story written by Kelly Potts
Another summer of Maui Surfer Girls camp has come and gone. All that’s left of me is a twisted spine, arthritic fingers, a rotator cuff screaming for attention. I sit idly, not knowing what to do with this time of…nothing. I sift through the jumble of events from camp, and, with great effort, try to remember a single day.
Over the years working at camp, I’ve learned that having my own space is essential to my health, so I set up my tent along the outskirts of camp. A-frame cabins, built in the 60s, sit semi-circle, still holding their Boy Scout charm.
Working for a month straight at sleep-away surf camp, every day feels like Groundhog Day. I wake up with the sun, stare sleepy-eyed out my front door to Maui Ocean, and begin thinking ten chores into the future.
Get dressed. Head to the kitchen. Start the kettle for coffee. Sit on a kitchen counter, and rub the sleep from eyes. Chefs Ana and Jasmine, an hour into breakfast frenzy, greet me with tired excitement. We share small jokes to get the day on the right foot.
My counselor in training for the week shuffles in to find me. I can see the tired: In her body language, in the small puffs under her teenage eyes, in the garbled, “Good morning.” If she didn’t know the meaning of hard work before, she does now.
“What time are we packing boards?”
“Same time as we always do on wahine patrol,” I respond. Leadership, I think to myself, knowing the jobs needing to be done, and doing it without having to ask. I’m tough on my girls. I expect greatness from them, because I know they are.
I fill my coffee mug for the pack-up, grab the keys to the van, and pull it up to the loading area.
“KP’s pod! Load ‘em up!” I shout to the air in drill sergeant fashion. My pod emerges, water bottles filled, sunscreen applied, and towels at the ready. From day one I teach the girls the proper way to load boards. After that, it’s up to them. I give the stack a jiggle. It doesn’t budge. We take off for our surfari.
“Where are we going today, KP?”
“Wherever the waves take us…” I smile.
Once we figure out our spot for the day, I reiterate the importance of surfing etiquette, going over different scenarios, asking the girls what they would do in each. We’ve been surfing with my local surf community for the past couple weeks, and I need to show them our girls mean respect.
“How are you going to be better today than you were yesterday?...” I ask as we stare out at the break. “What do you see yourself doing on the wave?...” The open-ended questions I don’t really expect an answer to. I see their gears moving, so we set out for the peak.
From the inside I have a better line of vision to see how the girls are improving, and what they can work on. But not being outside beyond the break, they float off like leaves in the wind. I paddle out to stress, in drill sergeant fashion once again, the importance of lining up with their land markers.
“If you are not in line with your land markers, do you paddle for a wave?!” I bark at the air.
“NO!” in unison.
“Good! Are you on your land markers?” They look to land, lie on their boards, and start paddling closer to the spot.
Everyday I see new Aha! moments flash across their faces. They’re progressing. I’m rejuvenated.
Returning to camp, I beat feet to the kitchen where Ana and Jasmine are doing the work of six chefs, preparing lunch. It’s them I’m possessed to help, knowing how hard they work. Robotically I set out the plates, bowls, silverware and cups for lunch. I get behind the sink and wash the mountain of pots, pans, and everything else. Make room to rinse, wash and fill the dish buckets. The chefs and I look at each other, admiring each other’s work ethics.
The game we play for the girls to head up to the lunch line is to say a compliment about someone else that has nothing to do with physical appearances. Body image is a tough habit to break with this generation. It’s heart-warming to hear what the girls have to say.
After lunch the camp director, Lucy, and I team up to hike into Olowalu Valley for our afternoon activity.
The heat bears down on us like a medicine ball, sweat flooding our footpaths. The girls complain they feel light-headed. I reassure them we’ll be in the cool of the shade soon enough. We pass through a beautiful farm full of foods from the ancients, and follow the stream canopied with trees.
I begin telling stories of ancient Hawai’i. How the people traveled in canoes across the ocean, navigating by the stars. How they worked the land logically, and everything prospered. How the old way of life is almost non-existent. How species have gone extinct. How water is misused. How people don’t know these things when they visit or come to live in Hawai’i.
I tell these stories more for myself. To practice remembering. With these young women I do my duty, honoring this place and her people. The girls ask questions. They’re paying attention.
Back at camp I robotically move through the dinner preparations: wash dishes, empty and fill buckets, set out dishes and silverware, all while talking story with the chefs. We’ve grown close over camp. They finish dinner service, clean the kitchen, and head straight to bed. Groundhog day for them tomorrow.
After dinner, I take to my own quarters, sit out beneath the stars, and flash through the day’s events now blurred by the previous days. Exhausted, I lay my body to rest. In a second, it is morning, and I think ten chores into the future.