True Stories – Temptation Island

Occasionally a surf trip will offer not waves, but women.

Told By Michael Kew

In February 2003 I was staying at a friend’s seaside ranch in California’s Humboldt County, experiencing immense rainfall and the sort of sublime reclusiveness derived from staring blankly at a gray sky and stormy sea, alone, in a silent house, for days on end. This topped with depression, despondency, a deceitful girlfriend … I was going insane.

And so, envisioning a spell of compulsory introspection amid perfect waves and tropical rapture, I flew to the Cook Islands-first to Rarotonga, then to Manihiki Atoll, jewel of the South Pacific, where I met Kauraka Kainuku, a friend of a Rarotongan friend of mine.

Evidence of a Polynesian bachelor’s life peppered Kauraka’s tiny pandanus-roofed home, with a floor of dirty straw mats and walls of palm fronds supported by coco-palm trunks. Thumbtacked to the kitchen wall was a Playboy centerfold featuring an olive-skinned Hawai’ian bombshell, the photo resembling postcards of nude Tahitian girls I’d seen in Papeete tourist shops.

Kauraka pointed to the picture. “This girl. You like?”

“Mmmm … not bad,” I said.

“Wait here!”

He left the house and returned five minutes later with a fragrantly intoxicating maiden-his daughter-who presented me a garland of pink frangipani, fresh from her mother’s yard. I was flattered, and then … ah, I knew the tune: Clearly a dangerous yet classic fairy-tale scheme, this paternal offering of a child, lost in the romantic fiction of running away to a developed country-a Western hall pass; beelining to college; jobs; nightclubs; an engagement ring; a house with a garden, a refrigerator, and a spin-dryer; a white wedding with a husband wistfully agreeing to the Polynesian Love Dream-a newer, broader life unregimented by copra, the coconut tree, or the black pearl.

It is the heartache of Manihiki, one of Polynesia’s loneliest outposts: New Zealand’s government offers free schooling on Rarotonga, and Manihiki’s youth, if they can afford the airfare, continue with scholarships for tertiary education in New Zealand. Emigration far exceeds immigration.

“The grass is always greener, yes?” Kauraka said. “My two sons left for university in New Zealand. I want a different life for my daughter; she deserves the big world of America. But when our young people go, everything will go. Who will there be to learn to weave the coconut frond in our style? Who will learn to fish our way? All custom and all tradition will die.”

Direct from a South Seas romance novel, the stuff of any man’s fantasy, Kauraka’s daughter was the sexiest, most beautiful island girl I had ever seen. Nineteen years old, flawless teak skin, a fine-featured supermodel face, emerald eyes, perfect smile, thick brown hair down to her lower back, ornate black-pearl and shell jewelry. Bikini-topped and well-endowed, her hourglass figure drew my eyes and imagination from her face down to her chest, her smooth brown dancer’s belly, and on to her sarong-draped hips, toned legs, and manicured toes. These were textbook beauty features-most girls long for them, many work for them, some create them, and others are born with them.

Her aura was exemplary: she was the Cook Islands, the Polynesia of old and new-stunning natural beauty, clean, natively rich, humble, a phenomenal dancer oozing with tradition and subtle suggestiveness. I could picture her hips, dressed in a woven frond skirt, gyrating to exotic Polynesian rhythms. Her islands were sexy, their traditional dances existing in deference to Tangaroa, god of sea and fertility. Ancient Hawai’ians and Tahitians shared the religion of Tangaroa, hence the similar dance styles, and, akin to Hawai’ians and Tahitians, Cook Islanders believe they came from the mystic ancestral homeland of Avaiki.

Her fleshy temptation gnawed through me, a man in his twenties, a slave to carnal desire. So sultry was she, so accessible, so nubile, so damn … irrresistible.

We spent the night together. Nuances of an instant, ready-made romance loomed as our warmths converged. A delicate encounter unfolded as the lagoon outside her window shone brilliantly under a waxing gibbous moon. Through the hours, I thought I could take her home, ditch my dishonest girlfriend, and fade away to dreamy contentment in Northern California.

My Cook Islands trip was a remedial evasion of all personal unrest, anyway: no home, no job, no car, no money, no ambition, no direction, massive credit-card debt-I needed a strict realignment with honest clarity, and this girl posed a partial solution (or distraction) to my mess.

Yet it was not to be. She was too innocent, too pure. I was too distraught. I hadn’t even surfed, for chrissakes. The whole thing was too … inconvenient. She had no passport, no airfare, no fluency in English, and, roofless in California, I had no place to take her once we deplaned in Los Angeles.

The range of responsibility was far too severe for my internal struggle, and a day later I was at Manihiki’s airport check-in counter, toting soiled baggage and a heavy heart. Easing into the seat, I regretted, but tried to relax, listening to Sade’s Lovers Rock CD, preparing to face the rough, rough sea of home.

Upon returning, my (now ex-) girlfriend ruined me further, and was followed by a succession of disastrous attempts at dating. I began to think all women were terrible creatures, all except one, back on Manihiki, who spoke no English.

Anyone to whom I tell this story mocks me, because now, more than two years later, I live above the famous Rincon Point in a house on a small farm (we call it The Gentlemen’s Ranch). I am single, quite happy, and up for anything. Kauraka’s daughter, now 21 or 22, would be a nice addition to my life. And it is here in paradise, on the outskirts of Carpentaria, where the advantages of anonymous travel could redeem the blights of my hermetic existence.