Discover more from Eternal Return
The Waterfront (Part IV)
Descent — A Series of Unfortunate Events
There were a series of unfortunate events that led — inexorably — to his untimely death. It started with an injury, at Makaha, if I remember correctly. A loose board hit him (took him out) while surfing off “Blowhole” — a section inside the Bowl. It was crowded, as it often gets over there when it’s not too big and the waves are good. Oftentimes, when it’s like that, there will be dozens of people out — men, women, children — on every type of water- and wave-riding craft one can imagine: longboards, guns, shortboards, Paipo and Alaia boards (traditional Hawaiian surf craft), boogie boards, Bully Boards (extra big boogie boards: “Braddah Size”), canoes, bodysurfers, you name it. The History of Hawaiian Surfing is conspicuously on display each and every swell at Makaha. Edis was working (lifeguarding) that day, surfing on break (i.e., “water patrol”) and a loose longboard in the whitewater struck him in the right ankle, breaking (almost severing) it. It was a bad; he almost lost his foot.
The injury required surgery and a long, drawn-out recovery period. It was extremely painful. That’s when he got on the pharmaceutical opioids. Oxycontin. Fucking poison. Edis had messed around with heroin and shit for a few years; but he wasn’t a junkie. Not yet at least. Those “pain killers” prescribed to him by his doctors changed all that. In short order, he got hooked on those pills (I remember plastic vials lying around), washing them down with beer or wine, while lamenting the fact that he couldn’t surf or do much of anything else (but swim a little, even that hurt). Just getting across the beach to the water was a painful, three-act ordeal. He eventually gave up. As a result, he got out of shape (for him, that is: he didn’t get fat or anything; but he wasn’t in “Olympic” shape anymore). Edis became increasingly depressed, strung out on the shit. It was hard to witness.
He withdrew. Edis lived at the time in Haleiwa, just off Haleiwa Beach Road — on the same street (Walikanahele) that another famous lifeguard and Big Wave Legend Butch Van Artsdalen had lived and ultimately died, as fate would have on July 18, 1979 (two days before Edis) — summers on the North Shore can be more deadly than winter.1 That location proved ominous, I see now. Truth is, I never liked that street — still don’t when I drive by (e.g., last night). It’s a Dead End (literally & figuratively). While he always liked to be by himself, Edis became increasingly solitary; more than usual. And he spent more time in the Honolulu Netherworld, running (limping in pain was more like it) around with Eric and Jason (Majors) looking for and finding all kinds of trouble. Helter Skelter.
Just like a paper tiger
Torn apart by idle hands
Through the helter skelter morning
Fix yourself while you still can
No more ashes to ashes
No more cinders from the sky
All the laws of creation
Tell a dead man how to die
Edis went on paid “sick” or “disability” leave from lifeguarding for several months; but he couldn’t really glass, fin, or sand very well either, due to the pain and awkwardness of the injury. When he did finally get back to work (both in the lifeguard tower and the glass shop) he was still on the Oxys; and this became a problem both at work and in his life. Long story short, Edis went into rehab. This was somewhere around the early 2000s I’d say and the whole rehab thing (a residential program at the Sand Island Treatment Center) took several weeks to complete, followed by routine AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings, the 12 Step Program, etc. It was hard for him to be around his old friends and acquaintances (including Owl, Eric, and me) because most everybody drank and smoked pot in addition to other drugs and bad habits. Edis was struggling. Of course, as his friends, we abstained the best we could in his presence; but he had to keep his distance. And he did most of what he needed to do on his own.
When he went back to work lifeguarding, the City and County brass kind of gruelled him (in my view) unnecessarily, or, at minimum, punitively and rather disgracefully. Adding insult to injury (literally), Edis had to go back to Town and work the plebeian towers of Waikiki and the no-name, very unglamorous Westside towers at Nanakuli and Pokai Bay. Long drives, hot days in the tower, far away from where he wanted to be. He was effectively punished for breaking his ankle and getting addicted to the pain killers prescribed to him for an injury sustained while working. It was heartbreaking, especially for Edis.
Edis wasn’t surfing that much, it was too painful and awkward. He lost the spark. And like anyone who’s been seriously injured (as I know all too well), there’s this lingering fear or paranoia of re-injury that not only exacerbates anxiety but causes one to lose the passion as well as the agility to do what used to come instinctively, as second nature. Everything has a second thought to it; nothing comes easy or spontaneously. Every move must be conscious and deliberate. Another long story short, after several months of being clean and sober, he relapsed. So, after several more months of getting loaded and fucking everything up in his life (work, relationships, his mind and physical fitness, etc.) he went back to rehab (this time at Kahi Mohala in Ewa Beach) for a second time. That seemed to do the trick. He confronted himself and surmounted. He was determined to overcome his demons and find himself again.
Edis was proud in a quiet, dignified way. He had self-respect and, once again, he disciplined himself. He knew — and understood all the more after a couple years of struggles — what he had to do. We discussed the matter at length. He told me that he might have to leave not only the North Shore, but probably Oahu (thus Hawaii) if he was going to survive and stay sober. He seriously considered going back to Croatia, finding a nice girl, get married and start a family, run a bookstore or something. It seemed like a real possibility for him. I know he envied (or admired) me for having a house, a family, a job. He just wanted stability and security in his life. He wanted to be healthy and strong — and, unfortunately, the surfing life here or back in California was too risky and dangerous. There were simply too many “triggers” everywhere — and most everyone he knew (Owl, Eric, me, et al.) were also triggers in one way or another. We all continued to live as we do, some a little worse or better; but we all, at minimum, imbibe and have a smoke, and then some for others. Edis couldn’t mess around with or even be in the presence or vicinity of any of that — it was simply too hazardous. He’d learned his lessons the hard way. There wasn’t much else for me to say other than to support and encourage him, which I tried to do by giving him books and sharing with him my insights into living more philosophically.
One night stands out in memory from the others during that period. Probably 2003 or 2004. As mentioned, Edis was rather a connoisseur of the Honolulu Nightlife Netherworld; and it was his turn to get philosophical, as it were, with me. As in Marquis de Sade philosophy in action.2 Life was a little crazy for me at that stage, frankly: my marriage was on the rocks (my wife and I were separated, not living together) and I had other problems. Anyway, Edis and I went out to Town one evening to blow off some steam and he showed me the ropes. Years before, as mentioned, I wasn’t at all interested in most everything — bars, strip clubs, massage parlors, brothels, etc. — that he, Eric, and Jason had been exploring and enjoying. That all changed for a night. Ironically, Edis remained sober (didn’t drink or anything); not me, however. I got loaded, twisted in fact, and we had a ball. We went to most every strip club on the main drag (Femme Nu, Roxxa, Exotic Nights, et al.) and those not on the main drag: down side alleys and up fire escapes; and we ended up at “The Salon,” a certain den of iniquity. I’ll leave it there. Details and specifics aside, we found ourselves drained and spent, falling asleep in his (or was it Butch Ukauka’s?) grey Mercedes as the sun rose out of the Pacific behind Diamond Head.3 Edis was like my older brother and guide that night on the Grand Tour tour of the Honolulu Netherworld. What of it I remember, I’ll never forget.
By 2005, Edis had been clean and sober for almost two full years. He looked good again: strong and fit. He was getting older, having crossed the 40-year bar (he was 43), some grey, thinning hair; but he was surfing, stoked, and back in the Tower at Sunset (#25) and working at JR’s shop (as well as Third Stone Glassing down at the infamous “Swamp” — by that time, actually, Third Stone might have migrated down to the Waialua Sugar Mill). His head seemed to be in a good place. Edis was back in the saddle.
To be continued . . .
Huelo Hale Paumalu 2021
Butch Van Artsdalen died of complications associated with alcoholism (liver failure, etc.) on July 18, 1979. He was 38, but looked twenty years older (from what I heard). Butch had struggled with alcohol since he was an adolescent; and he tried to sober up many times, ultimately to no avail. In the end, as was told to me by someone close to him, he bought a case of whiskey and retreated to his bungalow on Walikanahele, just off Haleiwa Beach Road, and drunk himself into a coma over the course of several days. His sister had him taken to Wahiawa Hospital, where he died soon thereafter. Butch was one of the greatest surfers of his generation — both on the Coast (in Southern California, La Jollla) and in Hawaii — a pioneer of high-performance big-wave surfing, a nimble switch-foot, and the first “Mr. Pipeline,” as well as one of the first lifeguards on the North Shore, along with his close friend Eddie Aikau (who disappeared at sea the year before Butch died, when Eddie tried to rescue his shipmates aboard the Hokule’a after it capsized in 1978). SEE:
Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade (2 June 1740 – 2 December 1814 was a French nobleman, revolutionary politician, scandalous philosophe and writer notorious for his radical libertinism. A proponent of absolute freedom and unrestrained morality, his most famous works of literature (which Edis loved to read and re-read) were erotic works combined with philosophical discourses on pornography, religion, and law. E.g., The 120 Days of Sodom (1785); Philosophy of the Bedroom (1795); & Juliette (1799) — this last book I have in my library still, a gift from Edis. De Sade ended up incarcerated in the Bastille only to be liberated on July 14, 1789 (the infamous “Bastille Day”) an ironic twist given his aristocratic lineage and the allegedly democratic (or “Republican”) impulses behind the French Revolution, to which he became an elected delegate to the National Convention.
RE: Butch Ukauka, SEE: