If you haven’t seen the 1987 movie North Shore, take that as evidence of your refined palate. The movie came out when I was in sixth grade, and it was so corny that I refused to acknowledge how profoundly I connected with it. It’s the story of Rick Kane, an eighteen-year-old surfer from Tempe, Arizona, who wants to earn the big, pro-circuit money that his idol, and the movie’s antihero, Lance Burkhart, earns. When Rick wins a surf contest at a local artificial wave pool, he skips college and uses the five-hundred-dollar prize to move to Hawaii and tackle the epic waves of the legendary North Shore.
Once in Hawaii, Rick rides the waves alongside the locals. He falls for a native beauty named Kiani and clashes with a tough surf crew called the Hui. Nearly everyone discourages him: “This is our wave.” “Leave local girls alone.” But the line that always stayed with me came during a scene in which Rick is eating lunch with Kiani and her family. Kiani’s three brothers corner him at the table. They mock his surfing and call him JOJ—short for “just off the jet.” Then the oldest brother stares into Rick’s eyes and says, “Go back to Arizona, haole.” It was as if he were speaking directly to me, a teenage kid desperate to leave Arizona.
Like Rick, I lived in metro Phoenix, was obsessed with the beach, and wanted out of the desert. I envied the lifestyle that coastal California afforded: the temperate weather, the scant clothing, the year-round range of outdoor activities. While southern Californians spent their summers riding bikes and hanging out on the boardwalk, we Phoenicians endured an average of a hundred or more days of one-hundred-degree heat. Touch a car door in July, and you’d burn your fingers. But that wasn’t all. Arizona was completely uncool. It’s associated with lame Hollywood westerns, retirees, and golf courses. To coastal denizens, we were hicks.