The difference between a teacher and a guru *PIC*

A surfing lesson I found out about Ambrose Curry from an article in National Geographic’s Adventure magazine. It described a somewhat eccentric surfer who would share his surfing knowledge and philosophy for $25 an hour. I was actually afraid of the prospect of swallowing lots of seawater in the heavy Kauai surf, but the author of the article shared my apprehensions and he survived. I found Ambrose’s Natural Foods easily. It was across from the McDonald’s in Kapa’a on the main highway. There was no indication that a surfer ran the place except 1) it was always closed, and 2) there are a couple of dozen surfboards out back, and a shed filled with dozens more. Many were obviously the work of Ambrose, with his name and odd bits of resin on them. The article I read said that if a bug fell into the resin before it was dry, he just considered that part of the process. I went next door to Marta’s Boat, a women’s and children’s boutique run by his wife. She told me to return in an hour if I wanted to see Ambrose. A couple of hours later I returned to Marta’s and saw a man who I recognized from the magazine article - bald with pale blue eyes rimmed red from the surf. Ambrose Curry, tribal elder and surf guru. Ambrose grew up in San Francisco and moved to Kauai thirty years ago. His California roots showed in his metaphors. He said that catching a wave was like taking the bus. If you knew the schedule, you could go where you wanted; If you didn’t, your life was all pain. I hoped that the pain was just metaphorical and didn’t involve me getting whacked in the head by a surfboard. The surf was up in Hanalei Bay, so he agreed to meet me and a friend up there. We found his old red Ford Ranger by the pier and soon saw him cruising up along the pier on one of his boards. He wore a black lycra top and loud yellow surf jams. He soon gave us similar lycra tops so we wouldn’t get scraped on the boards. We followed him to the next beach over, Pine Trees. We hauled a couple of twelve-foot boards off the top of his truck to the water. I got a board called “Barge VII”. The calm bay was punctuated by sets of waves. “That’s a stomper,” he said, indicating a long wave breaking near shore. “Is that because it’s crashing everywhere at once?” I asked. “And because it’s six feet high,” he replied. I squinted. Not having my glasses on was a mixed blessing. He started the lesson by telling us a bit about the ancient Hawaiians and their view of surfing. “It’s a water activity, not a sport.” Surfing puts one in touch with the earth, and elders knew how to travel on the waves. Ambrose tossed two large pebbles in front of us and told us to pick them up with our feet. My friend and I gave each other puzzled looks before curling our right toes around the pebbles and lifting them. This, according to Ambrose, indicated that we should stand with our right feet forward and left feet back on the board. Visions of “Karate Kid” moments flashed in my mind - “wax on, wax off, wax on, wax off”. The next part of the lesson was learning how to stand on the board on dry land. This was just foot placement and practicing going from lying on one’s stomach to quickly standing securely on the board. We were soon in the water, where we did the same with less stability and less success. Ambrose put on a pair of fins swam out with us to keep us balanced on the boards and to give us an occasional assisting push. After we were able to stand on the board for a few seconds, he had us trying to catch waves. He gave my board a shove and told me to paddle hard. Within seconds, I heard a whooshing sound and I was moving fast. I got up from the board as it beached itself on the breaking foam in a euphoric daze. I paddled back out to Ambrose and we did it again. I stood up on the speeding board amazed at how easy it was, then was knocked down from behind by the crashing wave. I did this many times before deciding that this was best left to another lesson. Ambrose told me that I wasn’t used to keeping my balance after getting hit from behind. The lesson lasted for two hours. Our arms were a bit tired, but we were exhilerated and ready to rent boards for the afternoon. I’m glad we found Ambrose, in whom I discovered difference between a teacher and a guru.

yep that was me… I was there… twenty guys down the beach 200 yards… me this guy an his girl out by our lonesomes with nobody out but us …not the same today… goin’ ta hanalei…beach has been paved with golden surf schools with ethafoam hooves and accepting visa master card diners cloob discover card…Yee gads…we can change he world…baliff got here yesterday we did a mile paddle at sunset behind the house the wind turned north…ambrose…that picture is from big sur after I broke my temporary teeth and won the blank

Nice to know some peaple enjoy life and surfing.Ambrose has to be one of them.Thanks Ambrose for the fun and insight.

I met ambrose 5 or 6 years back when we were in Kauai and my wife needed a new board… We had looked at most of the shops on Kauai and were about to give up for lack of an appropriate size/shape board, but then we found this place that appeared to be a surf shop/health food store (?) We wandered around the yard for a while and stared at all the boards stuck in trees (apparently for lack of any more storage room)… many of them had been shaped by ambrose and these boards had names, short parables, or messages written on the board or stringer where others might write the dimensions of the board. We talked to ambrose for quite a while and then went into a shed full of the most amazing assortment of boards, then pulled out a beautiful Rick Holt-shaped Dick Brewer-logo’d thruster for her – and sold it to us for a very reasonable price. I don’t think that at that time I felt he was a guru (we weren’t in surf-lesson mode) but he sure treated us right, more like family than customers. And that board still surfs great. Ambrose has plenty of aloha, even if he tends to express it cryptically…

With all respect to everybody, I don’t believe there is such a thing as a guru. If you think you are a guru then you are lost in your own ego, and if you think someone else is a guru then you need to find yourself and get your act together. A teacher … that really is a completely different subject.

When I first met Ambrose in Big Sur, I knew right away that he was a man of integrity. By the end of the weekend, I was convinced that he was among the most enlightened people I’d ever met. I would recommend a surf lesson from him just to get his one hour take on life and people in general. Little did I know that he was so famous. A mention in National Geographic Adventure?! Whoa!!! Creative writer? Yes, but with substance. Write on brother!!!