The Big Break(9)

By: Cara Lockwood

Kirk tapped his tablet and then handed it to Kai. There he was, sitting in his hot tub with the two women he’d just dropped off at the airport. They were both topless, but the picture was pixelated. One of the women was kissing his face and the other was taking a selfie. Kai groaned. If his aunt Kaimana saw this, he’d be in for another lecture.

“Yeah, that’s me, but it’s not as bad as it looks.”

Kirk threw his head back and laughed. “Bad? Man, I’d kill to be you for one weekend.” The wedding ring flashed on Kirk’s hand as he took the signed contracts from his desk and tucked them into a file.

“It’s not as fun as you think it would be,” Kai said, remembering the awkward goodbyes that afternoon after he dropped the tourists at the airport. They hadn’t even gotten out of sight before they’d started posting to Instagram, clearly.

“As long as you can train and do this. You sure you can?”

“Yeah, of course.” Such a lie.

* * *

SEEING BRET AGAIN had made Kai itch to get out on the surf. He had something to prove. In the surf just beyond his beach house the next day, he started paddling. The wind was low, the waves gentle. It would be an ideal time to try to test his knee.

Kai paddled hard against the sparkling Pacific surf as he spied the perfect wave rolling in. He redoubled his efforts, sea spray hitting his face as the early-morning light glinted off the tip of his prototype surfboard. Kirk would be happy to see him on it, at least. Kahaluu Beach stretched out behind him, and the crystal-blue water was clear and relatively calm, the waves easy for even a beginner to handle. A few tourists were out, trying out their rental boards for the first time.

Kai still thought his board looked too new and flashy. If he’d been on one of the serious breaks, the locals would’ve ribbed him for it, and they’d have been right. Neon colors and cool graphics didn’t make you a skilled surfer. Sweat and blood did.

Maybe he’d forgotten that. He admitted loving the spotlight, the interviews on ESPN, the legions of followers online. Who wouldn’t enjoy dating the models and actresses who gravitated toward his rising star? He hadn’t turned them away. He’d passed the millions mark before he turned thirty. Since then, it had just been about building his empire of shirts, boards and even waterproof video cameras small enough to fit in your palm.

Of course, that was all before the tsunami.

Ocean spray hit his forehead and he shook his head to clear his eyes so he could focus on the wave. He couldn’t dwell on the past. Surfing was all about living in the moment.

He flexed his knee. It felt strong. Stronger than it had in weeks. Good. He was going to crush it today.

Is that why you’re hiding out on a tourist beach? Is that why you’re riding these beginner waves, barely six feet? You used to say anything below twenty wasn’t worth your time.

A tingle of nerves pricked his stomach as he tried to shake off the uncertainty.

He was the three-time reigning big-wave champion. He’d survived some of the most dangerous breaks in the world. He’d surfed waves taller than an eight-story building.

That was before the ocean shredded your leg and left you for dead.

Kai shut his eyes against the memory.

Now was not the time for doubt. He knew it, and yet he couldn’t shake the ghosts of uncertainty. He might never be good again, and he damn well knew it.

But now he was out of time. The wave was here. He’d have to attempt it or wait for the next one. He tried to blank out his mind, rely on muscle memory as the wave rolled toward him and he popped up on his board, the warm sun on his back, cool air whipping across his chest. For a shining split second, he believed he was going to do it. He felt the rush of the adrenaline as he struggled for a toe hold and a quick glance around told him nothing in the world could be as beautiful in life as this: glittering ocean beneath his board, shoreline in the distance dotted with gorgeous palm trees, like a line of hula dancers swaying in the tropical breeze.

Surfing was his first, and only, passion: he craved the rush of wind through his hair and the ocean spray on his face like a junkie needing a hit.

He was going to do it. He was upright, arms out for balance, both feet on the board.

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