especially your Hawaiian beauty and outgoing, cheerful nature. That day at Jaws everyone saw what I saw the first time I met you: an unforgettable young girl full of aloha spirit. Don’t you see? You perfectly fit the image the public needed. They’ve been nursing a nostalgia for the old ways for decades, and you came along at exactly the right moment. Your spectacular wins made you forget about the mistakes and poundings. You thought you were invincible. Well, nobody is, because the ocean is unbeatable. And you’ve learned that the hard way. Something happened to you, Sage. You’re not the same person now.”

Sage looked up as the memories of her life flooded her brain. “You’re right. I don’t know that girl anymore.”

Dina smiled and hugged her. “She’s still there, deep inside. You just have to find yourself.”

Sage stepped back and held her friend’s hands. “I’m sorry to disappoint you. You’ve been such a great mentor, and I hate letting you down. You’re my auntie Dina. But I can’t get that wipeout at Nazaré out of my head. The ocean’s trying to teach me a lesson, but I don’t understand what it is. My tutu said that Kanaloa is unhappy with me because I’m not following my path.”

Squeezing her hands, Dina replied, “You haven’t let me down. Don’t ever think that. With respect to the gods and your tutu, you’re going to have to figure that one out for yourself.”