A Samoan character Sketch
All photos by Tom Carey
Up, Up And Away
The room seems impossibly high above ground. It must be — there are clouds drifting in through the balcony. The ceiling fan spins, psychotic. It is the rotor, and perhaps this room, a helicopter. We lift starward and the momentum blows our hair back. The geckos clinging to the walls stretch with the thrust and the rest of us sink into the beds. Until — we hover. And the rotor still spins but there is music in the room. Ford and Ozzie trade chords, strumming Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane” on a loop. The sound turns hypnotic and we begin to draw on surfboards, entranced. I look at Ozzie and his forehead is growing, his hairline receding. There are seams at his temples and they are slowly coming undone.
The air is thick. Our skin is wet. Our T-shirts cling like snotty tissues. We have arrived. The airport is sleepy and smells of frangipani flowers. We drag boardbags and camera gear past burly men in skirts slouching at the customs booths. The vans are curbside and we are missing one person. Ford is always missing. Usually he’s lost something and usually that something is his passport. He materializes, grinning. It is midnight, near 90 degrees and he’s in calf-high combat boots, high-water wool pants and a yellow baby tee. His hair is styled to just the right level of dishevelment. He has a flower lei on, a ciggie in one hand and the first of many coconuts in the other. “Where’ve you been?” we ask. He takes a sip through a pink straw, lets out an ahhh and says, “Just soakin’ up the culture, bros.” He takes a drag between sips. “And I left my passport on the plane…had to get that, too.”
It is morning and beyond the balcony an empty right peels into a reef pass. I hop down the stairs for breakfast and the Salani grounds look like the Garden of Eden. Wild chickens scamper across the lawn. A pig or a raptor shrieks somewhere in the distance. Ford has on what he had on yesterday. He’s strumming a hot pink ukulele, walking toward me with that haircut of his — Bieber on heroin — and looks up. He is grinning. “Let’s shralp!” he says. Sounds about right. Ford strolls to his room and I down three cups of coffee. We converge at the dock. Photogs, Alex, Mitch and I. Mitch hollers, “Ya don’t need a passport for this one, c–t!” Ford walks up with a leashless single fin in one hand and a coconut in the other. In the boat Ford fiddles with the ‘nut. He struggles to pry it open for the meat within. It explodes in his hands and mostly all over Alex’s face, beside him. Alex soaks up the culture.
Ford surfs in an unbuttoned button-down. Crude tats dot his slight frame. Tats like Bad to the Bone, YEW! and All women are bad. In the water he sits deep and outside. He draws out his bottom turns and stalls into shallow double-ups. He is lanky. He is grinning. He lays it on a rail and sinks both arms into the water behind him. He loses his board and the single fin washes over exposed reef on the inside. Ford paddles back to the boat 20 minutes later. He jumps in, tears off his button-down. “Gotta get my bronze on, bros!” he says, hopping back into the sea, grinning, winter-pale.
Mitch glances at Ford’s combat boots lying by the bar and tells a story. “I used to have boots like that,” he says. “I was 9 years old and such a f–k-wit. Like, I was kind of a bully because I was big for my age, believe it or not. At 9, I was bigger than everyone — and then I never grew after that,” he laughs. “My boardies back then fit me the same as they do now, at 25. Anyway, I had me mum buy me a pair of Doc Martens, and then I had her take me to the barber. He got out the buzzer, put it on zero, and shaved me a f–kin’ mohawk. I had a few earrings on one ear — one was a hanging dagger — and I thought I was so tough — a full romper-stomper. Imagine havin’ that sittin’ in your class at grade three.”
Mitch recounts this anecdote over the pool table. I do not know if this story is an act of strategy — misdirection, maybe — but he’s murdering me. It’s my turn and he has the eight ball left — I’ve got eight balls left — and he engages me. “So, you must get to go on a lot of trips like this with the mag, huh? Must be nice, right?” he lingers. “But, like, is it always like this?”
“How do you mean?” I ask, aiming the cue.
“Like, with the other mags. On their trips, do they, like…get to go to cool places?”
I chip awkwardly off a stripe, scratch and the stick rattles hollow in my hands. “Shoulda’ chalked up first, mate,” he grins and quickly sinks the eight.
Mitch is on his own schedule. He sleeps when he wants to. Goes surfing when he wants to. Eats when he wants to. It’s 1 in the afternoon on the hottest island on earth and he wants to go surf the left out front. No one’s game because everyone surfed earlier when it was cooler. I join him though because he’s one of the few people in the world that recognizes the genius of the movie MacGruber.
We surf a deep blue left that roars over shallow reef. He’s doing that balls-to-the-wall-type surfing he does when he’s blasting off sections you really shouldn’t be blasting off of. He’s digging ass-north bottom turns into frontside air-revos when you thought it’d just be bottom turn to tail waft. He says something about needing a 6.5 or 7 to go in on and I say, “Wait, we’re in a heat?”
Third-World Water Beds
At night the jungle air is damp. We inhale to breathe and drink. alex and Mason jump on their beds and fall through the wet sheets. They are under water, their hair swirling in slow-mo above their heads. They smile and laugh and purple air bubbles burst from their mouths. Ford throws in an inflatable neck-pillow such a lifeguard-and fishes them out.
Deciphering Wright From Wrong
Smoke keeps the mosquitoes out of the room. Ozzie is smiling. Ozzie is drawing. He shares a room on stilts with Mason. This is where weird is born. Ozzie draws with his Kurt Cobain sunnies on, with his Harley Davidson tee on, with his man-bangs on. More or less everyone waits for the next thing he’ll say, for the next thing he’ll do. The boys ask Ozzie to draw on their boards like kiddies at contests ask for autographs. Beside me Mason says, “Brah…if Ozzie put a couple dots on my shirt, I’d be psyched.” Ozzie doesn’t say much. He is smiling. He draws a picture on the blank side of an Air Pacific barf-bag. It is of a naked monster woman with lightning shooting from her eyes. Half of her head is open and her brains — the color of a rainbow — are exposed. A hooded cobra rises from her belly button. The monster woman also has bangs. At the bottom of the bag, he signs it Ozzie Wrong.
He surfs better in person than he does in the movies, hoisting large frontside straighties off crumbling lefts. He flies high, for a 6-foot-plus caveman with bangs. He compresses low on the rights and lays it on a rail in the tight green pockets. And he does so on unconventional shit-craft. Lumpy decked four fins spray-painted black or Rasta colors or rainbows. Boards that look old and used and…wrong. Mason’s amazed, “Brah, you think Ozzie just rides anything, but really, they’re scientifically perfect.”
Ozzie is smiling again. Ozzie is drawing again. He draws a picture of his family in a car. They are driving somewhere and the car has wings and his wife — who also has bangs — is behind the wheel, and his son, Rocky River, sits smiling in the back. There are planets and moons and stars around them. A winged alien in the background holds the sun with the word LOVE etched along the sphere. The sun lights his family’s path. At the bottom he signs it Ozzie Wright.
Very Clean Lines
Everyone is pasty or sunburned, everyone but Alex. He arrived copper-toned and nimble. He is wide-eyed and curious. He gathers more content than I do, and that’s supposed to be my job. But he is also on the job. He takes iPhone photos of withering ferns, the spunky boxer with an underbite, the view of the resort from the mouth of the river. Or the plates of fish, the psychedelic surfboard decks, just f–king everything, really. He quickly adds a filter, an effect, probably plugs in a little caption. He’s got a blog to maintain. He asks me if he can release some Instagrams. I ask, “What’s that? Oh, right. Yeah — no.”
In the water, we watch Alex turn. Some of us are afraid — and some of us aren’t — to liken his turns to Andy’s. Alex would never make this comparison, but their frontside arcs bare an uncanny resemblance. Alex clearly wants more juice, but he deals with the size. He keeps turning. He grabs rail in the bowl and writes a message in clean, sweeping cursive.
We sit at the bar and talk shop and watch an unreleased surf flick that Ford put on. Some neo-trash Newport film with an avant-garde soundtrack and Dada edit. Some of the clips are upside down, Dane Reynolds is falling. Alex looks horrified. The film’s grittiness is in direct opposition to his entire psyche. He looks at me and shakes his head. “What a waste; do you like this crap?”
“Eh, kinda…I appreciate both ends of the spectrum,” I reply.
“I guess. But it’s like — we have all these new ways to do things…better. New technology, new equipment, new software. And then, this is the new thing,” he laments, scratching his head. Just then, Mason walks up, bubbly and laughing. He’s got a shirt on with a grainy photo of a guy — his father, actually — dropping in on his heels at Pipe. We both stare at his shirt and somehow this explains things.
It May Have Been Something We Ate
Samoa is green and steamy and life here moves like syrup drips. The land and sky and sea are moody. She’ll swallow herself, she’ll funnel on the reefs, she’ll dump from the heavens, she’ll rumble from the deep. And it rains, every so often about every half-hour.
The rain pelts the tin roof above our room on stilts. It’s raining so hard we have to shout to converse. It does that often in Samoa. Bolts of lightning crack in the distance or in the closeness and booming thunder follows. We’ve gathered in Ozzie’s room. We do that often in Samoa. Ford walks in — soaked in culture — dries his hair with a towel and sits among us. “Bros, I haven’t brushed my teeth for eight days,” he admits, rolling his tongue in his mouth.
“Mate, I haven’t brushed me teeth for all me 20s,” Ozzie replies.
Ford walks over to Mason’s iPod speaker, clicks in The Beatles’ “Within You Without You” and says, “Dudes, let’s turn this up, let the sitars sink in and get weird.” He is making a lot of sense. A strange cross-wind is blowing through the windows of our room on stilts and the curtains start dancing. The mosquitoes have vacated and we are drawing on boards, collectively. And the colors…there are a lot of them. And they are awake. Ozzie keeps his shades on, they’re so bright. We are hatching those ideas that seem brilliant at the time when there are no mosquitoes and the colors are alive. Alex wants to do a “Brothers Boat Trip,” but, like, right this time. Mason wants to create space currency, you know — money for outer space. Mitch wants to do the ‘QS, but, like, for real this time. And Ozzie has an amazing idea for a porno called…We’re just spit-balling, here. But the ideas are so brilliant that our scalps slip off and our brains are exposed. We notice geckos crawling on the walls and their chirping is deafening. Lightning shoots from their beady eyes and moments later thunder booms.