Sunset over Kahuna
The click of joining pins in my crutches under pressure with every stride joined the uproar of flip-flops and wet feet smacking the damp concrete. By now I was almost faster than I ever was standing on my own two feet, keeping perfect pace with the flowing sea of white T-shirts and red bathing suits. The mob of lifeguards – having just completed the tedious operation of edging all the lay-a-bout guests from the plastic poolside chairs at closing time – was on its way to the end-of-summer party thrown for all Splish Splash employees. My job lifeguarding at the local water park was the envy of my friends who were manning retail cash registers, but when I found out I would need to be on crutches for the rest of the summer at least, I thought I might lose it. I was – and still am – restless by nature, even in the relaxing embrace of summer. Running was a favorite past time of mine, be it along the rocky shoreline of the Sound racing to get home before the tide swallowed up the narrow strip of beach, or narrow roads cut through endless farmland under clear blue skies. It was my aggressive training coupled with running barefoot on pavement to respond to emergencies at the waterpark that fractured my foot. While a fairly minor injury, my doctor advised that if I were to have any hope of running competitively in the fall, crutches for the rest of the summer were a must. I obviously had to give up my seaside runs, but I wasn’t yet willing to give up my job. A short conversation with the manager dashed my hopes of rescuing guests by holding out an extended crutch for them to grab onto. Nor could I climb the six or so flights of winding wooden stairs that reached above the trees to the park’s towering attractions. No, if I were to keep my job, I would be working at the wave pool turnstiles. Kahuna Bay Wave Pool became my new home from nine to seven. Every morning I sat perched in my tall stool, hunched over my makeshift desk between the banks of in and out turnstiles, behind me stood a large bin of life preservers. The pool itself sat, five feet deep, in an open sandy clearing cut from the dense trees of the property and made to look like a beach boardwalk, complete with a diner, volleyball courts and shops with bamboo façades. The pool itself was hard to look at; the pure white paint, chosen to give the lifeguards optimal visibility, reflected glaring sunlight that could bypass even the darkest sunglasses. The massive machine that pushed out artificial waves hummed a low note as manufactured breakers sloshed on the whitewashed concrete shoreline. Occasionally, when the pool wasn’t crowded, a handful of seagulls would plop themselves down atop the rolling waves, and bob lazily up and down like bizarre, living pool toys, taking flight when guests moved too close. Guests trampled one another to the tune of Surfin’ USA when the gates opened in the morning, and meandered out lazily to Margaritaville, and a full line up of Jimmy Buffet songs including Land Shark and Cheeseburger in Paradise in the evening. By the time the park DJ broke out the Frank Sinatra CDs, the place was almost empty, and the Sun glowed red on the horizon, making eerie silhouettes of the waterslides that stood tall in the distance. What killed me – besides the monotony and the inactivity – was the loneliness. I couldn’t stand missing the opportunity to socialize with my friends at lunch – on crutches I couldn’t make it to the break room and back within the allotted time – or walking across the park between shifts. Any interaction I had was with an angry guest, assuring me that their child – standing on tip-toe – was in fact tall enough to go in the wave pool. But I wasn’t alone for long. By the end of my first week stationed beneath a fake palm tree at Kahuna, I began receiving visitors. Some of my co-workers had asked our supervisor if they could take their lunch breaks with me at the wave pool. Others had foregone down time altogether to walk across the entire waterpark to pay me a visit. Fast forward to the end of the summer as the entire park staff, seven hundred strong, converged on my little domain at Kahuna Bay, as the sun made crimson a cloudy dusk. There was a dance floor outlined in the sand before the bamboo-walled ice cream shack, and we had the whole park to ourselves. As I looked on, wondering how I would entertain myself while my friends were off making use of the waterslides, arms reached around me and hoisted me into a two-man carry. Another took up my crutches as I was borne off and up the towering rides. That evening, by the glow of the setting sun over Kahuna Bay, I wasn’t injured and alone: I was among friends.