A Tube In The Spine
A prelude to the Paul Gebauer Saga
Paul Gebauer ascended peacefully last September at the age of 80. Prior to that, after walking away from surfing and the crowds of Oahu, he lived alone, outside under Ka La (the Sun) and Hoku (stars) in Wao Akua (mountain wilderness — home of Gods) of Upcountry Maui in the volcanic crater of Haleakala — at an elevation of 10,000’! — for thirty years or more. He spent his days wandering, walking in silence; and in deep, concentrated meditation.
Paul was a quiet, courageous mystic and perhaps the first surfer (in modern times) to both look and feel totally comfortable and at ease on the otherwise formidable and often terrifying waves of Paumalu (Sunset Beach). Where others crouched in a survival squat, Paul stood tall, loose and lithe, literally dancing where the rest were stiff, stumbled, or staggered. Kimo Hollinger, his boyhood friend from Punahou days and comrade in arms pioneer big-wave rider on the North Shore, reflected that “Paul was ahead of his time” and “he will always be my Mr. Sunset.”
A kinesthetic genius, his surfing wasn’t merely athletic (indeed Olympic) but art — both a reflection and extension of his musical, poetic mind and spirit. He made it beautiful because he felt the majesty and beauty of it all. Brewer said as much, too: “Surfing is the most beautiful thing one you can do.”1 And Paul was the most elegant of his generation, a forbear of other style master big-wave surf muscles like Sam Hawk and Eric Haas.
Paul’s wave riding looked — and probably felt — like the wafting flamenco classical/jazz riffs he mastered on guitar. Think (and listen to) Alhambra (Andreas Segovia) and feel the soul.
The sound of genius in unrestrained free form fluid bliss . . . Paul wrote poetry as well, not surprisingly; and in a poem entitled “A Tube In The Spine,” he waxed lyrical:
There is a tube in the spine
it’s all yours and it’s all mine
There is never a crowd and
you can find it anytime, this oh so slippery tube in the spine.
So slide a hot curl on a thruster of meditation, transcending forever all crowded frustration
Cut back and stall, relish perfection
Plunge once again through diverse dimension
Carve a slick wall beyond time
and space to the source of all swells that gave you a face.
Not even six fins, or even a board
Just a little patience and trust in the Lord.
Add a little love for the source of all waves, tis all the wax you’ll need till the end of your days.
Ten toes on the nose is good for a starter, perhaps some day you’ll walk on the water.
It’s all so divine so utterly sublime
when you draw a line through the tube on the spine.
Froth of foam bubbles of mirth
Isn’t it great just to surf?
I plan to write a comprehensive retrospective on Paul and have been conducting extensive research in preparation for that project, including interviews with people who knew him, such as his younger sister, Susan Gebauer Brown on Maui. Susan has graciously shared some of Paul’s writings and poems with me and I remain grateful to her and her family. More to come on Paul soon. A Hui Hou!
Huelo Hale, Paumalu 2022