It’s the final morning of our Spirit Sessions Fall session. Today is graduation day! I walk my new dog Bradley into the craziness of a Saturday afternoon in Waikīkī and he sniffs all the new smells and people.
I arrive early today, in time to see the boys’ graduation, with all the cheers and shouts of “Stoke!” echoing through the high-rises. I take a seat and wait for my girls to arrive.
Preparing our Lei
Our facilitator gathers us, and we all talk story for a while, about what we have accomplished and what we will be doing for our final session. Like the last day of school, it’s hard to focus on the standard stuff—we all just want to paddle out and play.
But first, we have an activity to do! Our facilitator has graciously prepared tī leaves for us, so we can weave each other lei to wear. As is the tradition of graduations, lei are an absolute must to commemorate the occasion.
The Importance of Tī
Tī leaves, most commonly known for their use in lau lau preparation. Tī leaves are the long, broad leaves we sit around in a circle learning how to weave. Today is the final day of our Surfer Spirit Sessions—graduation day—and we are making tī leaf wreaths. The requisite preparation of the leaves—stripping the middle stems and freezing them—has been taken care of for us.
I sit with the girls (and Bradley), and we each take a long cold strand of leaf, wrap the halfway point around our big toes, and begin twisting. To properly construct the tī lei, one must twist each piece of leaf in the same direction, wrapping them over each other in the opposite.
While tī leaves can be delicious, they also hold sacred power; they were worn by ali‘i, and the process of creating these lei, from the harvesting of the leaves to the cleaning, makes them valuable, an especially precious expression of care and appreciation. There’s no better day than this one for us to make these special lei together.
What the facilitator doesn’t tell us is that twisting the leaves results in a syrupy juice, which drips onto our toes and between our fingertips as we maneuver the leaves into their design. I’m not the most coordinated, and quickly lose track of the direction of my twists, rapidly covering myself in the gooey juice as I try again and again to get the pattern right.
My mentee is here today, and she along with several other girls picks up the pattern effortlessly, finishing their lei in no time at all. My mentee looks up from her finished lei, and at the behest of the group leader to give our lei to someone, walks over and places her lei around my neck. That gooey sap I first found annoying has never felt so sweet. I put my lei around her neck when I am finished. It is not nearly as beautiful as hers.
We wear them into the ocean, which is so flat it seems practically concave today. There are tiny waves rolling in ever so often from the horizon, but they rarely break and certainly don’t have the power to push even the biggest of our boards without some serious gumption. The 3 or so waves I do catch are most likely a result of my paddling rather than the wave itself. Instead of trying to catch lots of waves, we take photos together with Diamond Head in the background as we all line up, and then take individual photos.
Few Waves, Much Stoke
The hot sun blazes on our faces while we stand on our stagnant boards, jumping about and swimming around each other. Today is not about catching waves, but celebrating each other. Each session hasn’t really been about catching waves, now that I think about it. But they have all centered on this beautiful ocean; they have all connected us in the sea.
Celebrating in the Sea
A daughter of one of the mentors is learning how to surf. She catches the most waves of us all, aided by hearty pushes from our instructor and several others. Her jumping stance up from lying down, her tiny body on the massive board, and her smile is enough stoke for us all. It’s so easy to stop worrying about yourself in the waves with these girls. No one cares what you look like, or who is doing the best. We’re all here together rejoicing.
My mentee can’t help but crave more waves, being the young surf-addict in training that she is, so we paddle out to Queens, where the waves are still tiny but promise at least a bump on the horizon. Still, we can’t catch anything, so I hop off my board and dive down to the sandy floor. She follows me, and we take turns touching the bottom and bouncing back up to the sunlit ceiling of the surface.
We float, we play, and we paddle for waves. A baby turtle swims around below our surfboards, coming up for air and diving back down. We circle around it, following its ocean-dance with our eyes. We think about how many turtles we have saved with our beach clean-ups, imagining the 4 fewer cigarette butts in the sand that mean the salvation of this turtle’s life. It’s a beautiful thing to see a small change you’ve enacted.
The Grand Finale
After floating in our bliss for an hour we paddle back in for the grand finale: graduation! Again, we circle up together and distribute spirit cards—cards we have all drawn on throughout the weeks with little notes to people we want to share our appreciation for. As we share our spirit cards, each girl is called up and given her diploma.
Today’s theme was rejoice, and I can’t imagine a better theme to celebrate the day. Everything we do is about celebrating each other and the place we live in. We rejoice in yummy pizza and swimming with baby turtles. Each time we paddle out is an affirmation of our connectedness and interdependence with the ocean.
We fill out the girls’ journals, writing little notes to them and giving our phone numbers in case they ever want to call us. Bradley jumps around licking people’s faces and trying to sneak bites of pizza he knows he can’t have. I stand with my mentee while she holds her diploma, and our shared time together is an achievement. It’s an achievement of this program to keep showing up for Hawai‘i’s youth, these many Saturdays, to show them they matter and that they are worth rejoicing for.
Every Reason to Celebrate
Every shaka and smile, every wipeout and frustration, every meal and beach clean-up is an occasion for joy and happiness, because we have witnessed each other’s growth. I doubt any of these girls realizes how much they help the mentees to be better people, just as we probably don’t know the extent of impact we are having on their lives.
One Wave at a Time
Yet we know it is happening. We see it, each morning and afternoon when boys and girls come together with us to paddle out into the line-up, to change our worlds, with each other, one gorgeously imperfect and amazing wave at a time.