Chapter Ten – The Clean Up Set
[ 10-TheCleanUpSet.pdf ]
“Y’all never guess who I slept with last night.” Daisy, a tall and deeply
tanned girl from Texas, was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, making
sure she didn’t spill the coke she was snorting off her fingernail.
“Who cares? The question is, who are you going to sleep with tonight?”
Sheila, a hardbody bottle blond from L.A., glanced over at the other face in the
mirror and then went back to making sure her look was just right.
“No really, y’all never gonna guess. Here, you want some of this?”
“Is it any good?”
“Not bad. Got it from the Brazilians.”
“As long as it’s not the speedy shit from Town. So, you laid some big
surfer, did you?”
“Yup, the biggest.”
“Well, then it was one of the Westside boys working security outside.”
“Oh don’t be stupid. I’m talking about the best surfer in the world.”
“The best surfer in the world wouldn’t be caught dead around here in
December. Whoever he is, he’s surfing someplace we’ve never heard of.”
“Well, what about the world champ?”
“You mean Sonny-boy?”
“That’s right. Had him all to myself all night.”
“Well, I guess congratulations are in order, dearie, except for one little
thing,” she said sarcastically.
“Oh yeah, what’s that?”
“He’s not going to win this year, so fucking him all by yourself doesn’t
mean much, unless, of course, he told you he loved you!”
“I ain’t that dumb, but he did tell me to meet him here tonight.”
“Now why would you want to spend another night with a has -been?
Listen, I’m setting up a thing for a couple of the Australians. Maybe you’d be
“Just me and you?”
“You’ve got to be kidding me. Haven’t you learned anything since you’ve
been here? I met some hookers from Town, and so far its gonna be three on
two. But you’d make it four on two, and that would be wild.”
“Well, I don’t know, I - - -“
“Of course, you can always go on your date with your world champ . Who
knows, maybe he’ll even hold your hand and ask to meet your parents or
“Oh shut up! Ok, who are these guys?”
“Well, one of them could win it this year.”
“You mean you know Mick Lennox?”
“That’s right, and his friend is just as hot. They’ll go all night long and
want more for breakfast.”
“All right, but what do I say to Sonny-boy?”
“What’s there to say? He’ll figure it out. Happens all the time on the
In most respects it was just another December on a stretch of beach five
miles long that temporarily becomes the center of the world for every surf
company, touring pro, would-be surf star, sponsor, filmmaker, and surf
magazine writer from around the planet.
This year, however, there was a little extra buzz in the air. Sonny-boy
Noaloa, two-time defending world champ, was not going to repeat. Even if he
won all three contests on the North Shore he still wouldn’t have enough points
to beat Australian Mick Lennox, the current points leader.
Lennox had kicked off the year by winning the events on the Australian leg
of the tour while Noaloa was working on his pub crawling skills and showing
up a little too hung over to make it out of the preliminary heats. The rest of the
year was more of the same. Lennox and the other touring pros were hungry,
and with no one to keep him focused, success had finally caught up with the
young Hawaiian champion from Florida. The agent, now expanding into
basketball where his talent for recruiting high school phenoms was paying off
big, had left day-to-day minding of Sonny-boy to his father. Johnny Noaloa
formed an entourage of Hawaiians, on the payroll thanks to the agent, to
babysit the champ and intimidate his opposition around the world. But there
was not much the Aloha Patrol could do when their boy sometimes only
caught one or two waves during a heat. And Roberto Mercante didn’t give the
situation much thought until it was too late. He’d spent most of the year
recruiting local talent around the world to boost Wavelife sales and cred, and
when it became obvious Noaloa wouldn’t repeat after his dismal showings in
Europe, he simply had marketing work up a new campaign, “When It
Counts!”, anticipating victories on the North Shore that would cover Sonnyboy’s
“Hey, baby, last night no good enough fo you?”
Sonny-boy Noaloa had a bottle of whiskey in one hand and a fat spliff in
the other. His words could barely be heard over the din of a shredding band
and a packed crowd at the beach house rented by GroundZero, the surf
industry’s edgiest company.
Daisy was walking out with the Australians, L.A. Sheila and the hookers
from Waikiki. She ignored Noaloa completely. Mick Lennox didn’t.
“No mate, its whose gonna be good enough tomorrah, and it won’t be
“Fuck off, Lennox, you fuckin’ Aussie haole fuck!”
“Well Sonny-boy, sounds like you can talk a lot about it, but looks like
talk is all you’ll get tonight.”
Noaloa dropped the whiskey bottle and threw the joint away as he lunged
at Lennox. The party was so wild that nobody quite noticed what was
happening. Noaloa didn’t see much of the fight either as Lennox took one step
back, cocked a right, and delivered to Noaloa’s jaw. Fortunately for Sonnyboy,
he was so drunk that he didn’t feel the punch. With the girls laughing at
him and the Aussies stepping over him, the world champ was laid out on the
deck overlooking the moonlit waves of Pipeline. Noaloa’s dad and a crew of
brick-house Hawaiians had just gotten their drinks when they turned around to
see their boy flat on his back. Sheila saw them and pulled the Aussies toward
the steps to the beach with Daisy right behind them.
Noaloa’s father saw the Aussies going down the steps to the beach. It
didn’t take him more than a few seconds to figure out what happened. He
slugged back the drink in his hand and told the posse to give chase.
“You get dose guys. I wanna have talk wid ‘em.”
Daisy saw the Hawaiians coming and screamed. The Aussies went into
high gear down the beach, the blondes right behind them. The Town chicks
stayed put. They had nothing to fear, and besides, they weren’t going to take
off their high heels to walk in the sand. They briefly melted back into the party
before sidling up to Noaloa’s dad and his fallen paycheck.
As for Mick Lennox and his friend, they didn’t stop to talk story with the
big Hawaiians chasing them. They kept running – all the way to the airport
and back to Australia.
The next morning, Sonny-boy Noaloa, with two stitches in his lip,
struggled to second place in what was to be a four man heat at the Sunset
Beach Pro. Mick Lennox was a no-show, and Noaloa only had to beat a
Brazilian to advance. No problem there. The posse made sure the Brazilian
knew what was good for him. Sonny-boy made it to round two, and that was
good enough for now.
When the agent called to check the results and Johnny Noaloa said Sonnyboy
was unable to come to the phone, the agent smelled trouble. First he called
Mercante, who told him to catch the next non-stop out of New York. Mercante
then got himself a ticket out of LAX that afternoon, but it was not until he was
boarding his flight that he was finally able to get through to the one guy he
thought could help salvage the situation.
“Heath, I need you to get over to the North Shore. We’ve got a problem
and I need your help.”
“Roberto, the last place on earth I want to be right now is on the North
Shore,” said Larson, sitting on a cliff overlooking his favorite big-wave reef on
Maui, “I hate that circus and you know it.”
“Listen Heath, I need you to get through to Sonny-boy because - - -“
“How am I gonna do that? Kids these days, you can’t tell ‘em anything!”
Larson laughed, but Mercante only got more serious.
“No, Heath, listen. Mick Lennox left Hawai’i thanks to Sonny-boy’s dad.
He didn’t show up for his heat, so Sonny made it through, but just barely
thanks to his dad scaring the shit out of some Brazilian. Heath, this looks
really bad for the company.”
“Well, so what, Roberto? What’s so bad about a cold shower every once
in a while?”
“Hawaiians don’t like cold showers, Heath, and neither does my wife. We
can’t have this whole thing blow up over a bunch of bullshit.”
“Roberto, the whole North Shore contest scene has been bullshit since day
one. Now its even worse, and you want me over there? No way.”
“Heath, I NEED you to help us. I’ll be there about six your time.”
Larson sighed. The last thing he wanted to do was fly to Oahu, especially
since he had a training session scheduled that afternoon.
“It’s gonna cost you, Roberto.”
“I’ve got my checkbook with me. See you at the airport.”
Larson hung up the phone and called out the back window.
“Bruddah! What say we go North Shore?”
A large, smiling Hawaiian looked up from his work in the lush garden in
the backyard. Ilano Kolana drove the jetski that pulled Heath Larson into the
huge waves. Kolana was bigger and stronger than Larson, but he could throw a
net, weave palm fronds into hats, and was a native son of the islands almost
without peer. He was Heath Larson’s only friend.
“No tell me you like do dat again! Dat ten year ago!” said Bruddah,
referring to Larson’s legendary outside reef sessions while the contests had
been conducted close to shore within camera range of the media.
“Nah, no surfing, Bruddah. We go save some big bacon for Mercante.”
“Sure, brah!” he laughed loudly, “We nevah roast pig long time!”
The agent was there. Mercante was there. Larson was there. Noaloa’s dad
was there. Cheryl Corlund was on the video conference screen. The only
person missing from the VIP room at the Honolulu airport was Sonny-boy. He
was sleeping off another hangover in a rental house overlooking the North
Shore with Bruddah watching over him.
“First off, my client fully understands his responsibilities to his contract
and definitely intends to fulfill them,” said the agent.
“Oh shut up, why don’t you? Your client doesn’t understand a thing right
now and neither do you.” Even over a conference line, Cheryl Corlund’s voice
had all the authority she needed. “We lived with his behavior on the tour, but I
can’t have him winning contests thanks to thugs scaring off the competition.”
“Who you calling a thug, bitch?”
Noaloa senior was nursing his own hangover. Mercante cringed, but he
didn’t step up to his wife’s defense. He was in Hawai’i, and he knew his place.
His wife had no time for such niceties.
“You and your thug friends, Noaloa. You screwed up and that’s going to
stop right now.”
Mercante turned white, but Larson stepped in.
“What I think needs to stop is the pressure on Sonny-boy.”
“What do you mean, pressure?” said Mercante. “He’s got a fat contract
and all the surfboards and women he could ask for. Maybe he won’t be the
world champion again this year, but we still love him - - -“
“You don’t love him, Roberto, and neither does anybody else at this
table,” said Larson, “or on the phone.”
“What I no love him? I his dad!”
“Yeah, a dead-beat dad who really doesn’t give a flying fuck about his
son. And you’re not the only one.” Mercante and Corlund felt a little uneasy
and said nothing. Not so the agent.
“Listen, Larson, I’ve been representing Sonny-boy for a long time and
I’ve done everything to - - -”he said.
“You’ve done everything to make a buck as fast as possible. And didn’t
you hear the lady tell you to shut up? Now mind your manners and listen.
Here’s what’s going to happen if you all want this to go away.” The best big
wave surfer in the world was setting up a tube ride through a tunnel of human
chaos. As long as he was in control he could trust the situation completely. He
was going to ride this wave his way, and everyone around him knew better
than to disagree.
The bucket of water wasn’t ice cold, but the effect was the same.
“What the fuck you do dat fo’, asshole?”
It took a few moments for two bleary eyes to focus, and even when they
did, his brain couldn’t quite get in gear with what was happening.
“Heath! What you doin’ heah? And why did - - -“
“It’s called an intervention, young man, and you’re coming with me.”
Larson lifted him up in one motion and put him over his shoulder in a
“Hey, what da hell you doin’? You can’t - - -“
“Oh yes I can, champ, and I even have Bruddah’s permission.”
“Where my dad? Where my agent? Where my cell phone?”
“Calm down, brah,” said Bruddah, stepping out of the doorway to let
Larson walk through with his burden, “Heath stay your friend.”
Larson looked like a linebacker carrying a wiggling sack of potatoes .
Waiting outside was a crew cab pickup with Roberto Mercante at the wheel.
Larson dumped Sonny-boy in the back seat and slammed the door closed. The
“What the fuck you guys doin’?” screamed Noaloa.
Heath settled into the shotgun seat and looked over his shoulder. He saw
that Bruddah had jumped in the back of the pickup and was ready to go.
“Put your seatbelt on, Sonny-boy. Its time you learned the meaning of the
word ‘restraint’! The whip’s coming down and you’re going to like it. Punch
Mercante spun the wheel, stepped on the gas, and Noaloa flew backwards
into a seat as Larson cranked up the volume and the Stones came blasting out
of the speakers.
At that very moment Wavelife’s press release was being read over the
P.A. system at the contest site announcing Sonny-boy Noaloa’s withdrawal
from the event due to a severe shoulder injury.
Two days later the winner of the contest was being crowned on the
podium, the agent was waiting outs ide Cheryl Corlund’s office, and Johnny
Noaloa was back in his Waikiki apartment wondering how he was going to
pay the rent without going back to day labor. Up in the hills of Maui three men
were sitting on the porch of a rustic cabin listening to slack key guitar. In the
bathroom the defending world pro surfing champion was throwing a tantrum.
“I no clean da toilets no is matta what you guys do to me!”
The men tried to minimize the interruption of the soothing music that
wafted across the green valley.
“Roberto, brah, maybe we outta da Ajax,” said Bruddah.
“I’ll put it on the list when I go to town. Anything else you can think of?”
“Quiet, guys,” said Larson, “Listen to this . It’s from the sixties when Ry
Cooder came over here.”
Sonny-boy Noaloa didn’t give a shit about slack key guitar.
“When dis gonna stop? I gotta get outta heah an’ get ready fo da Haleiwa !
People gonna wonder where I stay! I need talk to my agent right now!”
Larson bit his lower lip and pushed pause on the CD player. Sonny-boy
had been a handful, and so far it had been a stand-off tempered only by
Larson’s patience, Bruddah’s Hawaiian roots, and Mercante reminding Noaloa
that he was still under contract. But Larson liked Hawaiian music, and he
REALLY liked Ry Cooder.
“Well, maybe when you can learn to appreciate good music, we’ll let you
talk to someone, but it sure won’t be your agent.”
“Ah fuck you, Larson!”
There had been some dicey moments, but Mercante and Bruddah knew
this one could get ugly by the look on Larson’s face as he slowly stood up and
walked in the house.
Sonny-boy Noaloa was standing in the bathroom, his clothes stained and
dirty from two days of scrubbing floors, washing walls, and giving the cabin a
complete going over while the men had camped outside on the lawn.
“Ok, Heath, I’ve learned my lesson, but I am not going to clean the toilets,
and there’s nothing you can do about it,” said a suddenly very frightened
Sonny-boy Noaloa, speaking good English the way his mother had taught him.
Larson saw the fear in his face and adroitly reversed field.
“Wilson, you’ve done such a good job I wouldn’t want you to blow it so
close to finishing. C’mon, let me help you.” Larson found an old scrub brush
and a canister of cleaning powder under the sink. “First thing you do is turn off
the water to the unit, and then flush it. That way you can scrub the inside and
get it really clean. You know, like a cleanup set coming through at Sunset.”
The winner of the Sunset Beach Pro two years in a row looked on in
amazement as the man who used to surf Sunset just for the fun of it got down
on his knees and began to scrub the toilet.
“See, Sonny-boy? Sometimes it’s just easier to do what you need to do.”
A week later the second contest of the series was run in excellent waves at
Haleiwa, and for another week Noaloa rumors continued to float from the
parties to the press to the surfers out in the water – and back again. But nobody
knew a thing, and when the surf report predicted a powerful swell for the final
and most dramatic contest on the pro tour at Pipeline, everyone pretty much
forgot about Noaloa in the building excitement.
Over on Maui, four men were covered in mud and laughing their heads
off. A pure-bred Hawaiian pushed his best friend into the pool at the base of a
waterfall, but not before he could quickly grab the chairman of surfing’s
largest corporation and pull him in too. Then pro surfing’s champion jumped
up on the Hawaiian’s huge shoulders and they fell in sideways.
Heath Larson climbed out of the pool, up the short cliff, and slid over the
falls back down into the pool below. He was quickly followed by the others,
and for the next half hour it could have been a backyard in Ohio with kids
going down a waterslide, yelling and screaming and having the time of their
lives. Finally, the four emerged from the clear water and sat in the warm
Hawaiian sun. Larson looked up at the sky, and noticed some clouds beginning
to form to the west.
“You know, guys, it might be blowing offshore at Pipe tomorrow. Maybe
we go over there and see if it is any good.”
“Nah, fuck dat place,” said Sonny-boy Noaloa, “Let’s stay heah. Maybe
Honolua stay good tomorrow.”
Larson exchanged glances with Bruddah and then nodded to Roberto
“Well, Sonny, if I’m not mistaken, you work for me. Heath, what do you
have in mind?”
* * *
A wall of whitewater pushed up the sloping sand and under the restraining
ropes that lifeguards had strung along the beach. Out to sea, the last two waves
of the set were shutting down on the second reef. Thanks to a strong offshore
wind, the waves coming across the inside reef were pushing fifteen feet and
holding their perfect shape.
A horn sounded, and with lifeguards on jet skis and a medevac helicopter
on the beach, the Pipeline Pro Championship was underway. The first surfer
took off, fighting the wind down the face. He was going to try and backdoor
the tube, but he didn’t have enough speed and the tunnel swallowed him
whole. The crowd gasped as pieces of a broken board exploded out of the
white water and the waverunner sped in to pick up the dazed surfer. The next
surfer paddled into takeoff position. He caught the wave, looked down at what
awaited him, and pulled back at the last instant. His nerve had failed him
completely, but now things were even worse as he turned around to see a
rogue set fifty yards outside of him and the other two surfers abandoning their
boards to dive under the wall of whitewater.
Twenty minutes later, the horn sounded, and heat number one was in the
books without a wave being ridden. Although a new world champ would be
crowned at the end of the event, all the touring pros knew it was going to be a
By mid morning, several thousand spectators were watching as the last of
the preliminary heats was getting ready to enter the water. The contest officials
gave three colored jerseys to three nervous surfers. The fourth jersey, for the
automatically seeded world champion, remained unclaimed. The competitors
got their last instructions and headed towards the surf. They paddled out and
sat waiting for the previous heat to end. When the horn sounded, they moved
The contest officials were busy tabulating scores . They didn’t notice the
fourth jersey disappear. A lull in the sets prompted them to delay the start of
the heat. The announcer was giving short bios on the three competitors in the
water, noting that Sonny-boy Noaloa was an apparent no-show and what a sad
ending it might be to the career of surfing’s most meteoric star.
“Yes, Noaloa seems to have given up, and so this heat will proceed with
only three surfers. Attention water patrol, will you please clear the water of
non-competitors,” he said, noticing that a surfer had paddled out to the left of
the contest area.
A set of waves loomed on the horizon. The horn signaled the beginning of
the heat. The three competitors scrambled to the takeoff zone as a lifeguard on
a jet ski roared toward the intruder.
The first wave of the set stood up on the second reef, where it was met by
the lone surfer. He ignored the lifeguard and took off down the long,
steepening slope of the wave. It reeled across the inside reef and jacked up an
extra five feet into a perfect tube ten feet in diameter. The unknown surfer
disappeared deep into the tunnel. Everyone on the beach knew he wasn’t
coming out. Everyone, that is, except three men standing under a palm tree
near the judges.
Five long seconds elapsed before the crowd gasped. Coming out of the
tunnel, the surfer did a cut back, stalled, and put on the jersey! He ducked
through another inside tube and exited the wave with a graceful turn and a
salute to the beach. The crowd went wild. Sonny-boy Noaloa was given a
perfect score of ten on his first wave.
Late that afternoon, Noaloa had the Pipeline contest first place trophy at
his feet after winning every heat and scoring a record point total in the final.
During the awards he was laughing and friendly while tour officials crowned a
new world champion, a Californian who had not survived his first heat at
Pipeline but who had finished with the most points on the world tour, barely
beating the missing Mick Lennox.
Heath Larson and Bruddah were watching Noaloa graciously applaud as
the slightly bewildered Californian soaked in the cheers of the crowd. Bruddah
caught Sonny-boy’s eye. He cocked his head slightly, and Noaloa slipped
down off the platform leaving the new world champion in the spotlight.
Noaloa was like a little boy who had finally won the approval of a big
brother. He even looked the part as he struggled with his first place award, a
traditional heavy koa-wood carving that was almost as big as he was.
“Gimme that thing,” said Heath Larson and he carried it casually with one
hand as Bruddah opened a path through the crowd ahead of them. When they
got to the pickup Roberto Mercante was in the driver’s seat on his cell phone
to California giving the green light to the “When It Counts” campaign. Larson
tossed the trophy in the back like a piece of firewood.
“Don’t forget Sonny-boy, it’s only Pipeline. Soon we’ll be riding some
real waves, and no matter how good you are, there won’t be any trophies.”
Preview of Chapter 11 – Gifts
Christmas comes and it means many different things around the world. In Hawaii,
Orange County, and the remote regions of the South Pacific, there are people who fully
live up to the idea of peace on earth – and there are people who don’t.