There’s a place on the Big Island that is sacred in many ways to our family.

I get over there when I can, and Hawaii requires a negative PCR test before takeoff from the mainland, then a rapid test upon arrival. I tested negative before the flight there, and positive when I landed.

I was put on civil defense lockdown until another PCR test result came back from the lab, and the government official told me to expect a 72-hour delay. My test came back negative a few days before I had to return to the mainland, and even though I’d had a false positive, I still had to get cleared by the civil defense to be able to leave the house.

I hadn’t surfed at all, so I headed out. The ocean was choppy and ugly, with lightning and rain making things even nastier. I wasn’t going to not go, though.

The waves weren’t huge, probably head-high, but Hawaiian ocean power is different than California. I took off on wave after wave, and my board slid out from under me every time, prompting a fall and solid pounding. I hadn’t surfed that board in a long time, and told myself that it was looser than I was used to. I’ll figure it out, I affirmed. Just keep trying.

Paddling was harder, too. I’d get stuck inside after a beating and power my way through, duck-diving under churning whitewater, only to get dragged farther back.

I shouldn’t have been getting dragged back, not like that.

The last wave I took off on was bigger and steep. Really steep, and farther to the left, closer to the reef. The board slid out again and I got crushed, barely missing the exposed coral and taking on a lot of water, enough for that slight panic to rise in my throat. I managed to get away from the shallower section of reef, and was so tired by then that I rode the next wave on my belly to the beach, frustrated, exhausted, defeated, and lucky not have gotten hurt.

First an unwarranted lockdown, then an unexpected beat-down.

I was so mentally and physically drained that I didn’t even notice the problem, not until I was putting the board in the back of the truck.

I’d been basically trying to ride a piece of plywood out there.

Because I’d ripped out the boards’ fins, probably on the paddle through the reef. I’d noticed a couple of bumps and sturdy tugs below me, but was focused on getting through the inside section between sets.

Fins exist solely to give you stability, both on a wave and when paddling.

They ground you, in ungrounding territory.

Make sure your fins are there.