All’s Great in the 808


On January 13 around 8:00 am I got a message on my phone that stopped me in my tracks. I looked around the parking lot at Kanaha Beach Park on Maui and saw similar puzzled expressions on peoples faces. “BALLISTIC MISSLE INBOUND TO HAWAII, SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER, THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” There was a building swell, and there were plenty of early birds already out on the water. I walked over to some local boyz with longboards out, standing next to the dropped tailgate of the signature Toyota pick up truck. They anticipated my question as I got close to them and they said they had gotten the same message. One of them was rolling a joint and said, in local pigeon which I will not try to imitate, that if a missile were truly headed to Maui, there would be no better state of mind or activity than to be stoned and surfing. I couldn’t argue their position.  They had each briefly checked in with their parents and told them they loved them. Very generously, the one guy rolling asked me if I wanted to partake.

For some reason, I remember from the news that I had listened to, that if there were an attack or missile launched, we would have 15 minutes before impact. At that moment I didn’t know if it was a fact or not but the final countdown was ticking in my mind. It was a minute of shock. After a few minutes with the local boyz, I had two options and 10 minutes left. The first was to call my wife and drive upcountry 30 minutes away. It is where we live during the winter months, knowing that I would most likely be on the road somewhere when the impact would happen. The second, tempting option, was to light one up… pass it around and paddle out. For a brief moment, I imagined myself in a nuclear holocaust version of “Point Break.” I would be an irie version of a Cuban Swayze, dropping down the face of a Hawaiian winter swell bomb, bottom turning and pumping down the line on a perfect open face with the impending missile present in my periphery. I indulged the thought, thanked the boyz for a truly generous offer. I was a stranger to them but an ocean brother none the less. Even in what could have been the last minutes of our lives, they were calm, joking, light, jovial and sharing. I wished them luck and an amazing session. They wished me the same luck and an uneventful drive.  I opened the door of my 1987 VW Westy, started the engine, called my wife and began to make my way to her and our two daughters.

That was a little over two weeks ago now, and we know the only thing ballistic that happened was in people’s shorts. Some of us panicked, and some of us remained calm. Some stayed still to relish in some possible peace before what could have very well turned into a nuclear holocaust. I remember driving calmly and slowly (you’re never really speeding in a VW Bus) listening to NPR and occasionally looking at the sky for possible traces of an inbound missile. I thought of Orson Welle’s infamous radio broadcast of the “War of the Worlds,” that drove some listeners to hysteria and suicide, believing that aliens had arrived on earth.  If this was a mistake, a hack or a hoax, I did not intend on being a careless, collateral catastrophe of this event. After talking with my wife, I called a good friend who is pretty well connected and he informed me of a message on Facebook that had just popped up from a Hawaiian congressional member that was confirming the mass missile text was an error. I made a U-turn as soon as I could and began my drive back to the water.

I consider myself very fortunate to know many caring and wonderful people. That day, texts and calls flowed then trickled with messages expressing everything from much-appreciated humor to considerate concern. Every day I try to practice gratitude for the people in my life, the experiences I have had and the blessings that have been bestowed upon me.  Moments like the one we experienced in Hawaii are sobering reminders that even in paradise, on a rock in the giant Pacific we are susceptible and possibly even expendable. We also experienced for a collective 45 minutes, the fear and terror that people in war-torn areas grapple with daily. We all felt and dealt with the fear in our own ways but what we shared equally was our relief. There are people in the world that don’t get that luxury.

Maybe that is one of my takeaways from this experience. The feeling of relief is in and of itself a luxury. I think of nature…the freedom, the consolation and the beauty of the canyons in Utah and Colorado where we spend our summers. On the river, away from the jockeying and jostling of our hi-tech, low touch world, there is serenity, there is peace, there is community, and there is relief. I look forward to sharing in that with you.

Javier Placer

CEO/River Manager

Adrift Adventures
Stand Up Paddle Colorado