Stoked By A Bodysurfing President
Wednesday - November 19, 2008
President-elect Barack Obama is scheduled to return to Hawaii next month to honor his late grandmother Madelyn Dunham and to enjoy family-time before his January inauguration. While a day at the beach with his daughters most certainly will be on the agenda, chances are we won’t see the soon-to-be-president mixing it up at world-famous Sandy Beach again. Or will we?
“I don’t think it will ever happen again,” says city lifeguard Peter Erwin, a 10-year veteran at Sandy Beach. “If it does I’ll be stressed.”
Erwin was on duty at bone-crunching Sandy Beach when the then-presidential candidate quietly returned to his “old body-surfing spot” in mid-August. Erwin says he was briefed by the Secret Service and asked to escort the group in the shore break.
“I was nervous because we had a swell that day and the waves were breaking on the sand - potentially dangerous conditions,” recalls Erwin. “He introduced himself to me along with four Secret Service agents and then we all jumped into the ocean. At first we were just talking story and then all of sudden he caught a wave.”
Erwin says he nervously watched but when Obama surfaced and smiled, he realized the man running for the oval office was still a “local boy.”
“I was tripping out because here’s a guy running for president and he’s not only body-
surfing at Sandy Beach, but he’s pretty good,” laughs Erwin. “It was cool to see and I told him, ‘Hey, not bad for guy who hasn’t been in the water for so many years.’”
Erwin says the President-elect even joked with another bodysurfer who offered his fins.
“The guy noticed Mr. Obama didn’t have any fins, but he told the guy, ‘No thanks, if I was at Makapu’u that would be different,’ then we all laughed. He was very loose and cordial.”
Erwin says he got the feeling Obama understood the importance of respecting the ocean and after years of bodysurfing at the break while attending Punahou, “he knew how dangerous the spot was. He got pounded on a couple of waves but he knew what he was doing. I was just nervous and in my mind I was thinking, let’s not get hurt on my watch!”
After nearly 40 minutes and about 10 waves, Obama signaled the agents the session was over.
“He did great, had great technique and it was exciting,” says Erwin. “I told him I can honestly say I see guys come down here everyday and they don’t have that kind of style.”
Others agree. Retired Fire Deputy Chief John Clark, a former lifeguard at Sandy Beach and the director of the Sandy Beach Bodysurfing Championships for 17 years, says he was surprised when he saw pictures and video of the “soon-to-be president” at the dangerous break.
“He looked comfortable and his form was pretty good,” says Clark. “When I saw the footage I realized he had been there many times and he knew what he was doing. He’s no different than most of us reliving the days of our youth.”
Clark pauses and chuckles, “He went to one of the hot spots on Oahu and now he’s moving on to a bigger hot spot.”
Erwin sums up the day best. “Most people raised here are born with gills behind their ears and we have to get those gills wet once in awhile,” he laughs. “It was obvious he needed to do that too. He was enjoying himself and I kept asking how many guys in Washington are going to jump in the water and relate to us - and now he’s going to be the President of the United States.”
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