By Ian Hancock
The ocean called and the Big Kahuna answered. In the early morning light, the waters of the lagoon looked a deep dark purple, with streaks of fiery red off towards the horizon, marking the place where the sun would soon rise over the first day of surfing season. He closed his eyes and for a moment he meditated, feeling the energies of all that surrounded him. He felt the breeze as it blew in off of the ocean, brisk and invigorating. He felt the waves as they washed over his bare feet. The water was still awfully cold, but that didn’t bother him one bit. He listened to the sound of the gentle waves rolling in onto the beach, and he heard the sound of a lonely seagull cawing somewhere far off. The Big Kahuna opened his eyes again as the sun was just beginning to peek out over the water and he smiled. This was his time now.
Most of the people who would find their way to the lagoon over the next few months were just tourists. Not that there was anything wrong with tourists, mind you. There were very few people who dedicated themselves in the way that the Big Kahuna did. He lived on the beach all year round in his small cabana. Sure, it was lonely at times, when walking the streets could almost feel like being in a ghost town, but it didn’t really bother him. It kept him connected and in tune with the beach, and that mattered more than anything else. And today, the hibernation was over.
The Big Kahuna pulled his board out from where he had stuck it in the sand. It was freshly and painstakingly waxed to a shine that was even better than it was when it was new, so many summers ago. The Big Kahuna believed, and probably correctly, that you could learn everything you ever needed to know about a man by his surf board. His board wasn’t as new as most, nor was it as expensive and flashy, but it was his, and it was well loved, and he knew how to use it like it was an extension of his body. He waded out into the water as the sky turned shades of orange and pink, and the lagoon seemed to glow. When it was deep enough, he laid down onto his board and began to paddle out.
The shoreline receded away in the distance. By the time he stopped and sat on his board to rest, the bungalows and cabanas that lined the beach looked like tiny dollhouses. This was his ritual. Each year, on the first day of the season, The Big Kahuna would ride out till he was all alone in the water so that he could meditate, and commune with the ocean. It was peaceful here. There was nothing but the sound of the water, lapping calmly onto his board, and the rush of the wind over the open water. He closed his eyes and absorbed it all. He felt the rays of sun begin to warm his back. He emptied his mind and found oneness with the earth.
And then something brushed past his foot.
The Big Kahuna always says that man must be at one with all of the creatures of the sea, for we are guests in their home. So when he felt the smooth skin touch against his, he didn’t pay it much attention. He closed his eyes again and tried to refocus himself on being nothing. He had almost lost himself for the second time when it happened again. This time, it was no passing glance as it was the first time, this was a strike. He felt hard bone against his ankle and knew what he was dealing with; it was the nose of a shark, investigating him.
The Big Kahuna jumped and pulled his legs out of the water and onto his board. He looked frantically around him to try to catch a glimpse of where the shark had gone but could find no sight of it. His mind was racing in panic, and he fought to control his breathing and slow his heart rate. It wasn’t much use. All the Zen in the world isn’t worth a damn when it’s down to just you and 5 rows of razor sharp teeth. Still, he tried to keep calm and get his thoughts straight. “Don’t panic,” he said aloud to himself, “don’t splash around too much and he’ll get bored and leave you alone. And if he does decide to mess with you, you hit him in the gills.” Having said all of that, he was surprised to find himself a little more under control.
He turned his back to the shoreline and looked out over the ocean. There was nothing to be seen, just the vast expanse of water and the clear blue morning sky. There was no tell-tale fin to suggest any impending danger. Satisfied that the shark had left him alone to find a more appealing breakfast, The Big Kahuna started his long paddle back towards the breakers, to surf his way back to shore, trying his best not to splash too much. Steadily, the buildings came into focus far off on the beach. He could see the surf lodge now, where all of his friends would be staying in just a few days when they arrived in town. He could see the rec center, further down the beach. That’s where they would get together and watch the local bands play. All of the homes and shops that lined the beach were becoming clearer now and he knew that soon enough, he would be catching his first wave of the season back to dry land.
Behind him, the sleek grey fin emerged silently from beneath the surface, cutting through like a surgical scalpel. It didn’t waver; it only made a straight line for The Big Kahuna and gained on him quickly. He glanced casually back over his shoulder not expecting to see anything but the beautiful morning sky, and spied the shark’s fin charging towards him. He began to paddle wildly towards the breakers, knowing it would be his only chance to outrun the shark. His arms burned from the exhaustion as he pulled himself closer, but the adrenaline dulled the ache. All he could see was the foaming white of the breakers and his safety. The fin plunged back under the water, and for one irrationally hopeful moment The Big Kahuna thought that the shark had given up. Then it made its strike.
The shark crashed at the underside of the board with amazing force. In an instant The Big Kahuna was tossed skyward in a shower of splintered wood. The shark was exposed from the water for only a second, but it felt like slow motion for The Big Kahuna. He could see the beast, and that’s when he knew that something was very wrong. The massive creature was tumbling through the air, seeming to defy gravity. As it turned, he could first see only the white underbelly. But he noticed it was split with a bright red gash down the center. The skin was peeled away showing the taught red muscles and pure white cartilage. As it spun more, the head came into view, first with the bloody red rows of teeth. Even as the shark was falling, its teeth were gnashing and lunging for The Big Kahuna, needing any piece of him to quell their mad hunger. Then he saw the face. The shark’s face had been torn away leaving only its protruding bones. Only one eye remained, the other socket was left hollow. The eye that still existed stared directly into his and for a moment, they connected.
The Big Kahuna had always felt a sort of kinship with the animal kingdom. He spent his days living as they do, after all, at one with the environment. He’d been known to say more than once in his time that he believed animals were people too. In this instance, he was probably incorrect. In that shark’s one black eye, he saw terror, and madness, and malice. But most of all, he saw hunger.
When the shark splashed back down into the water, the moment was over. Time resumed it’s frantic pace, in a thrashing swirling mess of teeth and blood. One bite clamped down onto his midsection, tearing away a piece of his side. The pain was searing and hot and the waters turned red with his blood. In spite of the pain, he kicked his leg for the monster’s gills. His foot connected precisely where he had hoped, but the outcome wasn’t as he’d expected. Instead of hurting the shark and scaring him away, his foot tore straight through the skin and went inside. The shark seemed to roar in silence from under the water and then it lunged at him again. This time, it found his arm and seized. The teeth ground and clamped their way through the meat of his shoulder, and he felt the tearing as it was ripped away from his body. In a last desperate attempt at saving himself, he did the last thing he could think of. He aimed for the eye. With his only remaining hand he swung for the only remaining eye of the shark. His hand found its target and the eye burst apart in a spray of pink and white. The shark began to thrash around more wildly now, completely blind, trying to connect its jaws with anything they could kill. The Big Kahuna pushed himself away with his one arm, moving completely on auto-pilot, watching in horror as the seemingly decaying shark attacked the empty waters. The back half of the surf board drifted into the shark’s range and its teeth snapped shut around it. When it did, the board split again, sending a two foot long splinter of polished wood through the roof of its cavernous mouth, into its brain, and out of the top of its head. The shark gave one final great jerk, then its jaw went slack and blood rushed out to mix with the sea water.
The Big Kahuna watched in horror and revulsion as it sank slowly beneath the water. He tried to tread water with his one remaining arm but the strength was draining out of him rapidly. His head began to slip and bob beneath the water and he realized that he too was going to die. A calm came over him as the edges of his vision began to fade to blackness. He gave up his struggle to stay afloat and let himself drop slowly down into the sea. He closed his eyes and breathed in the salty red water and felt it fill his lungs. And then, there was peace again. He never had a saying for it, but one could imagine that dying at sea is exactly how The Big Kahuna would have wanted to die.