Our Surf Ohana went still when we heard the news of Charlie’s passing. Charlie’s immediate family was in shock and immobilized. It’s hard to plan the funeral of your own flesh and blood. Instead, Charlie’s Surf Ohana kicked into action and planned the celebration of Charlie.
As a family of “doers” and involved hearts, our Surf Ohana is not accustomed to doing nothing. We did not still for long. We needed to move, to act, to do SOMETHING. True to the spirit of he`e nalu we found comfort in the water. We needed to honor Charlie as we knew him, smiling, driven and proud of his accomplishments in the water. We needed to pi kai, and wash away our sorrows so we went to the ocean, and found peace in the crystal waters of Waikiki.
There is something amazing and poetic about a paddle out funeral. Sam arranged for two canoes to carry Charlie’s grandparents and young friends while the rest of us paddled out on surfboards. We gathered just past our usual surfbreak at “Canoes” and circled around his mother who sat on Charlie’s favorite surfboard. Charlie’s mom held his ashes loosely in her hands, letting him slip through ever so gently into the wind and water. We tossed flowers over her as she let him go.
Watersoaked, no one could tell the difference between the salt of our tears and salt of the ocean on our faces. Tear by tear, we filled the ocean with our grief, shock, disbelief and yes, even our hopes for all that potential futures Charlie had once had before him. As we watched Charlie’s ashes dissolve, a new notion of “returning” hit me, Charlie had literally become one with the world. We were all literally swimming IN Charlie.
Quietly, slowly, carefully, gradually, we found our voices and stories began to emerge. Everyone shared stories of Charlie, and I was struck by how much his blood family felt our program made a difference. His mother shared that without the paddle-out there would not have been a funeral, nothing had felt “right” to them. On his urn, his mother had honu (turtles) engraved on it, because she remembered him telling her about how we saved turtles and how it was our kuleana (responsibility) to malama (take care) of the land and each other. She thanked us for taking care of him, bringing him joy and told all the mentors how much they made a difference.
Evan (Charlie’s mentor) came and his dad joined us. His dad spoke of how Charlie changed Evan’s life as well and how much richer Evan’s life was because he knew Charlie.
Now for the funny part (yes, even in sad times, we somehow find joy): Prior to our paddle-out APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Council) protestors had been causing a ruckus on the beach and had become a point of concern for the authorities. Our group had been in the water for well over an hour and were too occupied to notice that the current had carried us down to the APEC security no-go zone and that several black jet skis had been circling us. When we finally broke to paddle back in to shore we apparently set off a commotion on the beach as the CIA, FBI, and other security forces thought we might be launching some sort of attack. Luckily, one of the the security detail officers who heard the chatter on the radio and knew Uncle Sam and rememberd that we would be having a funeral. Fortunately, Sam was in the canoe and hit the beach before the rest of us. He was summoned immediately and had to confirm that we were NOT launching an attack! All alterts were called off and no jet skis were sent to corral us! (Whew!)
It was a day befitting Charlie; quiet and calm on the surface, and full of activity behind the scenes. We will miss him.