NouvelleVague: Kauai Was the Worst & I Can’t Wait to Go Back

This piece was originally published by NouvelleVague on September 6th 2017.

I went on a surf trip to Kauai with a guy, and it was potentially the worst, least romantic, most awful trip I have ever been on. And I can’t wait to go back.

A new-ish couple, Ernie (name has been changed to protect the innocent) and I decided to go to Kauai in September to surf and work on our tans. A shared love of surfing and sunshine was largely the reason we’d wound up together, and it seemed like a great idea. Kauai was new to me, though I’d spent a lot of time between Maui and Oahu since my childhood, and I’d been told repeatedly and enthusiastically that “Kauai is Maui 30 years ago!” I watched The Descendents about five times before we hopped on the plane and had built up plenty of lofty expectations upon arrival.

As is always the case with international surf trips booked more than a month out, the swell was virtually nonexistent when we got there. Ever the optimists, we saw a half-full glass and rented some 9’ and 10’ longboards the morning after we got in and headed straight from our condo in Princeville to Hanalei Bay.

Between the açai bowls and the longboard session, things were looking up. The good things rarely last though, and I feel daft for not seeing it was doomed from the start.

That first day was pure magic. We were basically riding ripples in the off season, but longboarding always makes my heart sing. The sun packed a punch and we could feel it breaking down our cold Canadian defences, turning our white skin brown and our brown hair blonde. The first day is always a bit of a fairytale.

In the village by the bay, there’s a fruit stand doling out the best açai bowls you’ll ever have, packed with honey and the freshest of fruit. Between the açai bowls and the longboard session, things were looking up. The good things rarely last though, and I feel daft for not seeing it was doomed from the start.

Carried by Ernie’s fond memories of a booze-filled sailing trip in the Bahamas, we booked a day-long sailing/snorkeling trip to the Napali Coast, the spot on the very top of my Kauai hit list. We sat on the nets of the catamaran as we drank our way up to Nualolo Kai.

Nualolo Kai is an ancient Hawaiian site with a lot of state protection, archaeological significance, and incredible snorkeling. We jumped off the boat, and a woman thought to ask our captain about the presence of sharks, to which he replied, completely deadpan, “No sharks in the Pacific, ma’am!”

She seemed reassured.

After several hours of snorkeling and hanging out with all the turtles and a black-tip fin shark, we headed back to Hanalei.

If this was a film, this is when the Jaws soundtrack would start playing. I was pretty sure I had reapplied enough sunscreen, but I was even more sure that if I went below deck to grab a shirt, I’d be decorating the side of the boat and feeding the fishes in no time. Hindsight is 20/20, and I still don’t know why I didn’t just ask Ernie, an actual seafarer, to go down below and get a shirt or something for me. Regardless, I fried.

The extra unfortunate thing about full-frontal sunburns for me is that they often trigger cold sores. So a sunburnt face and mouth meant that by 8:00 that night, after I drank enough rum for a small band of sailors on shore leave, my mouth had exploded in blisters, and my face, stomach, chest, and arms had bubbled up from the burn. The damage was so severe that later, when I got home to Canada, I’d be given a domestic abuse hotline card by a well-meaning woman near my office.

Lesson learned: Never mess with the sun. The sun will always win.

My later attempts to play in the water were thwarted by my sorry state. The blisters on my stomach made paddling out terribly uncomfortable. The cold sores made snorkel mouthpieces unbearably painful. The painkillers made me nauseous on the water in any capacity.

“I was trying to stay positive about what had quickly become the worst trip I’d ever been on, and at every turn I saw spots that would be pumping in another season, and critters I could swim with when I wasn’t the equivalent of fried chicken.

We tried to make the most of it, by visiting the Waimea Canyon, finding the absolute best poke on the island, and generally driving aimlessly around the island. But we’d gone there to surf, and that was not happening. I was trying to stay positive about what had quickly become the worst trip I’d ever been on, and at every turn I saw spots that would be pumping in another season, and critters I could swim with when I wasn’t the equivalent of fried chicken.

Ernie and I obviously didn’t work out. With that start like that, how could we? But me and Kauai, we’ll have another shot—I’m sure. “I can’t wait to come back,” I remember thinking as I boarded my flight home, “with SPF 50.”

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