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Authors: Todd Strasser

Cut Back

BOOK: Cut Back
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If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

First Simon Pulse edition June 2004

Text copyright © 2004 by Todd Strasser

SIMON PULSE
An imprint of Simon & Schuster
Children's Publishing Division
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
www.SimonandSchuster.com

All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

SIMON PULSE and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Designed by Ann Sullivan

The text of this book was set in Bembo.

Printed in the United States of America

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Library of Congress Control Number 2003115438

ISBN 0-689-87030-2

ISBN-13: 978-0-689-87030-9

eISBN-13: 978-1-439-12140-5

In memory of Jill Tuck, as fine a mother, surfer's wife, and all-around wonderful person as most of us will ever have the privilege to know

This book is dedicated to Geoff and Lia, my favorite surfing companions
.

One

K
ai Harter thought he was seeing things.

It was a little after 7 A.M. and he was walking down the sidewalk toward Sun Haven beach with his new thruster under his arm. The sun was already up, the breeze was offshore, and he was eager to get his first look at the waves. Ahead of him in the parking lot next to the boardwalk, his friends Bean and Booger were getting out of what looked exactly like a long black hearse.

A hearse?

“Hey, dude.” Bean gave Kai a wave.

Kai gestured at the black car, which had long narrow windows along the sides covered by gray curtains. “What's the story?”

“These are the great wheels he's been talking about,” Booger said, sounding kind of disgusted. “Creeps you out, doesn't it?”

“I got a deal I couldn't refuse,” Bean said.

“How's that?” Kai asked.

“His fathers the town undertaker,” Booger said. “Dr. Death, remember?”

Kai recalled that a month ago, shortly after he'd met these guys, Booger had said something about Bean going to mortuary college in the fall.

“It's a perfect vehicle for transporting surfboards,” Bean said.

“Except for those dumb frilly curtains along the back windows,” said Booger.

“Don't want anyone to see inside,” Bean said. “Creates an air of mystery. You never know, maybe there's a stiff back there.” He pulled open the back door and slid out a couple of long, gray two-by-fours.

“Building a new surfboard?” Kai joked.

“Fourth of July,” Bean said.

Kai looked in the back of the hearse. There were three surfboard racks along the right side. In the highest rack was Bean's long board, but in the racks beneath it and piled on the left side was a bunch of scrap wood.

“For a cookout?” Kai asked.

“Bonfire.” Booger reached into the back and pulled out some large scraps of plywood. “We all build em along the beach.”

“I can carry something,” Kai offered.

Bean handed him a broken wooden shelf. With the wood under his left arm and his thruster under his right, Kai joined his friends as they crossed the boardwalk and walked onto the beach. Out at the break called Screamers, Lucas Frank and his crew were bobbing on their surfboards, dividing their time between scanning the horizon for the next set of good waves, and keeping an eye on Kai and his friends.

“You going back out there?” Bean asked Kai as they walked.

“Why not?” Kai said.

“I'll tell you why not,” Booger said. “Because that's one mad beautiful stick Teddy gave you. You take it out there and Sam is liable to run you down again.”

Slammin' Sam was the “muscle” in Lucas's crew. A classic case of too much brawn and not enough brain. Five days ago Kai had surfed against him for the right to open the lineup at Screamers to anyone who wanted to surf there.

“Sam and I had a talk about that,” Kai said.
“I basically told him that if he ever dings one of my boards again, he's gonna be wearing my leash as a permanent choker.”

They dropped the wood in a pile directly opposite the break called Sewers. Booger looked down the beach. “Lucas and his guys haven't even started building their bonfire yet.”

“They always get help,” Bean said.

Kai kneeled down and started to wax the pearl white custom board Teddy had “given” him for the heat against Sam. It wasn't a gift really. It had been given to him with the understanding that he would pay her back for it. Kai hadn't used the board since the heat with Sam. The morning after the heat, the wind had turned southwest, kicking up whitecaps and closing out Screamers as waves bashed into the jetty. For the past four days the local breaks had been unsurfable. Kai had spent the mornings doing ding repairs at Teddy's and the days and nights working at T-licious, his father's bogus T-shirt shop.

This morning the winds were finally off-shore again. The waves were shifty and short. A lot of sections and closeouts, but now and then one peeled nicely for a few dozen yards—long enough to have some fun.

A loud hoot came from the direction of Screamers. Kai, Bean, and Booger looked up in time to see Lucas tearing up a left.

“He's rippin' harder this year than he was last year,” Bean said.

“He should be,” Booger said, “considering his dad took him to Hawaii for two weeks over Christmas, and a week down in Costa over Easter.”

“Business at the surf shop must be good,” Kai said. Lucas's father, Buzzy Frank, owned Sun Haven Surf, the big shop in town.

“Not just the surf shop, dude,” Bean said. “Buzzy owns a lot of real estate around here.”

That made sense. No wonder Buzzy was so interested in getting rid of Curtis and the rundown Driftwood Motel. Curtis was a crusty old guy whose motel catered to low-budget surfers. Once that “eyesore” was gone, Buzzy's other properties were bound to increase in value.

“Hey, guys.” Shauna came down the beach with Kai's long board under her arm. She was just learning to surf, and now that Kai had the thruster, he'd lent her old #43. Curtis had given him that board, and his wet suit, when Kai first got to Sun Haven.

“Hey, Shauna,” Kai and Bean both answered.

“There goes Everett,” Booger said, directing their attention back to Screamers. Everett, a thin, agile black kid with dreadlocks had just caught a wave. Instead of the attacking, slash-and-bash, cram-in-as-many-moves-as-possible style of Lucas, Everett streaked along the face, building up speed until the wave closed out in front of him. He compressed and launched himself high into the air. Kicking his board away, he tucked his arms around his knees, did a flip over the back of the wave, and disappeared. The leash stretched tight and the board rocketed down behind him.

“Don't try this at home, children,” Bean quipped.

“I hope the board didn't hit him.” Shauna sounded worried.

Kai felt a grin grow on his face.

“What's funny?” Booger asked.

“Not really funny,” Kai said. “Just cool to see someone do something like that, you know? It's not gonna score any points in a heat, but it sure looks like fun.”

“Come on, Boogs, let's get the rest of the wood out of the car.” Bean headed back up
the beach. Kai kneeled down and finished waxing.

“You going to Screamers?” Shauna asked.

“Absolutely,” Kai answered.

“Be careful,” she said.

Kai winked at her, then picked up the thruster, took off down the beach, and launched himself into the water.

Two

T
here were two ways to get out to Screamers. The easy way was to paddle into the natural channel along the jetty. The harder way was to go with the backwash between Screamers and Sewers. That was the way Kai chose, since it would allow him to catch up to Everett.

Kai paddled out. For the past week the ocean had been gradually getting warmer, but not in a steady way. Some mornings the water temperature was in the higher end of the sixties and Kai felt like he could have gone out there in a shorty wet suit or even a neoprene rash guard. The next morning it would be back in the low sixties and he was glad to have the full wet suit.

He caught up to Everett about halfway back out.

“Yo,” Kai said. “Looked like you enjoyed yourself on that last ride.”

Everett turned with a look of surprise on his face. “You saw that?”

“Hard to miss,” Kai said.

“Yeah, well, sometimes you catch it just right.” Everett grinned, obviously pleased with himself. Suddenly his expression changed and the grin disappeared. “Uh, well, see ya.”

He started to paddle away. Kai knew what had just happened. For a moment, Everett had forgotten whose crew he was with, and they were just two guys who loved the water and surfing and messing around in the waves. Then Everett must have remembered that Kai was “the enemy.” It was so incredibly stupid.

Kai got outside Screamers and found Lucas, Sam, Runt, and some others waiting for him. The vibe was heavy. There was one new guy in particular—medium-size, but with a strong build, short black hair, serious tattoos on his arms and back, an earring, and a bar through his eyebrow. While Slammin' Sam was a straight-ahead brawler with the brains of a
tree stump, there was something more ominous about this new guy.

“What are you doing here?” Sam asked Kai.

“Surfing,” Kai answered. “How about you?”

“I thought the deal was you could only surf here if you won the heat,” said Sam.

“Some people think I did win,” Kai said.

Sam smirked. “That's an awful nice-looking stick.”

“I told you what's gonna happen if you touch it,” Kai warned him.

A new set was approaching. Kai could see Lucas's crew eyeing the waves, then looking at Lucas, as if they didn't know what to do.

“We all just gonna sit here giving each other the stink eye while these nice waves go past?” Kai asked.

“Hey, feel free to take one,” Sam said.

“After you,” Kai said.

“Take a wave, Sam,” Lucas said. “This is stupid.”

Sam took off. Kai waited for the others to catch waves, just to show them again that he believed waves could be shared. Finally a medium-size A-frame popped up. Kai turned
his board around and paddled into it. The new thruster had an uncanny combination of maneuverability and stability, and like Everett, Kai went for pure speed, wriggling along the face of the wave, then suddenly cutting back up into the corner, then heading back down and picking up speed again. The ride felt like it could be a long one, and Kai played along the feathering lip until the wave closed out into an eruption of white foam.

About fifteen feet from the shore he hopped off the board, tucked it under his arm and walked the rest of the way in. After four days of no surf, it always amazed him how jazzed he could feel after that first good ride. He stopped on the beach and looked out toward Sewers. By now Bean and Booger had finished carrying the firewood down to the beach and had changed into their wet suits and headed out into the water. Bean and Shauna were sitting on their long boards, waiting for a wave. Booger, being a spongehead, was farther inside.

A smallish wave was coming and Bean let Shauna take it. Rather than grab the wave himself, Bean had clearly looked it over and decided it was better for a beginner. Shauna
got prone and started to paddle. Like a lot of new surfers, she suddenly paused to adjust her position on the board, then started paddling again, completely neglecting to keep an eye on the wave approaching behind her. The wave crested early and started to fold over her. Kai winced as he watched Shauna grab the rails of the board and pearl into the trough, disappearing into a cloudburst of white. A moment later the board shot straight up out of the boil like a rocket, turned sideways in the air, and fell back down. Kai realized he was holding his breath while he waited to make sure it hadn't smashed her on the head or cut her with its skeg.

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