“The Outline of a Torso”, by Andy Schell

March 7, 2012 in Stories by Andy Schell

This is an excerpt from the short novel by Andy Schell. It’s a gay coming of age surfer novel. Kensington Books originally published it in 2002 and it was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award that year.
You can download the whole version on Amazon here.

Cover image silhouette by Jonathan sinuous, and the inset photo of the three guys is by Ken
Cover image silhouette by Jonathan sinuous, inset photo (of the three guys) by Ken


We’d had to practically drag Robbie by his heels. He really didn’t like Ethan from the beginning. But Karl had helped me convince him to come along (maybe because Karl didn’t want to be alone with Ethan and me). Mrs. Grant gave us a ride, and even a couple of beers to share on the way. Robbie and Karl wanted to go back to Honokohau Beach, because the waves were compact and perfect, and we’d had all those good memories from the last week and a half, but Ethan said Honokohau had nothing but bullshit ankle snappers, and it wasn’t worth wasting his time. He said Honolua Bay had total power lines that peeled the skin off your balls, and he wasn’t going to miss it. So I talked the boys into giving Honolua a shot.

Ethan directed Mrs. Grant to turn down a little dirt road and troll through the pineapple fields. It was apparent he’d been there before and that he knew what he was doing. Finally he told her to stop and we all bailed out of the car, far above the waves. There were several paths down to the surf, but Ethan chose the most radical and dangerous one. It wasn’t so much a trail as it was a steep eroded gully that twisted and turned and fell straight down the cliff. I sensed that during rain this gully operated as a waterfall. So down we dropped, precariously descending a dry waterfall. Ethan just took off without us, his thruster tucked under his arm and his ass crack peeking out of his low hanging surf shorts. I don’t know how he maneuvered it, because the three of us were sliding out of control on the hazardous terrain. At one point, Robbie slipped and skinned his leg pretty bad. I yelled for Ethan to wait up, but he was out of sight and didn’t hear me. So Karl and I waited while Robbie collected himself, and Karl took Robbie’s board and carried it down for him, while I offered Robbie my hand.

When we finally made it to the beach, it was totally worth it. The weather was burning hot, and the sand was sweet and white, and the waves were spectacular. They peeled off, one after another, just like Ethan said. The swells were about six or seven feet, big for me and the guys, but probably nothing for Ethan, who was over talking to a couple of locals by the time we made it down. The three of them watched the three of us, then Ethan trotted over, his board still slung under his killer biceps.
“Come on,” he said to me. “We’re going to Hookipa.”
“We just got here.”
“And now we’re leaving. Are you coming or not?”

I looked at Robbie who gave me a look that said he’d be glad to see Ethan go—and perhaps me as well. But when I looked at Karl he had that face again, with that cautious look he gave me at the restaurant, the one where he bit his lower lip. It was a look that said, “Watch your back.” I didn’t know what to do. Ethan explained that those local guys told him it was picture postcard perfect at Hookipa at the moment. The trade winds were dead and the windsurfers were sitting it out. And those local dudes heard on their radio that there were perfect glassy peaks just peeling off, waiting for board surfers.

If Ethan and I wanted to catch a ride with the locals in their truck, we didn’t have time to take any of the lunch food with us, and I’m not sure Robbie would have shared with us anyway. So we scaled the cliff trail, and this time Ethan told me to go first. I didn’t want to be a spaz, so I tried really hard to go steady. But sometimes I’d slip or wasn’t fast enough for him, and he’d take the palm of his hand and push against my ass. He didn’t say, “Keep going,” or “I’ll help you,” or anything. He just pushed against my ass from behind, without a word.

Keani and Chewy, the locals, were already waiting in their truck by the time Ethan and I made it up to the parking lot. Keani was a fine and babyish hapa boy with a lean, ripped body and black hair that he’d halfway dyed orange and spiked up. Chewy looked Filipino in ancestry, and was much larger than Keani. He nodded to acknowledge me, but there was something about his eyes that I didn’t trust. There wasn’t room for all four of us in the truck’s cab, so I let Ethan sit with them while I rode in the back of the truck, with the boards. Traffic sucked and it took over an hour to get to Hookipa, and the whole way those guys cranked metal banger shit on the stereo, and they smoked what had to have been some gnarly weed because it smelled like burning theater curtains.

At that point I was feeling pretty stupid. It would have been a sweet day over there at Honolua, and I’d left my buddies to go riding in the back of a pickup by myself to land at a surf spot that was totally out of my league, with a guy that was too. Or at least that’s what I would have thought just from meeting Ethan. But since he kept wanting me to hang with him, and he’d asked me to go to Hookipa, I thought that maybe he wasn’t out of my league at all.
When we got there we saw right away that the whole setup was bogus. The winds were blowing as hard as they were two days ago when we stood on the deck at the restaurant and watched from above. And again, it looked like there were about a hundred windsurfers out there. Same story as before. There were colored tails of sails flying in from everywhere, like back in Los Angeles when we were driving on the 405 freeway to get to the airport, and I looked up at those jets that were screaming in to LAX from every direction and I wondered how they didn’t all slam into each other and fall out of the sky. And the few board surfers out there in Hookipa were like those little propeller planes mixed in with the big traffic at LAX, the little planes I was sure were going to be smashed by the 747’s going ten times as fast.

Ethan checked out the scene, and for the first time he didn’t look so confident. He hadn’t brought either of his big guns because he hadn’t planned on coming to this beach, and the board he had wasn’t right for the waves. But Keani and Chewy had already unloaded their boards and were laughing at Ethan’s face. Chewy said to him, “Waddascoops, brah? Your balls shrinking?”

Ethan sucked it up and went for his board. “Fuck you,” he snarled, and he wasn’t smiling or kidding around like Chewy appeared to be. I thought it was a pretty ungrateful thing to say to a couple of guys who had just brought us all the way over here. Chewy’s face registered unhappiness.

“Hey, brah,” Keani cautioned. “You don’t want Chewy’s stinkface.”
Ethan put his hands on his hips. “Yeah? Well, ask Chewy where the glassy fucking peaks are? Huh?”

“I not talk story, brah,” Chewy said patiently. “I hear it on the radio, I come.”
Ethan offered a fake smile. “Not a problem. I’ll make the best of it, dudes.” He picked up his board and made for the beach.
Chewy and Keani watched him leave. “Mo’ bettah we pau with dis one,” Chewy said to Keani.

“Pau,” Keani said, looking at Ethan as if he’d put a hex on him.
I wondered if Ethan should be heading down there, considering the situation—and considering that I’d let him drink the whole beer Mrs. Grant gave us to share, and he’d smoked all that burning curtains weed. I got the feeling he’d just made two new enemies out of his two new friends. It just didn’t seem like a good idea for him to dive into this saturated sea space, all things considered.
I sat on my boogie board on the beach and watched him paddle out. I was feeling dumb again. It was beginning to dawn on me that I was acting like some stupid-shit teenage girl, as Karl had said. But there was no way I was going out there on a boogie board. I didn’t even want to be out there on a yacht. It was radical, and it wasn’t for me. I don’t know, but maybe that’s why I was so hot for Ethan. He was radical. And pretty much fearless. And all the stud.
I started to get a woody just thinking about it, but it went down pretty quickly when I saw what Ethan was getting into. It was major predatory action going down. Local wave ownership happened in California, but it was nothing like in the islands. My friend, Koji, who’s Japanese and looks totally Hawaiian anyway, got sliced and diced at a notorious spot near Kahului, right here on Maui. He was first up on a wave, but these locals dropped in and squeezed him like a vice, then chopped him. It was bad.

Just watching Ethan paddle out, I got nervous. Those windsurfers were exploding over the sea like surface missiles. And when Ethan was down on his board, paddling out, and those swells were rising over him, there was no way they could see him. He almost got it good before he even made past the break. Finally he did make it out though, and positioned himself in between Keani and Chewy—or did they position themselves on either side of him? There weren’t that many guys on surfboards where Ethan was lined up, maybe a total of eight. But I could tell, even from the beach, that the vibes were ramped up to a wicked level, like a wire that had been pulled taught, and twisted until the tension had made it nearly invisible. But it was there. And if the wire didn’t snap, you could get sliced like a piece of cheese. And if it did snap, it could cut you all the worse because you’d never see it coming.

It seemed crazy to me that Ethan and those guys weren’t off to the side, like another group of surfers in the distance. Ethan, Keani, and Chewy chose to plug themselves into the center of all those sailboard missiles, which required them to execute projectile takeoffs and launch themselves right into the hairy festivity with no warning. I could hardly watch. I was sure with the way Keani and Chewy were looking at Ethan that they were planning to take him down.
As the new set came in, Ethan passed on the first couple of waves, and let the locals hop on. That made me relax, and I figured that Ethan would play the scene and respect his place as a haole. But then, as the third wave in the set rolled in, and several guys were paddling onto it, I saw Ethan just barrel in, late. Keani fell away to yield rights to the first guy up, and another surfer hung for a couple more seconds, then begrudgingly bailed. But Ethan just popped up on his board, the last of the four, and started battling it out, even though he had no right to be there. I couldn’t believe it. California, Hawaii, or your own fucking bathtub, it was the wrong etiquette. And the guy was gesturing to Ethan, telling him to get off his wave. They came within an inch of each other at one point, then it looked like Ethan lost his footing and he popped out, but only because of his lost balance, not because he did the right thing. He snaked the guy.

I could practically see the steam coming off the locals’ heads. It was obvious from watching body language and arm movements that they were talking about Ethan, and then I could see they were talking to him. But it looked like he was ignoring them. He just got back outside as quickly as he could and inserted himself into the lineup. I noticed that Keani and Chewy had paddled away from him this time, and I realized I was wrong about those guys. They weren’t trying to fuck with him. It was obvious they didn’t want to have anything to do with him.

I swear he didn’t even wait for a couple waves this time, he just jammed himself into the pack, and just like last time, he dropped in on someone else’s wave. Only this time he was marked. Everyone had seen what he’d just done, and they weren’t going to take it. A guy in red shorts, the one with the darkest tan, long black hair, and shoulders as wide as a house, just barreled down on Ethan from behind, stalking his prey. Then in one brilliant instant he cut back around, overtook him, and totally clipped Ethan from the front before bailing out at the perfect moment to miss the crash. Ethan went flying off the front of his board, smashed through the twisting vertical board left in his path by the other surfer, then took a hit from his own board from behind.

Everybody on the beach let out gasps. People said, “Whoa!” and “Shit!” And one guy said, “That fucking idiot deserves it.” I stood up, put my hand to my eyes to shield the sun and get a better look, and waited for Ethan to surface. I waited a long time. And then some more. Finally, when I truly was about to panic, he came up. But his leash had snapped (or been cut) and his board was in the white water, thrashing around without him. I didn’t know if he was in any shape to swim, so I grabbed my boogie board and ran to the water. I don’t know what I was thinking, because I didn’t have my flippers, and the whitewater inside was churning like a pissed off washing machine in overdrive. But I paddled for Ethan like his life depended on it. It took me forever to get out there, and if it weren’t for my little board I’d have drowned.

“Get my board!” he yelled as I headed for him.
Now we were two fucking idiots. I sure as hell wasn’t going to save him on my tiny little boogie board. I changed direction and headed for his board. I swear it was taunting me. Every time I got close it launched into some rip and flew away. I wondered if I’d die out there myself. The windsurfers were cruising by my head. I could hear the turbine-like sound of their sails in the wind. And the surfers knew I was Ethan’s buddy, so they didn’t give a shit whether they ran over me, or whether I retrieved his board. We could both drown as far as they were concerned.

I finally got it, and straddled it with my little board, and rode the current of the inside foam back to Ethan. When I caught up with him, he looked a little panicked. He’d been riding the current in, but he was disoriented and out of air. And then I saw that his head was bleeding up near his temple.

There was a concrete toilet and changing facility down the beach, so I dragged the boards up past the tide line and grabbed our towels, and we headed for refuge. “That fucking bastard,” Ethan said, putting his hand to his head, then taking it away to look at the blood. “He cut me off.” He was still breathing hard, and his manly chest was heaving up and down. His stomach muscles rippled with each gulp of air, and the seawater dripped off his body as he walked.
“You cut him off first,” I said, as we headed into the men’s room.
“No fucking way,” Ethan said stubbornly. “It’s every man for himself. And that was my wave.”

“You’re bleeding, Ethan.”

“I can see that, dipshit,” he told me, going to the sink. There wasn’t a mirror in the place, and when he tried to splash water on the cut, he missed.

“Let me,” I told him, and he did. I had him bend his head down, and I took a look into the cut. It wasn’t too bad, but it wasn’t too good. I’m not sure if a fin actually sliced him or if he just took a good thump from his board. I filled my hands with water and opened them up on it. He winced, but I told him we needed to get the saltwater out of it, and then it wouldn’t sting anymore. I just made that up, but it was probably true. I rinsed it about six or seven more times, and he seemed to calm down, and he even joked with me.
“Just let that fuck come to California,” he grinned. “I’ll eat his ass for lunch.” As I tried to figure out if that statement was totally macho or totally faggot, he asked, “Is it still bleeding?” It was, and I told him so. So he ordered me to grab my towel and follow him over to the john. We got to a stall and he said, “Get in.” Even with the bullshit I just saw him pull, and with his blood fresh on my fingers, I wasn’t about to argue. I stepped in and he followed, locking the door. “Stand here,” he told me, indicating to stand to the side of the toilet. I did, and then he undid his wet surf shorts right in front of me and dropped them to his ankles.


You can download the whole version on Amazon here.