Monday, March 24, 2008

WOW, Part 2, Ch. 8

The Ice Pirates

“Now that’s cold!”
Pieter Kistenberg put the book down in his lap and looked out a porthole into Antarctica’s winter darkness. With just a few pages from the war diaries of the vanquished German Sixth Army during the battle of Stalingrad, he was brought back to his usual self. He was three months into a winter-over on the Antarctic continent, and needed a mental tune-up now and again, even if it took reading about the horrors of the German defeat at the hands of the Russian avengers to put things in perspective.
Pieter Kistenberg was an Ice Pirate. Tasked with supporting and maintaining the integrity of OSOM’s meteorological network in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, the Ice Pirates knew that to get the job done required a rhythm of efficiency and camaraderie. The flight engineer always made sure he was personally prepared to meet the challenges of the coming day, and if it took reading about a World War Two battle that made wintering in Antarctica seem like a vacation in Hawai’i, so be it.
A knock on the door and Kistenberg kicked himself out of his bunk, landing cat-like on the floor of his homedome, one of many connected by a latticework of tunnels throughout OSOM’s personnel facility at McMurdo Sound, near the Ross Sea south of New Zealand.
“Permission to enter?” It was his pilot, Rico Candelaria.
“Come on in, Suave.”
Candelaria ducked through the portal with an easy grace. Like Kistenberg, he was in gym-rat shape, and his flight suit looked stretched around his arms and shoulders. He glanced at the title of Kistenberg’s book.
“Ah mein freund, wie gehts mit der Wehrmacht?”
“Sold out by the Austrian corporal. First he prohibits Mannheim from going to the rescue, then he makes Von Paulus a field marshal so he won’t surrender. Truly hell on earth. Makes this place look like Miami!”
Candelaria laughed and replied, “Well, sorry to report the skin diving trip has been cancelled, Pieter.”
“Oh, so we’ll just be lounging poolside again today?”
“Not quite. Damon needs to see us. Sounds like a node mission.”
“Any idea where?”
“Not yet. I only got wind of it a few minutes ago.”
Pieter felt a twinge of anxiety, but then he thought of what real pressure was: waves of tanks firing point blank at a trapped army, commanders in shock putting Lugers to their heads, stacks of corpses that were once comrades, the first steps of a death march to Siberia. He immediately straightened himself and smiled at Suave.
“Sounds like we’re in for a bit of fresh air,” said Kistenberg, grabbing two thick binders and his data pad.
Walking to the briefing room, the two men kept their minds free of any thoughts about what might lay ahead of them. Kistenberg and Candelaria were highly respected members of the Order who knew a thing or two about bravery and brains versus bravado and bullshit. They knew anxiety and stress were enemies best defeated by humor, and so it took them a minute to get through the door thanks to a hilarious “After you, Alphonse” routine.
“No, most excellent flight engineer, you have almost five thousand winter hours, and I a mere forty-two hundred. After you, oh grizzled veteran!”
“But oh pilot without peer, you’ve done touch-and-go medevacs at fifteen stations from Vostok to Cape Horn. After you, oh savior of the skies!”
On and on it went, until finally Candelaria played his trump card.
“But my dear friend, I must insist. Your boot heels are so polished that I’ve brought along my sunglasses so as to not be blinded in following you.”
He smoothly whipped his shades out of his breast pocket and placed them smartly over his eyes.
“After YOU, my dear Alphonse!”
Rico swept open the door and Kistenberg stumbled through, laughing at his pilot’s perfect “Gotcha!” It was pitch black outside, and Candelaria had obviously planned it all by having his shades at the ready, knowing that in the humor and absurdity of their little skit, they were reinforcing a bond that saved lives.
The room was smallish, with five armchairs arranged in a semi-circle in front of an oversize flat panel monitor displaying OSOM’s meteorological network covering Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. Kistenberg and Candelaria joined the other three members of their flight crew, plane commander Mark Habeman, navigator Kathleen Drake, and loadmaster Mai Seqgen. Damon Waiya began his briefing.
“As you all know, we have been operating with a compromised data network thanks to Apollo doing the boogaloo in the magnetosphere. We now have experienced an anomaly that has Ray’s utmost attention. Dome Argus went down about thirty minutes ago. The node experienced a catastrophic failure after transmitting highly unusual data indicating an ultra-powerful katabatic event. However, adjacent stations reported no anomalies and continue normal operations.”
“That’s a new one,” said Habeman, “What’s Ray got to say about this?”
“Nothing so far, other than a request for your consideration.”
“Let me guess! With the Alba_Swords ready to launch, he wants all the data he can get, including Dome Argus,” said Kathleen Drake.
“Can’t he make do with what’s still up and running?” said Habeman, glancing at all the green nodes on the display.
“No he can’t,” said Kistenberg, “and for good reason.”
Everyone turned and looked at Pieter.
“I bet he thinks the AWS was destroyed by the first of a series of atmospheric convulsions as predicted by his global warming models. If his model is right, stronger ones are on the way, and they will power up katabatics beyond belief. And they’ll all start up on Dome Argus.”
“Damon, can Ray give us any predictions as to when we can expect the next one? We’ll start working up a flight plan. Are the AWS guys running simulations on a replacement unit?”
“Not yet, but I’m going over there right now. As for when the next one is going to hit, I’m sure Ray is working on it as we speak. I’ll have that information by the time the AWS unit is ready.”
Waiya stood up and headed for the door. Candelaria rolled the trackball under his right hand and a cursor shot across the display. A menu bar presented icons, Candelaria made selections, and overlay graphics appeared one after another: color-coded surface wind arrows, the latest satellite infrared images of cloud densities, and isobaric contours of the interlocking high/low pressure systems spinning around the globe from the Roaring Forties to the South Pole. Another click, and it was all set in motion, running the past forty-eight hours in fast forward. Then the display froze at the precise moment that the node on Dome Argus went from green to yellow.
“Okay Rico, roll it back twelve hours,” said Drake, “bring it up triple and center it on Dome Argus.”
Candelaria was right on it. The screen wiped to black, then filled with the ice white of Antarctica’s most inaccessible region. AWS-81.77 glowed green at dead center.
As the weather data was fed a second time into the program, the changes on Dome Argus were graphically displayed.
It was an eerie sight. A cyclonic isobar pattern appeared around the AWS. It started to rotate, and then spun faster and faster like a toilet flushing into a steep downward spiral. Then the gradients spread out and relaxed into calm. There was nothing on the screen but a black icon that had once been green. It had taken all of twenty seconds.
“Ouch!” said Mai Seqgen, “I’ve never seen anything like that before!”
“I have,” said a very somber Pieter Kistenberg, “The models Ray generated from Eastern Pacific chubascos off Mexico combined with wind shear models from Tornado Alley in Kansas. You get downdrafts that hit the ground like steamhammers, then spray around in a spiral like a fire hose out-of-control until its direction stabilizes into a single path of power.”
“Well whatever it was,” Candelaria paused, “we’re just guessing until we go on-site and find the AWS.”
“Correction,” said Pieter Kistenberg, “IF we go up there. Flying to Dome Argus means temperature, visibility, fuel, approach, landing, cargo off-load, take-off, and return issues. And if Jerry Phelps and the backup C-130 have to come get us, then we’re all in trouble. Let’s look at it this way.”
He cursored the display into a three-dimensional horizontal view, and scaled it back to show their current location, their headquarters at McMurdo, at sea level on the Ross Sea coast.
“The target is at an altitude of fourteen thousand feet. It is almost a thousand miles away. The sun is above the horizon for only six hours. Available light on the ice will be quite limited unless it’s clear, which it probably won’t be. Landing and ice conditions are unknown. Surrounding weather systems are wildly unstable, and right now it is so cold up there who knows if we wouldn’t just freeze dry on the spot.”
The chief flight engineer looked around the group. There were some smiles at his attempt at humor. There was not a hint of disagreement in any of the faces listening to him intently.
“Approach path can’t be determined until we’re there and check the sasturgi ice patterns, which may be have been erased by the anomaly. We may not be able to land unless it is comparatively quiet and on-ice time must be minimized. Then we’ll probably need to do a jet-assisted take-off to get out of there, with no guarantee that we’ll still not have to burn way too much fuel to gain altitude in the face of,” Kistenberg glanced around the group, “any unusual local breezes.”
Everyone snickered at the Kistenberg’s idea of “local breezes”. It was like referring to a roaring freeway as being little more than a country lane.
“So, can we do it?” asked Mark Habeman, “Will half-an-hour be enough all around?”
The room was quickly filled by the sounds of laptop keystrokes clicking, pencils scratching and binders opening and closing. It looked like five students taking the final exam of their lives. Which in a way, it was. There was no margin for error. Creating an illusion of safety on such a mission would be a mistake that could kill them all.
Each Pirate was deeply involved in calculations, systems cross-checking, levels-of-criticality determinations, and some deep reflection as they leaned back in their chairs from time to time in contemplation. Then a flash of inspiration, and back at it they would go with a flurry of new specs and contingencies.
Nobody noticed when Damon Waiya re-entered the room and handed a slip of paper to Habeman. He glanced at it, and then passed it around the room. The margin of error for Seranen’s projection was plus or minus sixty minutes. That put the mission deep into the safety red zone. Then again, they’d already come to that conclusion from their own calculations ten minutes ago.

Waiya showed no expression in the face of something that he’d never imagined could happen. The Pirates were calling it ‘no-go’.
“Captain Bucher won’t blink,” said Candelaria, “He’ll know that if we could do it, we would. But we can’t. As the saying goes, ‘No way in hell.’”
“Because that’s exactly what we’d be facing if we tried to land at Dome Argus right now,” added Mark Habeman.
“I’d give just about anything to see what happened to that unit,” said Mai Seqgen, “except a life. And I’m sure everyone in OSOM will concur. If the Regatta hangs in the balance based on Ray’s need for data from Dome Argus, then it’s a scrub for the Regatta.”
“To quote one old Pirate motto, ‘I ain’t pushing up a cross in this hellhole’,” said Kistenberg, even as his thoughts ran to the frozen waste of human life at Stalingrad.
“Thanks for being frank, no pun intended,” said Waiya, “I’ll keep the AWS team on task with a replacement. If things change, they’ll be ready.”
“Say, why not do an airdrop? Or use an aerial unit? Deflate the balloon and float it down instead of up?”
“Might work. I’ll get those guys to do some calculations on balloon pressures versus drop rates.”
“What about parachuting them in?”
“Yeah, even better. We can come in low to help ‘em survive impact. Can the AWS guys build a stripped down model that might make it?”
“I’ll find out. Might have problems with transmitter antennas, but let’s see what they can come up with.”
Damon Waiya walked out of the room, followed by the Ice Pirates flight crew. They walked to Waiya’s sparks station through the transit tunnels between the domes. They all crowded in and Waiya sat down to key a terse message to Ray Seranen, who would bounce it immediately to Frank Bucher and the captains of the Alba_Swords.
“81.77 Air drop only. Unit prep time unknown. Confirm.”
Each Pirate tapped out their initials in dots and dashes, giving Ray Seranen the absolute concurrence warranted by the import of their decision. For the first time in OSOM’s history, there was a distinct possibility that the Roaring Forties Regatta might be postponed indefinitely or cancelled outright.
However, nobody gave that a second thought when they considered the significance of the root cause of the situation. If Seranen’s models were correct, a weather event of unimaginable proportions and power was on the horizon, the likes of which the earth had never, ever experienced.


Glen Henning on the proposed LNG terminal:

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

WOW, Part 2, Ch. 7

A Signal from the South

The tall, silver-haired man ran down the canyon following the creek to the coast, to the beach, to the place where the land came to an end. He stopped at the very edge of the continent, a step from the sea. Turning to the mountains of Montecito behind him, he spread his arms to span the ridgeline, gazing at the heights where the hawks flew wild. He closed his eyes, and prepared to take his leave from the land.
Bowing his head in profound submission, Ray Seranen entered the ocean in the Chumash way, showing his respect by stepping slowly backwards until he disappeared beneath the waters of Fernald’s Cove, a place of quiet never touched by the storms he knew were raging on the other side of the world.
He surfaced, moving through the still water seemingly without effort. He kept his body in graceful trim, gliding with the momentum from the rhythmic dolphin-kick of his legs. The V of his wake was broken only when he would raise his head now and again to breathe. Through the golden sheen of the cove at dawn he swam through waters protected as if this was the very birthplace of life itself, the place from whence we came.
Emerging from the sea, Seranen stood erect as the first rays of sunlight darkened his shadow across the wet sand. He lifted his shoulders up and back and pulled the morning air deep into his lungs. He began a sequence of liquid movements, weaving his arms, legs, spine and mind through a dance of one, turning and stretching, focusing inward, his closed eyes gazing at distant horizons. The world became a hemisphere of energy all around him, the step of his feet his contact with mother earth, the sea behind him a mirror of blue in the sharp, clear light of a new day.
He came to a final, still inner moment before opening his eyes, his daily morning ritual now complete. The Greek ideal was real to Ray Seranen. The health of his intellect depended on his being sound in body. He was now ready to face the daunting task of guiding men and women through the wilderness of the Southern Ocean.
He ran back along the edge of the sea and then turned up the creek without breaking stride. He passed through a tunnel under the highway and continued for almost a mile, stepping lightly around the rocks and boulders with the agility of a man a third his age, before leaving the creekbed and jumping up to the landing of a stairway hidden in the sage. High-stepping up the redwood treads, he emerged into the sunlight on a deck with a view from the Santa Ynez Mountains to the Channel Islands.
He stepped into the open shower and stripped in the warm wind that often blew from the land to sea on summer mornings. The cold water sprayed a rainbow in the bright light coming through the trees. He saw a red-tailed hawk circling high over a mountain peak, and he took the opportunity to imagine himself in the center of the continent, as far from the sea as one could get, with no knowledge of or connection to the oceans of planet Earth. It was a moment of consciously distancing himself from the world of work he was about to enter as chief meteorologist for the Order of Southern Ocean Mariners on this Monday morning.
Nine thousand miles to the southeast a fleet of six Alba_Swords was poised, on station and standing by, off the coast of Tierra Del Fuego. On Ray’s signal, they would begin a non-stop voyage around the world. Under his guidance, they would play cat-and-mouse with the vast powers of the Roaring Forties, remembering all the while that the safe passages of the past were no cause for confidence. He and the commanders in the Roaring Forties Regatta would measure their risks accurately and listen to their instincts religiously, knowing the fate of the mouse that, in letting its guard down, does so for the last time.
Ray Seranen opened a thick oak door, brass fittings bright in the morning sun. He entered a room without windows, yet warmly lit by a system of louvres in the ceiling that moved with the sun to provide consistent lighting throughout the day. Soon he would lose all sense of local time while concentrating for hours on end to determine the fleet’s precise launch zone off the coast of South Africa.
He closed the door, not to see the ocean again until dawn on the morrow.

* * *

For millions of people around the world, global warming was little more than hotter summers and increased electricity bills. Melting ice caps, the desertification of Central Africa, rising sea levels, and other anecdotal natural phenomena were all blamed on the "‘greenhouse’ effect", and there was a general perception of man affecting the weather for the worse.
Some meteorologists and oceanographers, however, saw these apparent symptoms as part of long-term cycles rather than man's comparatively short-term influence. They felt using hotter summers as conclusive evidence of global warming was little more than sound-bite science. They maintained the connection between man's excesses and climate change was much more complicated. Veteran meteorologist Ray Seranen was one of them.
He believed that as man's industrial development became a factor in global weather systems, there was one place where the effects would be extremely pronounced. Seranen held that Antarctica was the world's air conditioner, and that if forced to work harder to dissipate increased heat generated globally, the end result would be more activity in the storms tracks around Antarctica. Massive volumes of heated air circling towards the South Pole would create an imbalance that Nature would abhor with a vengeance. That fury would intensify the storms and winds across the ten million square miles of the Southern Ocean.
Seranen began to do research on Antarctic weather systems, the oceanic storms circling the frozen continent, and the resultant wave fields. He worked for two years mining massive data sets from hundreds of years of ships logs, Antarctic meteorological stations, and a variety of remote sensing satellites. He began to program computer models using formulas similar to those originally used to navigate spacecraft to the outer planets, and more recently to predict stock market fluctuations and trends. As his models began to correlate anomalies in Southern Ocean sea-states with temperature and gaseous emissions trends of industrialized countries, Seranen saw a bigger picture beginning to form connecting increased wave heights in the Southern Ocean with unstable weather around the globe.
However, there were gaps in his data. To guarantee the integrity of his models and projections, he needed real-time observations from Antarctica and the Roaring Forties, a vast network of data acquisition nodes throughout the most remote areas of the Southern Hemisphere to calibrate against the planet’s most powerful winds and waves of the Southern Ocean.
Frank Bucher needed the same thing.
Bucher’s theories about voyaging through the Southern Ocean could not be put to the test using weather data from commercial sources and space agencies. To venture through the Roaring Forties in winter, and ride safely ahead of the most powerful wave generating storms on the planet, he knew he needed something better by orders of magnitude. A conversation with Rick Vogel, the man whose research into swordfish led to the design of Bucher’s voyaging craft, led the founder of the Order of Southern Ocean Mariners to Ray Seranen.
Ten minutes after they met in person, Bucher knew he had found the man for the job of OSOM’s chief meteorologist.
“The only way this will work is if I have everything I need to do the job right,” he said.
“What do you need, Ray?”
“A hell of a lot.”
“Like what?”
“Like something that doesn’t exist.”
“Such as?”
Seranen scribbled a list on the back of an envelope. He read it over, made a few changes, and handed it to Frank Bucher.
“Let me know when you’re ready to start on this.”
Bucher began read the list aloud.
“Sixty four automated weather stations at sites arrayed strategically on the Antarctic continent. two hundred and fifty six data buoys all around the Southern Ocean. Data relay stations to feed information in real time to California. Computers with twice the capabilities of the National Weather Service. Anything else?”
“And all the people I need to do the job right,” said Ray.
“Okay, you’re on,” said Bucher, and they shook hands.

But within a month they hit their first big snag. They submitted their project design to the National Science Foundation, the U.S. agency that controlled almost all the research in Antarctica. The response was something along the lines of “Great idea, guys – we’ll process your app and with a little bit of luck you should be on the ice in about five years. First off, though, we’ll need your entire project budget placed in escrow to get you a place in line.”
Frank Bucher and Ray Seranen thought about it for all of a minute. Their response was predictable.
“To hell with that. We’ll just do it on our own!”
The Antarctic protocol signed in 2002 by all the countries with scientific interests in Antarctica allowed private organizations unrestricted access to the frozen continent. Most of the time that provision was used by tourist companies. Now it was going to be used by the Order of Southern Ocean Mariners. To get their weather network up and running, Bucher and Seranen turned to men and women who had worked on The Ice for decades.
Seranen was familiar with the genealogy of the Ice Pirates, the nickname for the VXE-6 squadron of the U.S. Navy that, beginning in 1956, flew hundreds of missions ferrying scientists, equipment, and supplies to the South Pole and research stations all around Antarctica. He knew that in 1999 the squadron had been decommissioned for cost-cutting reasons, and although many of the Pirates were scattered to new assignments or retired, a good number were still living around the base that VXE-6 had called home, the Naval Air Station at Pt. Mugu, only a few miles south of OSOM’s headquarters in Ventura.
Seranen and Bucher arranged a meeting with a group of retired Ice Pirates. To go back to Antarctica was no romantic dream for them by any means, but the mission was intriguing, the money was on the table, and there was no doubt that Bucher and Seranen were men of their word.
Within eighteen months, OSOM’s Antarctic Meteorological Network was being tested, and a year later Seranen’s research began in earnest with Bucher’s first voyage around the Southern Ocean. And now, five years later, a lot of their success was due to the courage, judgment, brains, and determination of the resurrected Ice Pirates.
Eight years later, the envelope and the handshake had changed the world for both of them.
Ray got the information vital to his understanding of the world’s climatic fluctuations, and he was able make all the weather-related decisions in support of Bucher’s voyages around the world. Bucher pioneered a new frontier of adventure on planet Earth. Furthermore, Seranen's research on heat transfer and pressure gradients in the southern hemisphere drew immediate interest in the scientific community. He was able to quantify the connection between the waves of the Southern Ocean and changing weather patterns around the world. This was priceless information.
Seranen began to get calls from commodities brokers offering him six figure salaries to work them, but his research was not for sale to commercial interests. Instead, OSOM arranged for grants through the U.N. to underwrite a portion of the costs of OSOM’s weather network in exchange for information that began to minimize crops losses while quantifying the effects of global warming.
Yet, for all its sophistication at gathering massive amounts of precise data from around the Southern Hemisphere, OSOM’s data acquisition system was sometimes compromised by a force outside of Seranen’s control that had its origins ninety-three million miles away.

* * *

Damon Waiya watched the satellite data display in OSOM’s weather center on the ice in Antarctica. The Antarctic Meteorological Network system operator could feel his patience beginning to wear thin. Instead of real time weather telemetry from a satellite situated directly over the South Pole, he was getting nothing but garbage without the necessary data integrity necessary for the projection models waiting in Ray Seranen’s computers. All OSOM had to show for a very expensive subscription to the INT-AT satellite data system was a scrolling message, “Due to meteorological conditions, all data links in your service area are currently inoperable. Our apologies for any inconvenience resulting from this temporary anomaly. See your user agreement for liability issues.”
Damon took a deep breath, leaned back in his chair, and let his impatience drain away. He looked up through the skylight, watching the aurora australis shimmer in the darkness as the magnetosphere did a St. Vitas dance. Thanks to a massive storm on the surface of the sun, extremely dense solar winds were blowing through the atmosphere and nearspace over the southern polar region. Despite redundant systems designed to overkill specs, OSOM’s data streams had become sputtering spews of ones and zeroes. From the Roaring Forties to the South Pole, it was as if there was a cloud of steel wool between the satellite and the ground.
This was a worst-case scenario come to life for the Order of Southern Ocean Mariners. Timing an encounter between the fleet of Alba_Swords and the waves of a powerful storm was not a decision easily made with a compromised data acquisition system. Unless the satellite datalink was re-established, it would be almost impossible for Ray Seranen to direct the fleet to an optimum take-off zone. A miss was as good as a thousand miles when it came to inserting the fleet into an orbit of the planet, and it was Damon Waiya’s job to solve the problem.
So far, he had been able to come up with a jury rig. Waiya had re-configured OSOM’s entire ANTMET network to funnel weather data to him at one hour intervals instead of instantaneously to the satellite. He then pushed the data packets up to Seranen using an undersea cable to the southernmost city of South America, Ushuaia, and then through the local telcom system to the old NASA telemetry station outside Santiago, Chile. From there they had a secure link directly to OSOM HQ in Ventura, and then to Ray’s office up the coast in Montecito. This work-around might be good enough to get the fleet to a general take-off zone, but once there they would have to wait for the real-time data needed to execute a launch sequence. However, solar storms could last for weeks, and expecting the elements to cooperate was wishful thinking at best. In any event, the go/scrub decision would be Ray Seranen’s call, not his, and that time had not yet arrived.
Waiya turned to a big flat panel displaying a 3-D map of the Southern Hemisphere. A pattern of green icons was arrayed over the Southern Ocean and Antarctica showing the location of each node of OSOM’s automated weather station network. It was steady as she goes - for the moment – on the first day of the coldest and most violent month in the Great South. Though June 21 was technically the dead of winter, old hands knew August to be the time of “bad ju-ju” due to a lag in the weather extremes that did not coincide with the calendar. August was the month for the worst storms ever recorded on the Antarctic continent and, as a result, the best time for holding the Roaring Forties Regatta. Nevertheless, for the past three days it had been all quiet on the southern front.
This only heightened Waiya’s anxiety. There would be no standing down for him, or Seranen, or the mariners aboard the Alba_Swords. They were at first stage alert, ready to react the moment an extreme storm event began its life somewhere near the center of Antarctica.
He walked to the display as all the icons continued to glow green. He looked closely at the AWS nodes on and around Dome Argus, a massive, bulging plateau of glacial ice fourteen thousand feet high near the center of the frozen continent. Dome Argus was the spawning grounds of the world’s most powerful wind, the katabatic, a torrent of air that often reached speeds of over two hundred miles an hour blowing down and out to the Antarctic coast. Dome Argus was ground zero for the energy that, when injected into a low pressure cell over the Southern Ocean, would double or even triple the power of the passing storm, resulting in the huge swells sought after by the Alba_Sword fleet. For the moment, however, the data transmitted to Waiya’s system center told him not a breath of wind was stirring on Dome Argus.

If you were standing on the Dome near the AWS this first day of August, you would no doubt marvel at the clarity of the view, the dramatic lighting of an Antarctic sunrise and the pristine perfection of the place. Except for the machine that looks like a NASA satellite sitting in the middle of nowhere, Nature untouched extends to all the horizons. In the atmosphere high above you, however, it is a different story.
Nature is reeling from man’s excesses. Through the hole in the ozone layer, a massive swath of abnormal heat from the North is spinning down into the supercold Antarctic atmosphere. The two forces clash and spiral against each other into an accelerating cyclone drilling down out of the sky. It slams into the ice, and a monstrous wind is born.
But this is no ordinary katabatic.
The sound of a hundred freight trains shatters your silent reverie. Turning around, your eyes go wide with terror as a wall of wind comes out of nowhere at two hundred miles per hour. The katabatic smashes you to the ground, and you can’t hear your own last words, “No! No! This isn’t happening!” as the wind accelerates and literally blows you away.

Damon Waiya stood back from the display so he could see the entire automated weather station network, all its icons glowing bright green. Then one turned yellow - on Dome Argus. The AWS began to report meteorological activity sufficiently rigorous to trigger real-time data transfer. He stepped up to the display and touched the Dome Argus icon. A second panel on the wall lit up, showing the graphs of the instruments as they recorded what was going on in the middle of the nastiest place on earth. He stepped back so he could watch both panels at the same time while focusing primarily on the sensor indicators. Wind speed, direction, barometric pressure, and air density were all in flux, indicating a moment of accelerating phenomena. Then each gauge redlined. Barometric pressure fell to absolute minimum, wind speed went maximum. A red frame began to blink around each display, indicating the integrity of the sensors was being degraded. Then each gauge locked up, and the red border turned to an unblinking black.
Node failures sometimes happened for a variety of technical reasons, but Damon’s instincts told him the AWS was dead not because of any transmission or network errors. He knew that the unit high on Dome Argus had been utterly destroyed.
Waiya spoke quickly into his headset mic.
“VXE-6 OPS, this is OSOM SYSOP. Reporting apparent catastrophic failure AWS-81.77. Repeat. Ice Pirates, this is Damon Waiya. Dome Argus node is dead. Stand-by.”
Waiya went to the control console and sat down slowly. A few quick keystrokes, and the last thirty seconds of the data streams from Dome Argus were displayed on a third panel. He watched the sequence go from green to red to black. For a node to go down like that, something mighty must have happened. He ran the sequence again, but there was no denying that a truly awesome force had destroyed the AWS.
The sound of a Marconi wireless jarred him back to reality. Damon recognized the hand from the cadence of the dots and dashes. It was Ray Seranen, checking in over OSOM’s secure frequency using Morse Code, the simplest communication system ever devised that forced OSOM members and support staff to think straight so that minimum signals contained maximum information.
Damon listened to the dot-and-dash sounds and continued to watch the array of green icons across the interior of Antarctica. With the exception of the small black spot that marked the death of the AWS on Dome Argus, all the other icons were still glowing green. His jury rig was holding, so far. He tapped a message on the brass apparatus next to the trackball on the console.

AWS 81.77 failure Anomaly unknown origin STOP
Event data transfer HQ initiated STOP Await instructions STOP

Eight thousand miles to the north Ray Seranen listened to the squawk box and jotted down the AWS locator code after the transmission ended. He read it a second time, then took a deep breath. His eyelids fluttered for a second, and then his pupils became like lasers.
Seranen turned away from the 'Sparks' station and went to the oversize globe in the center of the room. He walked around it, touching OSOM weather station icons in China, India, Brazil, and other global warming indicator sites. They comprised a distant early sensing system for massive atmospheric heat exchange events. Rows of data from the past forty-eight hours began to roll down a wall display, but he did not bother to read them too closely. He rotated the globe ninety degrees to put the South Pole at eye level. He stepped back to see the entire Southern Hemisphere while the data packet from Dome Argus arrived at the computer near his desk. Ray pushed the file icon across the screen to the input window of his global warming simulation scenario. Thirty minutes later, the printer rolled a sheet out into the tray, face up, with his worst fears staring back at him.
He sat down in front of his roll-top desk and read the printout a second time, the paper trembling slightly in his hands. His global warming models predicted a convulsive release of energy when the atmosphere, having been force-fed the poison of man’s industrial excesses, would eventually have to disgorge the imbalance of energy into a river of supercharged winds. The onslaught of this monumental force would be heralded by a signal from the south in the form of an early warning from the coldest place on earth.
That harbinger of nature unleashed was, Seranen knew without a doubt, precisely what had just obliterated OSOM’s weather station on Dome Argus.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

WOW, Part 2, Ch. 6

Surf City

Richard Black gaveled the meeting to order. Gunter Jacobsen was on conference call from Munich, as was Bart Thomas from New York. Only Steve Palua and Black were actually in the conference room, along with the new CFO and the elephant he brought with him.

“Thank you for this opportunity to report to the board,” he said. A former vice-president at Andersen before the Enron scandal, he was familiar with corporate meltdowns and well aware of how fast jobs could evaporate and subpoenas issued in situations like this. So he played a trump card just to get himself in the clear.
“And for the record, I have made copies of this report and forwarded them to each of you by registered mail.

“Now, without being too alarmist, the executive summary of my report is as follows: Wavelife International is headed for either Chapter Eleven or Chapter Seven. The company is highly leveraged at the present time. Inquires have been received by my office from six of Wavelife’s seven lenders requesting meetings by end of business this week. Demands for factor loan payments have been received totaling thirty two million dollars. Cash on hand at close of business yesterday was eighteen million dollars. Attached please find detailed balance sheets and breakdowns across Wavelife’s entire range of products and markets.”

He continued to read in a monotone voice for another few minutes before Richard Black cut him off.

“Thank you very much for your report. If you will now excuse us, we need to consider our options.”

“Fine with me. I’ll be in my office if you need more information.”

“No, I think you’ve provided quite enough to us for one day,” said Black, who waited for him to leave before saying, “Who wants to go first?”

“That fooking bitch Corlund. She zet us up! She zaw zis whole zing coming, zent Larson out zere to get himzelf keelled, just zo she geet zee company cheap!” said a very upset Gunter Jacobsen, sounding like a European playboy just discovering his dominatrix wife had seduced his teenage girlfriend and now they were BOTH out to get his money.

“Gunter, keep it to yourself, ok?” said Black, “Even if you’re right, Wavelife is a publicly traded company, and we’re the board of directors, so we have to deal with it. What’s your plan, Steve?”

“Since we’re a publicly traded company,” he said, carefully repeating Black’s words, “we’ve got to protect the interests of the shareholders. We’ve got to come out fighting and make it look like we’re headed for the top again. We do that, we’re executing our fiduciary responsibilities in the face of the previous management’s malfeasance. You already sent out the press release, stating that we’re going back to our core values, so that’s what we do.”

“How vill vee do zat? She fires ze zurf team, cut back awl markeeting, and she zays she did it for “protecting zee interests of zee shareholders,” Jacobsen said, “Zen she comes at us wiz zee offer zu buy zee coompany, and ve all fall for dat. Now she’s out zee door, scot free, und she can get zee company for nozing!”

“Keep yer shirt on, bub,” said Bart Thomas, “Dis ain’t over yet. What else ya got, Palua?”

“So, we come on strong, right now. It’s just like surfing. We’ve been caught inside, but we’re going to battle back. We blanket the surfing media with Wavelife p.r. We get with all the banks, stabilize the stock, and give our investors some breathing room. Then we set up Chapter Eleven as our fall-back position.”

“The boys on Seventh Avenue don’t like Chapter Eleven, pal.”

“I know, Bart, but they’ll really be unhappy if we end up in that Chapter Seven bankruptcy court downtown,” said Black, “Keep going, Steve.”

“Like I said last week, if we can get the surf media back in our pocket, and get our heroes back in front of the kids, we’ll be cool, and then at least we can get to the fall shows.”

“And then what?” asked Black.

“Yeah, and zen what?” chimed in Jacobsen.

“Then we sell a lot of paper and sell off all the excess brands like that chick stuff and the golf clothes and the skater shoes. The analysts will love the cash flow, the stock will go up and that will placate the banks and the factors. That cuts the losses of our investors,” he looked at Bart Thomas, “We pay off certain debts right away, and we’re off the hook. We can then either go Eleven or Seven or who knows what. But we need time. If we don’t get it, we’re screwed. Each of us will be fighting lawsuits for a long time.”

“Ya know, I tink you have zumzing der,” said Jacobsen.

Palua’s plan rang a bell with Richard Black. As a consultant he could probably do quite well spinning off and selling parts of the company, so he stepped in.
“I have to agree with Mr. Palua. We simply have to defend the interests of the stockholders at this time. Do we need to take a vote, gentlemen?”

“Vote, schmote. I gotta make some calls to New York to keep the boys off our backs. Palua, you better know what you’re doing here.”

“I do. Gunter, get all the European surf press over to Huntington. Wavelife is coming back big. Get your sales people hopped up on “The Comeback Kid” angle. Sonny-boy Noaloa is gonna work with us. Richard, we’re gonna take over at Huntington and he’s gonna win the fucker.”

“Gotcha covered, Steve. I can see the whole thing clear as day.”

“And don’t worry, Bart, I’ve got this all lined up like a perfect wave at Sunset Beach.”

“What’s Sunset Beach? Nah, never mind. Ok, Palua, you’re the Duke now. Just don’t wipe out. I got no pull if we end up in bankruptcy court.”

“Not an option, Bart. We’re not going to end up in Chapter Seven. That’s just not an option.”

* * *

“What you talkin’ ‘bout? Fo’ real you askin’ me go surf inna Huntington? You kiddin’ o what?”

“No Sonny-boy, I’m not kidding you and I’m not asking you. I’m telling you. Your contract with Wavelife is binding.”

Noaloa thought for a second. He’d seen footage of Steve Palua surfing big Sunset back in the day and had a lot of respect for him as a surfer. He’d met him at parties and knew he was a director of the company, but beyond that, Noaloa drew a blank.
“Sez, who, brah? What da deal here?”

“Well, you could ask Mercante or Corlund, and they’d tell you. Or how about Big K? I’ve got him right here.”

“Why I want talk him? Brah, he gots nutin’ to do wit my career. He one friend my dad, but dey not partta my life anymo’!”

“Oh but he is, Sonny-boy, because I’m in charge of your career now and he’s working for me, as is Junior and some of the boys from the Tui. Here, talk to Big K.”
Noaloa’s heart jumped into his throat.

“Sonny-boy, brah, I tell you mo betta you lissen what Steve tell you. You no want problem. You no like problem. You do what Steve tell you, we no get problem. You no lissen, you get problem.”

Sonny boy knew better than to say another word. It was one thing to argue with Steve Palua. There was no arguing with a guy like Big K.

“Anytin you say, brah, Let me talk one time Steve,” he said evenly before taking a deep breath, “Yeah, Palua, what I gotta do?”

“That’s better, Sonny-boy. We are going to get Wavelife back on top, with you leading the charge. There’s a lot of people who have a real interest in your success so let’s get down to business.”

“So, you gonna make me one offer I no can refuse, yeah?”

“No, Sonny-boy, that’s just movie talk. Just don’t forget what Big K told you, ok? Now here’s the deal. The board of directors is running the company, and I’m the guy running the surf team. We’ve got two jobs ahead of us: and the first one is win at Huntington to keep Wavelife’s investors happy.”

“What investahs? Brah, I get nothing for do wit investahs. Dats all stock market stuffs. Got nuttin for do wit me.”

Sonny-boy’s mom came into the room and was about to get on his case about the pidgin, but he put a finger to his mouth. He motioned her to come over to him and he shared the cell phone with her.

“Oh yes it does, Sonny-boy. You see, some people put a lot of money in Wavelife on my recommendation. Now if they lose their investment, they will not be happy at all. They sometimes get really upset when they are not happy. That’s why Big K and the boys are working for me, to make sure the investors stay happy. Oh, and by the way, it wasn’t easy to find you, but be sure and give your mom our regards. Am I making myself clear?”

“Sure Steve, anytin’ you say brah,” said Noaloa. His mom’s eyes were like saucers.
“Good. You one smart boy. Now I’m booking you on United outta Orlando departing seven in the morning. We’ll be waiting for you, so get there early because you don’t want to miss your flight. You know Sonny-boy, you and I have a lot in common right now, so let’s try to work together. It will be good for both of us if we do our jobs, you know.”

“What, so we don’ end up in da cane fields?” said Noaloa, with a laugh.
“I’m not laughing, Sonny-boy. See you tomorrow.”

Palua put down the phone and turned off the speaker box.

“So far, so good,” he said as he looked around the room at Big K, Junior, and the two men standing near the door. One had been translating the call in a slang of Mandarin and Japanese for the other. They looked straight out of a Asian gangster movie. Only this wasn’t a movie.

* * *

Sonny-boy and his mom had flown back to Florida with Clem Charleton and the Pratte family after the meetings in New York. There was a lot of legwork to do to shore up MOF’s plans, but now a single phone call had changed everything. The first thing Noaloa did was call Bruddah and Heath on his cell while his mom called Cheryl Corlund on hers. Both phone calls resulted in exactly the same conclusion.

“You go LA, Sonny-boy,” said Bruddah, “An’ we get everytin’ ok later on, nobodys get hurt.”

“Do what they tell you to do,” said Heath Larson, “Dose guys play rough, as you well know.”

“I’ll call Clem,” said Cheryl Corlund on the other line, “He’ll come and get you. I know what’s going on and I know all about Steve Palua. He’s part of the reason Ben and I were going to buy all the stock. I’ll tell you more later. Let me talk to Wilson, no – ” she paused as a thought occurred to her, “No, I can’t talk to him about Wavelife. Just tell him I said to do exactly what Palua wants and to honor his contract. And tell him its really important.”

“I don’t think we have any choice in the matter right now,” said Sonny-boy’s mom, “You know Cheryl, I should have stepped in when I found out about my ex being on your payroll. But I figured my son needed his dad in his life, so I kept my mouth shut. But now that Big K and the Tui are part of things, we’ve got to do something. You know that those guys used drug money to start up their surf company, right?”

Corlund knew she was talking to one very savvy woman. “Well, this time the money was a lot smarter. They started buying real estate, and that’s how Palua got involved. Da Tui was pretty much going nowhere in the clothing business, but Palua made some introductions, and next thing you know, they were all one big happy family. ”

“So that’s how surfing got so big so fast over there!”

“Exactly. And when Palua’s investors saw how well we were doing at Wavelife, they thought they could do it all over again. And stupid, greedy me, I fell for Palua’s pitch about major investments in Wavelife in exchange for a seat on the board. He delivered as promised, and his people made a lot of money. Even when the stock sagged, Palua didn’t say anything because he didn’t want to attract too much attention. And truth be known, they would have done well if I could have used the leveraged buyout to cash in their shares. But now the LBO is off the table, the stock is down to single digits, and they stand to lose a lot of money.”

“And that’s the last thing Palua wants, that’s for sure.”

“So we just need some time. We’ll come up with something.”

“I’m sure we will, Cheryl. After what we did on the Aeolusean, I think we’re capable of doing things Palua and his crowd could never imagine.”

* * *

“So that’s the plan, Sonny-boy. You’re going to win. You are going to be the man, brah,” said Steve Palua as he inched the on to the 405 leaving LAX. Sonny boy was in the front seat. Big K and Junior were in the back.

“What if I lose? What if I no even make it outta da first heat? What if da waves no good? What if the judges - - -”

“C’mon, kid, no matter what the waves are like, you know nobody can beat you if you’re in top shape. And you will be. I guarantee it. We’ve got an Australian surf coach over here to get you ready. And don’t worry about the judges, either, ok? And then after you win, we’re going to that reef.”

“You got Heath workin’ fo’ you too?”

“No, we don’t need him. It’s the new Wavelife, and its an all Hawaiian operation. And look at it this way. A bunch of American businessmen stole Hawai’i from us with shotguns in 1893, right? Now we are getting what’s ours! It’s our Polynesian heritage, Sonny-boy!”

“But what da deal wid da investahs?”

“You better leave them outta this, Sonny-boy. Now here’s what we are going to do between now and Huntington, starting with having Big K and Junior as your twenty-four hour bodyguards.”

* * *

Richard Black knew the truth of the ad business adage, “Half of all promotional money spent is a complete waste – but you never know which half.” So he got going on their next step right away. Wavelife was going to go big at the Huntington contest, and nothing was going to get in their way. He made some calls and surprised the event organizers who, after Corlund had pulled all sponsorship dollars from the pro tour, now suddenly had to accommodate a heavy hitter demanding entrance to the party. They balked at first, but a call from the truckers and riggers union, thanks to Thomas and his East Coast friends, suddenly put Wavelife right where Black wanted to be. For the next three weeks, the four board members had their hands full. Thomas and Black prepared for the Wavelife blitz at the event. Jacobsen was rounding up press and buyers from around the world to be at the contest. And Steve Palua was in charge of the Comeback Kid.

Sonny-boy remembered the words of his mom and the message from Cheryl Corlund and did his best to cooperate during a steady stream of scripted interviews and staged photo ops. Palua had some P.R. experts giving him advice, and suspense began to build about Noaloa’s comeback. Soon the surfing media got behind Wavelife bigtime and the brand was cool once again. Cancelled orders were reinstated, and thanks to Bart Thomas working the phones nonstop since their last meeting, the creditors stopped calling.

With a little more than two weeks to go before the contest started, Palua cut back on all media outreach and secluded the champ at a resort in Baja for an intense tune-up of his surfing skills, a highly controlled diet, and plenty of rest before the main event. The media campaign had been a success. Now it was time for the champ to climb in the ring and take back his crown.

The Aussie surf coach set up daily practice sessions that replicated actual contest conditions. Former Wavelife team members who hadn’t jumped to other companies were re-hired and brought in to surf against Sonny-boy in heats in front of the hotel near Rosarito Beach. Having been fired by Cheryl Corlund while Noaloa stayed on, the former teammates were in no mood to go easy on him. Sonny-boy found himself on the losing end of several skirmishes for wave priority. Not that Noaloa had forgotten anything from his championship years, but there was no substitute for the dog-eat-dog heat conditions. The coach had the Wavelife surfers take it to the former world champ, and on several occasions he let Noaloa and his ‘competitors’ get into it on the beach with no holds barred for several minutes.

The idea was to stoke Noaloa’s competitive spirit, but the strategy backfired. It was one thing to go through the motions of the media campaign. But when it came to real surfing, his heart just wasn’t in it. He had spent too much time with Bruddah and Heath to suddenly shift gears and become a contest surfer bent on winning at all costs.

By the end of the first week of training, Steve Palua was worried. He decided his contender needed something to spark his performance. For the first time since picking him up at LAX, Palua gave Noaloa a cell phone and some privacy to call his mom and his friends to boost the champ’s spirits. Palua knew that Corlund, Larson, Bruddah, and his mom had told Sonny-boy to do his best because the jobs of hundreds of people were hanging in the balance. He’d explained that to Noaloa time and time again, but now Sonny-boy needed some more encouragement. He got it, and Palua’s investors were happy when they heard the tapes from the calls.

“No, Sonny-boy, you no let ‘em down no matta what! You show ‘em how it’s done, yeah? You geevum, brah!” said Bruddah.

“You’re the best surfer in the world in contest waves. Do your best. You’re the man now,” said Larson.

“Everything’s going to be ok. Remember how we used to surprise ‘em at the contests in Florida? Do it for your mom, and take your mind off things in the evening, dear. Play some computer games or something.”

“You can do it, I know you can. We all believe in you, and there are a lot of little kids who need a role model. And you can give them a lesson in courage,” said Aleja Gracellen.

“Just shred the shit out it. Kick their asses on every wave. Don’t give an inch,” said Roberto Mercante, “Remember that video game we used to play and you just stomped me? That’s the Sonny-boy you need to be.”

“You need to get into the finals no matter what,” said Cheryl Corlund, “Dolly sends her regards and says the Lord helps them that help themselves. So make the finals, and you’ll make a statement of which you can be proud. Here, let me put Ben on the line.”

“Sonny-boy! Good to hear from you! Best of luck at Huntington! And, say, my grandson Pierce sure liked playing video games with you on the web site we have on the Aeolusean. So log on as soon as you can. Ok, good to hear from you!”

Noaloa didn’t quite know what to think of all the conversations, especially the stuff about the video games. His mom used to hate it when he played them, and he never played a video game with Mercante in his life. And then Ben Jeffries talking about his grandson Pierce? Sure, he and the twelve-year old had played some games, and the boy beat him several times. And after that first visit to the megayacht in Florida, they had played a few games against each other logged on to the web site, and kept in touch on the web site’s message board.

A little light went on in Wilson Smith Noaloa’s head. He had an internet connection in his hotel room. He’d tell Palua he needed to play some video games at night to relax. And he’d log on to the Aeolusean web site. He had no trouble remembering his password. “Geevum.”

The next day, Noaloa was his old self, and his sparring partners felt the brunt of his new-found enthusiasm. Palua had a vanload of boards on hand, each with the Wavelife logo conspicuously positioned on the nose of the board, both top and bottom, so that no matter what the angle, any action photo of Noaloa on a wave was going to be a promotional shot for Wavelife. In contrast to the first week when Noaloa could have cared less what he was riding, he now went through them all, sometimes going around in a complete circle, trying to find the one that felt truly magical under his feet. It got so bad that at one point after a particularly disappointing ride, he rode to the beach, put the board between two rocks, and took a boulder and broke the brand-new custom surfboard clean in half.

By Friday, he had broken another four boards and discarded the rest before finally settling on a set of three. But Steve Palua didn’t mind one bit. Everything was fitting together perfectly, and the Hawaiian who’d been a great surfer at Sunset Beach decades ago was looking forward to Huntington Beach as if his own surfing career was coming back big time.

Noaloa was paddling like a speed boat, beating his rivals to the priority buoy time and again, and stuffing them into losing with every tactic and maneuver in the book. He practiced one dirty trick over and over again, first used by a former world champ to outfox a rival into an interference call by taking off behind him at the last second, standing up for an instant, and then falling off as if his rival had caused him to fall. It was below-the-belt, but fair under the rules, and the win cinched his world title. He even had Palua take him to a boxing ring in Tijuana and work out with a speed bag and a real sparring partner. Noaloa was ferocious in the ring, landing punch after punch against the hand pads of a boxing coach. Then he put on some head gear and went a few rounds with a young Mexican contender, who was told to lay off the amateur surfer. But that only made Noaloa angry, and he started coming on so strong that he had to take a few shots to the head to calm down.

But Noaloa had made his point. He was ready to win, and win at all costs. Playing the video games on the Aeolusean’s web site had given him just what he needed to motivate himself. He made it obvious to everyone he wanted to win with all his heart and soul. And he made sure no one was more convinced of that than Steve Palua.

* * *

The beaches of Huntington run unbroken for miles, bordered by the small blue collar town of Sunset to the north and the glitzy wealth of Newport to the south. It is as grand a stretch of strand as can be found in Southern California, a ribbon of white running along the blue Pacific, punctuated only by the famous concrete pier that extends out from Main Street, Huntington’s main drag. For fifty weeks a year, the pier stands like a sentinel out into the ocean, solitary and even a bit majestic. But for the last two weeks in July, the pier was consumed by a force that reduced it to little more than an exclamation mark for a marketing blitz that is beyond over-the-top.

The base of the pier disappeared under a city of scaffolding that accommodates media centers, sponsor hospitality lounges, skateboard and BMX ramps, judges towers, competitors ready areas, and bleachers for seventy thousand people. The setup takes almost a week, and bolting together all the scaffolding and walkways is only half the job. Once the skeleton was completed, the signage people take over, and all the scaffolding became a framework for an all out effort to cover every possible line of sight with a Wavelife logo, along with the signage sold to a pharmaceutical company, a European electronics conglomerate, and a hair care corporation. To top it off, huge advertising banners are hung like a corporate laundry line a hundred yards long from the beach to the end of the pier.

Wavelife’s marketing team, after being decimated by Corlund’s cutbacks, was reassembled into a sophisticated juggernaut unmatched in the surf industry. Thousands of goody bags were printed up with “The Comeback Kid” photo on one side and the Wavelife logo on the other. They were filled with a hefty dose of surf wax, pocket mirrors, cell phone shells, key-chains, cheap t-shirts, and a dozen more logo-stamped items from Wavelife. And thanks to Black’s contacts on the City Council, Main Street was closed for the first time in history for a huge street party to celebrate the surf industry – and its resurgent corporate leader.

The overall effect of the Wavelife comeback campaign was immediately apparent. Stories were circulating about the afternoon of boxing in Tijuana and the take-no-prisoners attitude that left fellow Wavelife team members in awe. Palua encouraged them to share their experiences with other competitors over the weekend preceding the beginning of the contest. With Noaloa’s picture plastered all over Huntington Beach, from the banners on the pier to the goody bags given out by the thousands, talk of the former world champ’s return to competition was on everybody’s lips.

* * *

The night before Noaloa’s first heat, a caravan came north out of Mexico and arrived around ten p.m. at the hotel across the street from the contest. There were event parties all over town, but Palua needed his man ready for the next day. Noaloa was not going to object. He’d learned his lessons the year before, and he knew exactly what he needed to do to get to the finals.

Monday dawned gray and cold. A south wind came up early and the first heats of Junior Mens were surfed in marginal waves that were barely rideable. By mid-morning the sun began to break through, and the wind died down. It would come up again strong from the northwest in an hour or so, but for a brief period, the waves were about as good as they were going to get that day. Noaloa was in the first of the men’s heats. When he paddled out, the general public had yet to arrive, but the stands were packed with seemingly everyone in the surf industry, ready to witness the comeback of the kid.

He did not disappoint. The horn sounded, and Noaloa immediately paddled into a wave that was barely breaking. Double carving s-turn, a quick air off a section, tail-slide three-sixty into a cover-up into a gouging cutback, all on a wave so slow and formless that ninety percent of the surfing public would have found it practically unrideable. Noaloa hopped the board across the flat section towards the shorebreak, setting up for a tube ride where there seemingly was no tube. He came out of the tiny pocket and busted a big air as the wave collapsed on the wet sand.

He was right back out into the lineup before any of the other three surfers had even caught their first wave. He glared at them as if they were interlopers in his private domain and then paddled away from the group towards the pier. No one on the beach understood his tactics until he came charging out from under the pier on a speeding knee-high shorebreak close-out. Once again, it was a wave in name only, but for Noaloa, it was enough to get a few seconds of blazing speed before launching an air with enough momentum to completely turn his board around at the apex of his flight and land perfectly balanced as the wave finally collapsed.

The crowd went wild. The other surfers seemed frozen in place. The kid was almost literally surfing circles around them – and they were highly paid professionals. Then he paddled right into the center of the group, smiling and quiet, but only for a second.

“Why you guys no paddle in? You no have a chance. I just got two waves an’ I bet dey gimme eights, maybe nines. What you got?” They had no answers – because Noaloa was right. “Say, I tell you one ting. My two waves enough fo’ me. You guys still no win you get tree. See you latah!”

Noaloa whipped his board around and proceeded to paddle directly to the beach. He took off his colored jersey and tossed it over his shoulder. He lifted his board high in the air and planted it in the wet sand. Then he turned around and faced the ocean, seemingly daring his competitors to beat him. Nobody in the stands quite knew what he was doing except for Steve Palua, who immediately sensed a P.R. bonanza in the making. He raced down the scaffolding stairs, ran to the water’s edge, and raised Noaloa’s right arm as if they were in a boxing ring after a knockout blow had stopped the fight.

A crowd of Wavelife flacks and models came out of the stands and crowded around Palua and Sonny-boy. Though there was still time on the clock, Palua had Junior and Big K lift Noaloa to their shoulders and carry him to the competitors waiting zone. The industry crowd didn’t know whether to boo or cheer, but it didn’t make any difference. Noaloa had made his point. The Comeback Kid was coming all the way back, and more. Wavelife International was alive and well, and the rest of the contest was going to be Noaloa’s for the taking.

The next five days were unique in the history of contests at Huntington Beach thanks to Wavelife and Sonny-boy Noaloa. Without any world tour points, he had to start in the qualifiers, but that only whetted his appetite. He blazed through all his heats, and despite the bad surf, the event “was exceeding all expectations”, according to event officials reading from scripts written by Wavelife’s P.R. professionals. On Thursday he surfed his first heat against the touring pros, but that made little difference.When their turn came to surf against the Comeback Kid, not one could lay a glove on him. It was a performance for the ages, and the Wavelife P.R. machine was running like a locomotive on all cylinders. Noaloa and Wavelife were the toast of the town. Even the stock price began to climb. For the four men running Wavelife International, and especially for Steve Palua, that was the best news of all.

* * *

“How’s the kid doing tonight?” asked Steve Palua, a flashy porn star on his arm and a cell phone in his hand. He was down in the bar of the Mandalay Beach Resort, the four star hotel across the street from the pier. The hotel bar was named the Golden Bear, after the bar where decades ago, when the area had been a hodgepodge of oil wells, surf shops, and tattoo parlors, Jimi Hendrix had played before he found the stardom that killed him. Palua was checking out one of his guitars on display, insured for two million dollars.

“Fine, brah, he playing video games wit Junior,” said Big K, “Hey, Sonny-boy, Palua on da phone. You like talk to him o wat?”

Noaloa didn’t even look up. He and Junior were locked into mortal combat on a big-screen TV.

“No, man, he’s fine. He go bed early, be ready tomorrow. Win dis fuckah, get a big paycheck, everybody happy, no problem, yeah?”

“That’s what I want to hear. I’ll see you guys in the morning.” Palua flipped off the phone and turned to his date. “Now, where did you say your friends were dancing?”

“Yeah!! Dat’s one da kine Benjamin you owe me, Junior!” Sonny-boy had just kicked ass again.

“Sure champ, I pay you tomorrow, yeah?”

“Nah, fuck da money. Eh, what time it is?”

“Almost ten, champ. Bettah get some sleeps. Big day tomorrah.”

“Yeah, Junior, you right. Eh brah, get me one magazine inna lobby? I like read. I need fo sleep.”

“Sure brah, what you want?”

“Get me one Forbes or sometin’ li-dat. I need fo learn bout money.”
“I be back right away, champ.”

Junior walked across the suite and opened the door where Big K was stationed outside. The two exchanged a few words, and the door closed as Junior headed for the elevator.
Noaloa waited a minute, and then opened the door.

“Big K, Junior go already?”

“Yeah, he down da elevatah.”

“Say Big K, I need some cookies from da stoah. Room service send up da milks, but dey all outta cookies.”

“Sorry champ, got my ordahs. Stay sit right here,” said Big K.

“Yeah, I know. Buncha da chicks might come up and find me or sometin’ right?”
“Sometin’ like dat, champ.”

The elevator door opened and two large security guards came out and walked briskly toward Big K. Their dark blue uniforms were stretched over muscles that said they had obviously played some big-time football in their day. Big K saw them and his heart started pounding, but not because he had a thing for uniforms.

“Hello, are you friends with a man named Junior?” said the guard with “Otis” on his name plate.

“Uh, no. Maybe. Wha da problem is?”

“He’s down in the lobby. He didn’t have enough money for his purchases, and asked us to come up and get you to bail him out.”

Big K breathed a sigh of relief.

“Dat guy one kine stupid. I no can leave heah. He gotta fix his own problems.”
“Sir, we need you to come with us, please. It will only take a minute, and we’re sure everything will be just fine.”

The two guards stood on either side of Big K, their legs spread wide, their hands on their hips, but smiles on their faces.

“Aw, hell, ok. Hey, Sonny-boy! Lock da door. Put on da latch. Don’t let nobody in. I be right back.”

“No problem. Hey, get me da cookies!”

Big K heard Noaloa lock the door. He tested the door handle. Then he walked with the two guards to the elevator door. Just as they got there it opened and out stepped a well-dressed man with an adorable woman in a coral silk dress on his arm. They’d obviously had a few too many, and they almost fell headlong into Big K.

“Oh sorry, sir, we’re sorry. Aloha. We really are. Sorry. Aloha, we love Hawai’i. We spent our honeymoon there. Sorry. Aloha.”

Big K glared at them as they stumbled past him and went weaving down the empty hall. He stepped into the elevator, the two guards right behind him. Otis pushed a button, and the elevator door closed. The woman straightened up and quickly knocked on Noaloa’s door. The man went to the next door down, inserted the keycard, went inside and unlocked the door connecting the suite to Noaloa’s. He came through it carrying his backpack. He turned off the lights in his room and closed the door behind him. They left the suite quickly, and put a “Do Not Disturb” hangsign on the handle of the adjoining suite. The trio ran down to the end of the hall toward an exit sign. Sonny-boy hit the crash bar of the door and held it open.

The man went to step through, but Noaloa held up his hand.

‘Excuse me Heath, but ladies first, if you please.”

Aleja Gracellen smiled, took off her high heels, and ran down the stairs.
“Let’s see if you guys can catch me this time!”


“Wait, I can’t hear you,” said Steve Palua into the cell phone in his left hand, “Turn that down, will ya?”

“Why, I thought you wanted to party?”

“Not right now, I gotta take this call,” said Palua, taking his hand off the steering wheel and punching the eject button while swerving across a lane on the 91 freeway and almost sideswiping an old sedan. The other driver leaned on his horn as he pulled up and gave them the finger. Palua’s date gave it back. Palua was oblivious to the exchange as he yelled back into the phone.

“Now, what the hell did you say?”

“We came back up and - - -”

“What do you mean we? You were supposed to guard the door, Big K.”

“Fuck you Palua, I no da babysittah. I stay leave him wit da door lock, and we came back he no answer da door. We pound it pretty good, too. Den we call da room and he no answer.”

“Well, maybe he’s asleep.”

“Yeah, mebbe. Da lights is off.”

“Ok, just sit tight. I’ll be back in a while.”

* * *

It was a few minutes past midnight before Steve Palua screeched to a halt in front of the hotel. He’d been chased by the angry guy in the old Buick for several miles down the 91, then off the freeway and around some surface streets in Garden Grove before finally losing him, only to realize he was lost himself. The bimbo was getting on his nerves big time so when they finally found the strip club, he just shoved her out the door, threw a c-note at her, and took surface streets all the way back to the coast. On the way he called the hotel manager, who informed him that in situations like this, the police would be called. Overdoses were not a common problem at the hotel, but the manager was taking no chances if the room turned out to be the scene of a crime or accidental suicide.

The manager was first out of the elevator, followed by hotel security in their coats and ties, the police and Steve Palua right behind them. Junior and Big K were looking like choir boys standing in front of the suite. The manager used a master keycard and opened the door, but the catch still engaged. Nobody responded to his demands for entry. He realized that the adjacent suite was connecting, but there was a DO NOT DISTURB hangsign on the door handle. Now he had a problem: kick down the door to Noaloa’s suite, or disturb his other guests. Well, they told him in training that nothing was more important than customer service, not even the price of replacing a door. He nodded to the cops.

They put their shoulders to it and burst into Noaloa’s suite. The lights were off. The video screen displayed the “Start Now” menu from a video game called “Fight to the Finish”. The cops scanned the room, and then headed to the bathroom, expecting the worst.

“Nobody here, mack,” said one, “What’s all the big deal about?”

The hotel manager turned to Steve Palua.

“Yes, sir, what seems to be the problem?”

* * *

When the contest sound system cranked up with “Welcome to the Jungle” at eight a.m. the next morning, the word was out something was wrong in the Wavelife camp. Rumors spread fast at a surfing contest. Sonny-boy Noaloa’s name came up just as quickly. It was not unheard of for a surf star to be missing in action the night before a big final. In fact, sometimes it was almost expected. Chicks, blow, whiskey, wine, and worse: the recipe may have varied from venue to venue around the world, but the combination of young surfers barely out of high school earning six-figure salaries while surrounded by mass media marketing hype created a potent brew for bad behavior.
More than one up-and-coming talent had fallen victim to it all, and with Noaloa’s reputation for partying till dawn, everybody figured he was up to his old habits.
But some of the veteran pros remembered the times Sonny-boy had shown up at the last minute and stumbled to the water with a hangover so wicked someone usually had to wax his board for him and help him put the jersey on. He would then paddle out and proceed to surf at a world class level and walk away with a big trophy and an oversized, cardboard check with a lot of zeros on it. No biggie, they laughed to each other. He’ll be here. The final isn’t until two, and there’s a lot of money on the table.

They were right, up to a point. Thirty-five thousand dollars is a lot of money for winning a surf contest. But Steve Palua knew how much money was really on the table. He also knew his head was on a chopping block, and by noon he was panicking. Nobody knew where Noaloa had gone. Had he gone out for a night on the town and was sleeping it off in some sleazy hotel? Was he going to surprise everyone and show up at the last minute? The surfers were all trading “me and Sonny in Biarritz / Rio / Bali / Tokyo / Sydney / Durban” stories from last year’s tour. The marketing people were cringing as thousands of people were walking around with “Comeback Kid” t-shirts on. The contest organizers were wondering just what they’d do if only one guy paddled out in “mano-a-mano” final. The worst-case scenarios kept getting worse, and they were looking for Steve Palua to tell them what to do. But his cell phone had long ago gone dead, so they couldn’t find him. Which was the only strategy he had going for him at the moment.

He was in a hotel room with Richard Black and two Huntington Beach detectives. Upstairs waited Bart Thomas and several east coast associates. In another wing of the hotel the representative of Palua’s investment group was cooling his heels with Junior and Big K. Jacobsen, the Europeans, and all the surf media were already across the street.

But Steve Palua was still in his all black Saturday night-on-the-town outfit, now sweat-stained and wrinkled, standing outside on the balcony looking at the contest on the other side of Pacific Coast Highway packed with Sunday traffic. Several camera trucks from local TV stations were parked down below. The P.R. flacks had called them with the offer of face time with the champ before the finals. But Sonny-boy Noaloa was ‘not available at this time’. Palua remembered what he’d said, that he had it all lined up like a perfect wave at Sunset Beach. He cringed when he remembered that Sunset starts out looking like a perfect wave, but when it hits the inside reef, sudden and erratic sections usually nail a surfer whose overconfidence led him to think he could make it through all the way.

He heard a horn sound from across the street. He checked his watch. It was the end of the Longboard finals. There were only two more final events to go, the Women, and the Junior Men, before the Men’s final. First call for Sonny-boy’s main event was in half an hour, and time was running out. He had to think fast, and he did.

He led Black and the detectives from the room and down the back stairs and directly into the parking lot. Getting in an unmarked car they drove across the street to the contest. The driver had to flash his badge twice to get anywhere near the three-story high contest headquarters, and even then they had to walk another fifty yards to get to the nerve center of the giant event.

The four men went through a tent, not even pausing when asked for their badges. They climbed up a flight of stairs and stood looking out at almost seventy thousand people. They huddled with the contest director, a man who had seen it all at Huntington, including the riots of 1986. He knew the crowd was waiting for the main event, and after sitting all day in the hot sun with their cars parked miles away and the surf almost flat, the people in the bleachers were growing as restless as Romans waiting for the gladiators. He scribbled a paragraph on a white board. Palua and Black erased some words, changed others, and soon they had a script that worked for everyone. The contest director handed it to the announcer.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is the first call for the men’s final. First call for the competitors in the men’s final.”

No mention of names. No mention of the starting time.

When the Women’s Final hit the water, the announcer stuck to the script. “Look at these ladies, battling it out in almost impossible conditions. Folks you gotta hand it to them, they are really trying hard out there.” Throughout the heat he played up how bad the surf was, which was never done at a professional surf contest, and especially if the surf was getting better, which it was. The two detectives left the scaffolding, shaking their heads. One got on his cell and called downtown to put the force on alert in case the crowd got out of control. It had happened before, and it just might happen again.

The Junior Men’s final was about to commence and the announcer was getting into the spirit of things with some ad libs of his own.

“And due to the surf conditions, officials are considering a delay of the event until the surf will allow these magnificent athletes to perform and entertain you in the best surf Huntington can offer.”

The two contestants just looked at each other. There were some real sets starting to come in, easily the best waves of the entire week. They didn’t know what was going on. Nor did Mick Lennox.

He had made it all the way through his bracket, and was slated to surf against Sonny-boy in the main event. Now he was in the competitor’s ready zone, and when the Junior Men’s finalists went into the water, there was no Noaloa getting ready at the other end of the tent. And then about halfway through the final he heard an announcement that made his blood boil.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we regret to inform you that due to deteriorating conditions, the finals of the Men’s competition may have to be cancelled. We are speaking with the surfers themselves, Mick Lennox of Gnarlaroo and Sonny-boy Noaloa from Wavelife, and we’ll advise you of their decision. But right now, the motocross guys are really turning it on and a great skateboard exhibition will start in a few minutes. And be sure to visit the concourse area where our sponsors will be giving away thousands of free prizes.”

Lennox couldn’t believe his ears. Nobody was talking to him, and Noaloa was nowhere to be seen. He knew something was screwy, but it was too late to figure it out now, and with five minutes before the final was to start, he grabbed his jersey from an official’s hands and ran out of the competitor’s area towards the pier. The two junior surfers were getting some outstanding rides as sets started to pour in out of the southwest. Lennox had one eye on the waves and one eye on his watch as he paddled out from the beach, staying underneath the pier and effectively out of sight.
The horn sounded, and the Junior Mens was over.

“Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes the Junior Mens event of the U.S. Pro Championships. We are still waiting for a decision as to whether the men’s finals will be held due to the deteriorating surf conditions. We want the best waves for the best surfers, but it doesn’t look like it will happen today. Please take care as you leave the event area, and drive safely.”

A perfect set of five large waves began to form up outside. The crowd began to cheer as the powerful swells adrenalized the SRO bleachers and the thousands crowding the railings on the pier.

Mick Lennox paddled out from under the pier. A great cheer rose up from the crowd.
“Ladies and gentlemen. Due to the poor surf conditions, we regret to inform you that the Mens final has been postponed. The best skateboarders in the world are ready to start launching some fantastic maneuvers, and don’t forget to visit the exhibitors mall and get your free prizes. Thank you for attending the Huntington Beach U.S. Pro - - - ”

But no one heard a word over the roar of the crowd. The first wave of the set was close to the end of the pier and Mick Lennox was in position, ready to surf, contest or no. Suddenly the entire crowd was on its feet, but not in anticipation of Mick’s ride.

A surfboard had been launched out into space from the middle of the pier. On the railing stood a man perfectly erect. The wave was getting closer. He stretched his arms out . . . and dove with perfect form into the sea. His entry was clean, and he came up right next to his board. The wave was now only a few yards away and looked like it was going to break right on top of him. He got on his board, took two strokes, and dropped down the face.

The crowd went nuts! The Comeback Kid was in the ring! But then the wild cheers of the crowd turned into one giant, “Huh?”

As the wave rolled down the length of the pier, banners unfurled, one after another, covering all the garish advertising draped on the pier. as Sonny-boy rode the wave in the classic Hawaiian style, erect, casual, in control.

When he was almost to the beach he kicked out and paddled back to where an astounded Mick Lennox was sitting on his board. But few of the seventy thousand people had their eyes on him. They were reading the text on the banners, as were all the competitors, judges, press and media people, Big K and Junior, the man from Palua’s investment group, Gunter Jacobsen and the Europeans, Bart Thomas and the east coast boys and, of course, Richard Black and Steve Palua.

An Open Letter of Good-bye
To everyone in Surf City
From Wilson Noaloa

This will be my last contest, ever.
I was forced to compete because profits
took precedence over simple human decency.

To the people who forced me
To comply with their plans,
why don’t you leave surfing alone.

To all my true friends at Wavelife,
and all the honest people at the company,
I hope you understand why I did this.

I hope to meet again with you all soon.
And we can start to work for a better future
for the surf industry and for modern surfing.

Contests can be a lot of fun,
most pro surfers are great guys,
as are many people in the surf industry.

But when the whole purpose of surfing
means less than SPIT to people making millions
And they don’t even surf or love the ocean

Then I think its time to do something drastic.
So that’s exactly what my friends and I have done.
After all, what do you expect from real surfers?

See you in the water.
Sincerely Yours,
Sonny-boy Noaloa

The crowd on the beach started to clap. And the applause got louder and louder until everyone was standing and cheering even though Mick Lennox and Sonny-boy just sat there as wave after wave rolled through unridden.

“Fucken a’, mate, what the ‘ell is this all about?”
“Jus’ exactly what you see, brah.”

“Well, are we going surfing then, or what?”

“Well, you heard ‘em. Da heat cancelled! We no gotta do nuthin’!”

“Ya know, I never did like being a dancing bear in a gilded cage!”

The applause was sustained now, the crowd still on its feet.

“Ok, brah, we bot’ go on dis las’ one, we geevum one good show!”

“Yer on, mate!”

The two top professional surfers in the world took off simultaneously on the last wave of the set. The crowd leaped to its feet as they tore back and forth down the face, in perfect synch with each other, weaving figure-eight trails off the bottom, up into the lip, catching air almost simultaneously and spinning 360s as the wave rolled in towards the shore. A hollow section loomed ahead and they both disappeared into the tube. When they came out, they linked their forearms together and raised their free arms in victory. They disengaged and drove towards the shorebreak. Two powerful bottom turns, two massive launches up the face, and two surfers hung in mid air as the wave collapsed on the sand.

Sonny-boy turned and paddled back out to sea. From the other side of the pier a jet ski appeared and raced towards him. The driver did a hard turn as the safety man threw a tow rope to Noaloa. He grabbed it, and the ski began to gather speed. He looked back and saw Mick Lennox standing on the beach about to be mobbed. He waved to him, and Lennox jumped back into the ocean. Noaloa waved his arm in a circle at the waverunner spotter, the driver turned around and let off the throttle. Noaloa sank back into the water, Lennox paddled up next to him, they both grabbed the towbar, and the powerful Yamaha roared as it pulled the two surfers up and took off out to sea.
The crowd was astonished into silence until another roar was heard across the entire contest area. Heads turned, and coming down low over Main Street was a Catalina seaplane painted silver and blue. The PBY turned down into a perfect landing on the ocean just outside the pier. The jet ski and the two surfers powered up to it. The surfers got off their boards and were helped into the cargo bay. The ski roared off to the north at seventy miles an hour. The PBY’s engines throttled up to full power.
The Catalina plowed straight out to sea towards the next oncoming set. As the first wave came rolling under the bow, she lifted into the air, gained altitude, and then did a slow turn back over the contest site.

Richard Black and Steve Palua were speechless. Then their jaws dropped as a figure leaned out the cockpit’s starboard window and gave them the peace sign. The seaplane banked hard and headed west. As he left the pier behind, the pilot waggled the wings in salute.

“Say, Clem, can you show me how to do that some day?” asked Roberto Mercante from the co-pilot’s seat.

“Sure, Roberto, but not with MOF property. You’ll jes hafta get a PBY on yer own!”
Back in the ‘sunroom’, two dripping wet friends had joined three other surfers to watch Surf City recede in the distance.

“Hot damn,” said Aleja Gracellen, “Did that get it or what?”

“Such language from a lady!” laughed Heath Larson, “But they’ve sure got problems now! I think we got our message across.”

“Yeah, dey get da message,” said Bruddah, “but maybe only make dose guys get worse.”