Returning a Waterman to His Hawaiian Surf

by Linda Dodds

Brian and Linda on a South America cruise
Brian and Linda on a South America cruise

My husband, Brian, was one of the lucky few who found out what he loved to do at a young age. Part prodigy, part rebel, Brian graduated from high school at 16. Then he headed straight from his family home in Los Angeles to the shores of Hawaii, where he became an early player in the surfing movement that would shape popular culture for decades to come.

Brian was one of the few who earned the right to be called a “waterman.” He was part of the elite migration of surfers who went to Honolulu in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s to catch waves and perfect the art of big wave surfing.

Not only was Brian a poet of the longboard, he could sail and swim with powerful ease and read the waves and atmospheric conditions with the accuracy of a seasoned oceanographer.  The sea was such a part of him that you could show Brian random footage of some waves, and he could tell you where it was taken by how the surf broke.

I had no doubt, when Brian died of a heart attack last year, that I would return this man of the waves to the rising crests of the Hawaiian surf he so loved. My reason to cruise was more a mission, to take a small part of him to where he’d literally soared on Earth.  I would start my Hawaii and Tahiti cruise with stops to spread his ashes, and continue on through the waters of the South Pacific that so reminded me of him.

When I met Brian, we were later on in life, both divorced and parents of two. No longer the full-time surf god, Brian had gone to college at the University of Hawaii, obtained a pilot’s license, flown some for the Flying Tigers and had a career as a lifeguard/search and rescue in Hermosa Beach.

Brian was still an adventurer when we met, but he earned his living in a more pragmatic way as a telecommunications sales executive in Washington state.  He hired me to sell his house, and I did. He gave up his nomadic life for good  to stay with me in the Pacific Northwest where we worked, traveled and became grandparents ten times over during the nearly 26 years we had together.

To prepare for my cruise, I carefully packed two vials of Brian’s ashes. One I’d scatter from Honolulu, before boarding the cruise ship, Island Princess; the other I’d disperse from the island of Kauai, a seminal place in his youthful journeys.

My good friend, Beverly, joined me on the cruise. I am not one to sit in my stateroom by myself, but I was immensely grateful to have her companionship on this mission. It turned my remembrances from one of solitude and solemnity to a celebration of a heck of a life.

For the first vial, I went out on a pier in Honolulu and waited for a good wave to come in. Honolulu was significant. I remember once, Brian showing me clips from one of those early surf movies, and there he was, young vibrant Brian, gracefully riding his longboard.

At our port of call in Kauai, I walked along the beach until I found a beautiful spot with a garden on one side and rolling surf on the other. I couldn’t help but recall how Brian lived there, just a kid, in a Quonset hut with a bunch of other young men. He had told me so many funny stories about the laughter and antics of that time.

The cruise ship sailed on toward Tahiti. I’d symbolically returned Brian to two places that he loved. But when I think about his life, that independent kid who left home to follow his dreams in Hawaii, and how those surfing legends of yesteryear still inspire young people today, I know that Brian’s spirit resided there already and always had. Still, I felt at peace for completing this journey for him.

Linda resides on Fox Island, Washington and has enjoyed 16 Princess cruises.