“Hello everyone, and welcome back to the 2015 O’Neill World Cup! The next surfer up is Tyler Chulanont, our previous gold medal champion. He’s hoping to win two years in a row, but can he do it? It looks like the waves are in Tyler’s favor today, let’s see what he does with them.” “Wow, that is a beautiful wave he’s chosen, bigger than we’ve seen all day. Oh, oh no. It seems he lost control and has fallen off the wave before even getting the chance to start.” “Another amazing wave, but it looks like once again another fall by Tyler. His twenty minutes are just about up, and he hasn’t gotten a single good score from the judges. Will this be the end of Tyler Chulanont’s career?”
I jolt up from my bed, breathing heavily. I’d been having the same dream ever since that nightmarish day two years ago. How much longer would I be plagued by my failure? I drowsily make my way out of bed to begin my daily routine, but something stops me. There’s a sudden sharp knock on my door, and I freeze. Who would be visiting me, the surfing washout? I quickly shuffle down the hall and open the door, but the face I’m met with causes my blood to run cold. Standing there on my front doorstep is Keith Lee, my biggest rival. Instantly my shock turns to anger.
“Why are you here?” I growl.
“Woah,” he says, putting his hands up defensively. “That’s no way to greet an old friend.”
“We were never friends. Now why are you here?” Keith doesn’t reply, and instead walks right past me into my kitchen. “What are you doing!?” I screech. He looks at me and shrugs.
“I smelled coffee. Do you mind if I use this mug?” Without waiting for an answer he fills the mug and takes a seat at the table.
I stare at him in disbelief. “I don’t know what you think you’re doing, but you better explain now, before I call the police.”
Keith chuckles and takes a sip. “You wouldn’t actually do that. Now sit down, we have things to discuss.” I reluctantly sit down, glaring at him. “Okay, so I know it’s been two years since you surfed in competition, but-”
“Hold on a sec,” I say, putting a hand up. “I am not surfing in competition ever again, after what happened. I don’t even surf anymore, period.”
“Yeah you do, I saw you surfing a couple nights ago.” Keith countered, but quickly realized his mistake. His eyes grew wide. “I-I mean, uh…”
“What? How would you know that?”
“Never mind that, the point is you’re an amazing surfer. I don’t know why you quit surfing, but I know you’ve got potential. So, how about you try surfing again in competition under my coaching. I don’t want your talent to go to waste, and I can tell you still have a passion for the sport.” Keith takes another sip, waiting for my answer.
I shake my head. “Like I said, I don’t surf competitively anymore. Not after what happened.”
Keith frowns. “I figured convincing you wouldn’t be easy. Trust me, you won’t regret this. You can’t just give up after one mistake. I know you still want to surf.”
I sigh in defeat. This guy just won’t give up. “Fine, but only on one condition. I win the O'Neill World Cup.” Keith grins and holds out his hand. Hesitantly I shake it, hoping this isn’t a mistake.
“You’ve got yourself a deal, Tyler. Now, where are the best beaches around here?”
I’d never be able to forget the feeling of surfing. It’s a unique feeling, something special only to surfers. A sort of peace radiates from the rhythmic waves and the cry of birds overhead in the clear blue sky. I always find myself with a sense of utmost tranquility, the ability to move and think freely, just the movement of your body in the water, with the water. Surfing is the best, though, in the last hour of dusk, when the beach is quiet and the sky has begun to fade. It is then when there’s nothing but you and the ocean moving beneath, that I feel at peace.
I brought Keith to my favorite place to surf, Kata Beach. This beach was the main reason I decided to move to Phuket, and it is where the majority of my time is spent. I lend Keith one of my extra surfboards and we head out into the water, away from the scorching crowded beach.
“The waves are really nice today,” Keith notes, and starts paddling as a wave begins to pull him up. I watch as he stands up, gliding through the air on the water, and eventually falls back into the ocean’s ice cold water. Now it’s my turn. I barely have to wait before I feel the water pulling me forward. You must wait until the perfect moment, let the wave take you, and then go, go go! I give a push and I’m up! Standing, gliding above the wave, a king of the ocean. Then it’s all over as soon as it had started. I lose my balance and ungracefully fall into the unwelcoming salty spray.
I can hear Keith laughing and I struggle back onto my board. “At this rate I’ll come in last place again,” I pout.
Keith paddles over to my board. “Hey, it wasn’t that bad. We just have to keep practicing.”
“Yeah right, I’ll probably just crack under the pressure and mess up all over again. I knew surfing again would be a bad idea.”
Keith squeezes my shoulder, and I flinch but he doesn’t let go. “It’s okay to be scared, but don’t let that fear overpower your mind and control you. Never forget that. Now come on, let’s try again.”
The rest of the day was spent on perfecting my lousy surfing and Keith’s persistent encouragement. After spending the day at the beach he brought me to one of the beaches’ many restaurants, and we spent the evening laughing and learning more about each other. Maybe Keith isn’t as bad as I always thought.
The next few months pass by swiftly, each day spent at the beach surfing with Keith. We became friends quickly, and I begin to wonder what I’d be doing if Keith hadn’t come to help coach me. It’s not hard to say that these past months have been some of the best in my life.
The day of the O’Neill World Cup comes faster than either of us could’ve expected. We pack our suitcases and hurry to the airport. Our flight to Hawaii is long, but the wait is worth it once we get to the beautiful island. As we check into our hotel I can barely believe I’m back here competing.
The next morning we’re up early at Sunset Beach. The morning sun is already hot on our backs, and I can tell it’s going to be a great day for surfing. Being here with Keith cheering me on makes it a lot less stressful, and as we walk alongside the ocean, away from the bustle of the crowd, I feel calm and at ease. “I already signed us in yesterday, so we have a few hours to get ready for the competition.”
Keith stops and turns, facing me. “Tyler, there’s something I have to tell you before we go.” I look at him, confused. “I’ll...also be competing today. I didn’t tell you before because I didn’t want you to worry about it. We won’t even be in the same heat together, so let’s both just do our best.” It takes me a second to register what Keith said.
“Wait, so I’ll be competing against you?” Suddenly I don’t feel good about this. I can feel all of my confidence from before diminish.
Keith puts a comforting hand on my shoulder. “Don’t worry, okay? We wouldn’t have spent the past few months training if I didn’t think you could win this. I will be surfing first, and then you’ll go a few hours later. We’ll both do great.” He grins, squeezing my shoulder. “C’mon, let’s go get ready.” I follow Keith into the changing room, but it feels like all my confidence was left outside. Would I really be okay competing against Keith?
An hour later and we’re both suited up and ready. The first heat that Keith will be competing in starts in about ten minutes. I walk with him as he picks up his surfboard and walks towards the start point. If he’s nervous, there’s no way to tell by looking at his blank face. I can’t help feeling nervous for him myself. “Good luck today, Keith.”
He grins, and steps into the ice cold water. “I’ll do my best, make sure you watch!” With that he’s off, and the heat has began. I watch him swim deeper until it’s hard to see, then head back up the beach to watch on the TVs. Keith looks great on the waves.
I watch as he successfully rides a few waves, and my nervousness subsides. He looks like he’s having a great time, and I watch as his score goes up. In no time the heat is almost over. All of a sudden an immense wave seems to come out of nowhere. I watch in awe as Keith smoothly transitions onto it, and stands up on the board. But almost as soon as he stands up, he loses his balance and tumbles head first into the water. The wave crashes down on top of him, and my eyes scan the screen as I try to locate him. Something feels off, and the feeling of dread in my stomach does nothing to calm my nerves. Why hasn’t he resurfaced yet? Finally after what feels like an eternity his surfboard surfaces, and so does Keith, but what I see makes my heart stop. Keith isn’t moving--he’s floating facedown.
My knees give out from beneath me, and I crumble to the sand, vision going blurry. I struggle to catch my breath as the reality of the situation crashes down on me. What’s going on? Is Keith okay? I feel someone’s arms around me but their not his. Someone is shouting my name but I’m not listening. Suddenly there’s a shout, “They’ve got him! He’s alive!” Breathe in. Breathe out. He’ll be okay, right? There’s only an hour until it’s my turn, and I don’t know what to do. I just need to make sure Keith is okay.
I shakily stand up and try to regain myself. The medical tent shouldn’t be too far. I don’t have much time until my round, but Keith is my first priority. I need to make sure he’s okay with my own eyes. I run through the burning sand in the direction of the tent. Finally I arrive, and to my relief Keith is there. He looks like hell, but I can tell he’s okay from the grin he flashes when he sees me. I scramble past doctors and wrap him in a tight hug. “Thank goodness you’re okay, you scared me so much.” Keith coughs, and I pull back quickly, worry once again crossing my face.
Keith forces a smile. “I’m sorry for scaring you, I guess the ocean just really likes me.” He laughs at that, but it turns into a coughing fit. I rub his back gently and wait for him to regain himself. “Gosh, sorry, I drank a lot of seawater. Anyways, I’m fine now. But what are you doing here? Your round starts in a little bit.”
I look away in embarrassment. “I needed to make sure you were okay. I was so scared.”
“Tyler, look at me. All that we’ve done has been for this moment today. I know you can win this, you just have to believe in yourself. Put all of that doubt and worry behind yourself, and just go out there and surf. Let’s do what we came here for. Win this, win this for us. I nod, feeling a surge of confidence from Keith’s encouragement.
“Thank you, I’ve got to go!” I give Keith one more hug and run back to my surfboard, filled with energy. I get back just in time, and the heat starts. The cold ocean pierces my skin, and I shiver, hesitating. I know I can do this, and I’m no longer afraid of the water. I plunge into the ocean, each movement surer than the last. The water rises to my chest, and I stop. It’s now a matter of waiting, a game of luck. Then I see the it--the perfect wave. It begins to carry me off my feet, away from the solid earth and towards the sky. Keith’s words echo in my mind, “It’s okay to be scared, but don’t let that fear overpower your mind and control you.” I paddle to catch the wave, ears numb from the cold, face dripping with water, and my heart beating with the waves.
One push, and I’m up, flying on the water. Sea spray ruffles my damp hair as I soar through the sky, almost weightless. When you are waiting for a wave your mind can think a thousand different things. When you paddle for a wave your mind thinks of only a few things. When you catch a wave your mind thinks of only one thing, that one thing is joy. There’s no greater feeling of being one with the ocean. It feels as if I’m riding on top of the whole world, and in this second I realize, this is why I surf. This is where I belong.
The rest of the heat goes by in a blur. I surf better than I ever have before. Before I know it I’m out of the water, and back on the sunny beach. Keith is there, and he hugs me tightly, ecstatic from my surfing. “Tyler, that was incredible! You were perfect.” He lets me go from the hug, smiling brighter than the sun. I feel my heart swell, and I decide maybe there is one thing better than the feeling I get from surfing. It’s whatever I feel now, and I never want to stop enduring it.
Keith grabs my hand, guiding me towards the growing crowd on the beach. “Come on, it’s time for them to meet their new champion surfer.”