Back in August, Barack Obama flew to Hawaii to visit his 85-year-old maternal grandmother at her apartment (where Obama lived throughout the 1970s) near the Punahou School, about a mile and a half mauka (towards the mountains) from the surf at Ala Moana harbor. Any number of great surfers cut their teeth on the hollow, bowl waves at AlaMo, including Gerry Lopez, who, like Barack Obama, attended high school at Punahou. But while Gerry’s path led to the waves, Barack’s led to the basketball court (State Champions in 1979, his senior year), college in Los Angeles and New York, community organizing in Chicago, law school at Harvard, and then back to Chicago and … politics. Now he’s going to be president of the United States of America and “the most powerful man in the world.”
They say Barack will be the first black president, but the truth is, he’s as much white as he is black. Funny how that works.
I haven’t seen too many presidents, of any color, close-up, but I did get to see one once … on the beach. The year was 1969, just about the time the first man stepped onto the moon. I was editor of Surfer magazine, and Richard Nixon was president of the United States. For his ‘Western White House’, Tricky Dick had chosen the exquisite Cotton estate and its hacienda, which crowned the bluff overlooking the lineup at Cotton’s Point, about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego.
As it happened, Nixon’s next-door neighbor was my boss, Surfer founder and publisher John Severson. From John’s deck one could survey the scene, including the upper story of the hacienda and the special stairs that had been built to allow presidential access to the sand and sea. One afternoon, as I looked on, Dick and Pat (the Mrs.) descended the bluff, crossed over the railroad tracks (via a special set of stairs and plank inlays), and stepped out onto the beach.
It was a glorious day, and the couple was preceded, at a polite distance, by a pair of secret-service agents. In fact, Dick and Pat kept a polite distance from each other, too. Another pair of secret service agents followed, at a distance. The four men were dressed in black suits, complete with shiny black shoes, ties, jackets. Pat wore a casual pant-suit kind of thing, but it was the president who really caught my eye. He wore a pair of dark gray slacks – high, with the belt buckle positioned about halfway between his navel and his sternum – and a powder-blue shirt with short sleeves that came closer to his wrists than his elbows. He too wore polished dress shoes, and he stepped awkwardly towards the berm, along which he walked as he studied the sloshing surges of the Pacific. The impression I got was of a guy a lot less at home on a beach than Neil Armstrong had been hopping around in his space suit on the moon.
Anyway, during that trip to Hawaii last August, Barack Obama took time out to visit some of the beaches he’d enjoyed during his Punahou years. One of them was Sandy Beach, a high-quality bodysurfing spot on the windward side of Oahu. There, Obama scattered flower petals in remembrance of his mother, posed for a few pictures, and waded out to join a handful of locals populating a wedgy little peak on a small-wave day. You can see it on the YouTube [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ugDrrAz0C_Y]. You can sense his total comfort in the ocean energy as he takes a wave and assumes the classic pose of the savvy slider. You sense the way he inhabits his body – not like a space-walker wearing a protective suit, but … like a surfer!
To ride waves like that, to be relaxed and oriented and aware in the curl, requires more than just a skill set. To ride waves with composure and style requires a consciousness we haven’t seen in an American president for a long, long time. Maybe ever. Combine that athleticism with a keen intellect and a comprehending and open heart, and you have a recipe for success. Keeping things in proportion, weighing choices without wasting energy, staying on track, being patient, maintaining balance – these are all attributes of a surfer who, above all, lives in the present. No room for excuses, no time for pretense. What you see is what you get. No drama Obama.
So, I see this as a very good thing for the world – for sustainability and the environment, for compassion and relationships, for sanity and reason. I feel optimistic, and I expect intelligent wave selection and excellent maneuvers. Although Barack is definitely taking off behind the peak, it’s clear he likes a late takeoff and a steep drop. And I’m pretty sure he sees a high line through the pit towards the light at the end of the tunnel.
– Drew Kampion