Spirit Session 4: Valuing What is Free

A parade in Waikīkī ensured my longest walk to the Duke statue thus far. I felt exhausted, more tired than usual thanks to a surfing session before. Hungry after surfing in town, I braved the traffic to get a salmon musubi from Diamond Head Market and Grill, eschewing my no-eating-out rule for the sake of satisfying the most desperate of brown rice and salmon cravings.

Now, belly full, it was 11:30am. I was going to be late, I had plenty of work that needed getting done at home, and I’d mostly battled the current for hour and a half I’d spent in the water, catching mostly unsatisfying waves. I drove to find parking, increasingly annoyed by the building traffic.

I parked, shellacked my face with Vertra, had forgotten shorts so only wore an XL t-shirt over my bikini, and began walking.

Last week had been a long one. Lots of crying, frustrations, metaphorical and literal wipeouts, and a body aching from the multiple gym and surf sessions this past week. My efforts to balance hormone fluctuations with endorphins felt almost Olympian, if you’ll allow me the hyperbole.

In a sentence, I was unmotivated as heck to go to Spirit Sessions and vie for waves with the notoriously kooky Canoes crowd. To top it off, there was this walk, almost a mile each way, I was destined to make, because finding parking at the Shell was not an option.

Yet, as I began walking, and light rain started to drizzle on my face while my headphones blared my standard Dubstep mood-boosting playlist, I couldn’t help but put all those worries and thoughts up on a shelf, knowing I’d get to see the smiling faces of everyone at Spirit Sessions.

I arrived, surprisingly not late by “Hawaii Time” standards, and knew I’d made the right choice.

We circled up, as always, introducing ourselves and doing our stretches. We got ready faster than usual, and although my mentee wasn’t there because her parents were wary of the high bacteria levels found in the waters of town the last couple of days thanks to the heavy rains, I was happy to surf with everyone, becoming a “floater” mentor—today was about just being there as I was needed—for all the girls.

Our theme for today was valuing what is free. The facilitator asked us to think of at least 2 free things we value: experiences, people, emotions, anything that could not be measured by conventional monetary standards. I already knew what 1 of mine was.

We paddled out and surfed. My arms were unhappily pushed further past their soreness point, and my shoulders burned, even paddling a 9’2” instead of my typical 5’9”, but I caught waves and paddled hard, forgetting everything except the breaking waves and the girls and dodging flying longboards and cheering as loud as I could for every wave getting caught by my Spirit Session ohana.

Back on land, we circled again, and shared what we value that is free.

Loyalty. Health. Running. Surfing. Hugs. Family.

These are some of the words shared. These, and many more, are what we value. These are experiences, sensations, and communities that do not cost us anything, yet possess a value which surpasses any number.

Ahupua‘a– land division usually extending from the uplands to the sea, so called because the boundary was marked by a heap (ahu) of stones surmounted by an image of a pig (pua‘a), or because a pig or other tribute was laid on the altar as tax to the chief


An ahupua‘a works because it is communal, because without the upland farmers sharing their crops with the seashore fisherman and vice versa, both would suffer.

ahupuaa poster of old hawaii
an ahupua‘a poster, available for purchase here

The community keeps each other alive and vibrant, and the underlying current of preservation and taking only what is needed connects the land to its beneficiaries. The cyclicality of the ahupua‘a is about what we can give and receive, how we are all interconnected and interdependent, even now, even when we may not be aware of it.

We journal, and I simply contemplate the questions, watching as the girls write:

Surf Report:

09/28/2019, 3pm, Canoes

Wave height: 2-3, occasional 4

Tide: Rising, high at 4pm

Winds: Medium, side-offshore

Surfer Notes:

  • Are you starting to see improvement in your surfing?

Each of the girls is starting to improve in their own way, gaining confidence in and out of the water. If you were to quantify it somehow, the changes might seem relatively small in terms of surfing. If, however, you were to measure based on those changes which transcend measurements, they are making strides of every kind.

  • What have you learned from your mentor so far?

I can’t speak to what the girls are learning from me, but I’m learning that resilience comes in everyone, that smiling really is contagious, and that fear can be profoundly rewired when you’ve got enough support and encouragement around you.

what’s your health club worth?; processed with VSCO, from The Surfer Spirit
  • What do you value about your health club?

I value living here in Hawai‘i, being luckier than most to have surf breaks available almost year-round; I value this program, that reminds me there are many kinds of surfing which are equally as valubale; I value the health club that is surfing because smiles, stoke, sunshine, and sea are commodities I too often forget to count as priceless, too often take for granted.

Spirit Notes:

  • What is today’s theme?

Valuing what is free.

  • Like the ahupua’a concept, what do you feel connected or interdependent to?

My family, these girls, my friends and boyfriend. The ocean and sun. My history and memories. The natural world, and what I can do to give back more, more often. I feel connected to the sea, and I’m always forgetting how huge a part of surfing that connection is for me, sans the performance-based paddle-battle that surfing can sometimes become.

  • What is priceless to you?

Surfing. Hugs. Smiles. Saltwater in my hair. The exhaustion after a great session. Catching a wave. Loving people. Being a part of something. Writing, reading, poetry. Listening to music. Taking long walks. Talking and sharing. This.

It’s easy to forget that the best solution to negativity is neither avoidance nor perseverance, but service. We get caught up in trying to run away, or bang our heads against, obstacles of the mind and spirit.

Those troubles can be all encompassing, taking up our energies until there’s almost nothing left. It’s easy to forget that the third choice—leaving the negativity alone entirely to get out of ego and do something else—can be the most powerful, efficient, and simple choice available.

I began this morning upset, tired, frustrated, and drained. I end the afternoon invigorated, excited, and hopeful. I end the afternoon full of love.

ghandi quote turquoise
Ghandi got it right; from lilluna.com

The walk that felt monotonous before has become a celebration of everything around me. I notice the statues of Waikīkī, the waves crashing. I see a friend on my way back, waving and talking story. I watch the trees swaying in the wind, knowing I’ll be home soon, ready to rest easier. I walk across the grass of Kapi‘olani Park, and my feet have carried me through this day.

My spirit has brought me back, helped me chose to go to the Session, rather than away from it. My body is heavy with tired willingness. I know this feeling will not last, that just as some waves tumble while other carry me, there will be a constant flowing and changing.

But I also know that this moment is something I can hold, that is mine and yet not mine, because it is all of ours.

I’m not sure there’s anything more priceless than that.

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