The jeep pulled into the reserved spot next to the beach. Kari was relieved to see that there was no stage or crowd of reporters and photographers waiting. Still, she hesitated, not wanting to strip on the sidewalk. Mona walked by with her board and said, “Time to surf. You should get that skirt off.”
She took off her kupe’e and lei po’o and left them in David’s Jeep. She slipped off her skirt, folded it, and laid it beside them. Steeling herself, she took a sip of the herbal tea and followed Mona naked onto the beach.
As she walked to the shore, she could see out of the corner of her eye Ashley and her crew. Ashley was glaring at her, arms crossed. She looked over at them and gave them a slight smile. It was almost worth surfing naked just to see her so put out.
That day the weather gods were still smiling on them and the surf conditions were great. Once Kari got back on the water, she relaxed, tuning out all the crowds and other surfers. Her first wave felt wonderful, like she was back home. The scoreboard at the judges’ station flashed “9”, but, walking back along the shore, Kari didn’t notice.
She was watching her competition’s latest ride. Ashley looked like a stereotypical California beach girl, with long blonde hair and blue eyes, and a slim athletic build. Kari watched as she surfed, and could see how good she was. Then she looked closer and was able to see just a moment’s hesitation every once in a while as she started her next move. That was what was keeping her just behind Kari’s lead, in spite of her skill.
Jessie came up and handed her the bottle of herbal energy tea. Kari took it and drank without taking her eyes off her competitor and handed it back. Jessie knew how focused she could be when she was surfing. This time it seemed different, like her mind was elsewhere, captivated by something. At least she didn’t seem uncomfortable being naked in public at the moment.
Kari repeated her performance from the first day, with Ashley and the other women trying to match her moves. At the end of the day’s surfing, she was ahead of Ashley by two points.
Jessie and Mona met her after her last wave, and they all hugged each other, excited by Kari’s great performance. They walked off the beach toward David’s Jeep. Kari was a little taken aback when it wasn’t where it should be. Jessie said, “Oh, right. David said he had some things to attend to, so he had to return to Honolulu.”
Kari panicked. Her skirt was in his Jeep — now what was she going to wear?
Just then, a black limousine pulled into a nearby parking space. The chauffeur got out and opened one of the back doors. A tall thin man in a black pinstripe suit got out, followed by a young woman in a similar jacket and skirt.
He approached the group and addressed Kari. “Are you Kari Kaimana?”
Kari nodded. He stretched out his hand and as she shook it, said, “I am Charles Bennington, and,” motioning to the woman behind him, “this is my assistant Janine. We work for a company called Bronzée Solaire that makes sunscreen and other skin care products.”
Mona smiled. She knew about this company. They made high-end products. They were very big in Europe and the Pacific Rim, but were trying to get into the North American market. They just might be the saviors they were looking for.
He continued, “We are very interested in becoming your sponsor for the rest of the surfing season.”
Jessie stepped up and introduced herself. “Yes, we’re interested in what you have to offer.”
He said, “We have an office in Honolulu. I can take you there to discuss the details.”
Mona replied, “Sure, we’d be happy to.”
Bennington motioned to the limo and said, “Shall we go?”
Kari whispered, “But…naked?”
He smiled and said, “Sure. No one at Bronzée Solaire will mind. It’s your nude surfing that got our attention in the first place. Besides, we make skin-care products. We see a lot of our test subjects naked.”
Mona put her hand in the small of Kari’s back and moved her toward the limo. “He’s right. You can go there naked.” Kari blushed but got in anyway, her nipples shrinking quickly and goosebumps rising as she felt the air conditioning. When she sat, the feel of the leather seat against her naked skin made her shiver.
Kari, Mona, and Jessie were on a bench seat right behind the driver, while Bennington faced them. His assistant Janine beside him opened a panel in the wall next to her and got out 5 glasses and a bottle of champagne.
As she passed out the glasses of champagne, Bennington said to Kari, “Janine here is quite a fan of surfing. She tells me your performance over the last two days was amazing.”
Janine added, “My brother used to surf as a hobby and I used to keep him company. He was nowhere near as good as you. But I’ve seen enough good surfers to know that you’re the best.”
Kari smiled and said, “Thank you.”
A short while later, they got to Honolulu, going to an office park on the outskirts of the city. They pulled up to a brightly lit 3-story building, with a large sign saying “B. S. Internationale”. The limo stopped in front of it and the chauffeur opened the back doors. Kari had to steady her nerves before she could step out naked onto the asphalt.
Bennington took her hand and escorted her up the steps and through the front doors. She balked as everyone in the lobby stopped what they were doing and stared at her appreciatively. He was walking her toward a central conference room, with all four sides of solid glass, when a door to a corner office opened and a well-dressed man stepped out.
Bennington stopped in his tracks and then said, “Monsieur Boulanger, I wasn’t expecting you here.”
The man smiled and said, with a French accent, “I was in L.A., not Paris. I flew out here to meet Ms. Kaimana personally.”
Bennington turned to them and said, “This is Etienne Boulanger, CEO of Bronzée Solaire Internationale.”
Mona looked at him, admiring the expensive summer-weight wool suit he was wearing, and his Italian shoes, and a sparkling Swiss watch. His short steel-gray hair was immaculate. She could see she was right. These people had money, lots of it.
Monsieur Boulanger stepped forward and took Kari’s hand. He lifted it slightly, and she wasn’t sure if he was going to shake it or lift it to his lips and kiss it. He smiled and said, “Ms. Kaimana, I’m so pleased to meet you.”
Then he turned to Mona and Jessie, giving a slight nod to them each in turn, saying, “And you are Mona Tahani, her coach, and you are Jessica Morris, her manager, correct?”
They both smiled and nodded, unused to be noticed where Kari was involved, and touched that he knew their names. He motioned to the glass-walled room and said, “Shall we all meet in our conference room? Monsieur Bennington and I have an offer I think you will all like to hear about.”
The women followed him down the hall and into the glass-walled room. Boulanger pulled out a chair for Kari, and she saw it had a small towel draped over it. Once she sat, she looked uneasily out into the hall. The occasional passers-by noticed her and looked on approvingly.
Boulanger and Bennington laid out their offer. They would pay them $150,000 US for the rest of the surfing circuit and give them the use of one of the company’s private jets to go to tournaments in other countries. They said the company would make sure they stayed in luxury hotels at no expense. They wanted to book some time with Kari the day after the tournament for a photo shoot; if it worked out well, Boulanger said, Kari could very well become the face of Bronzée Solaire.
The women tried hard not to betray how excited they were. Mona asked for a copy of the contract and Janine mailed a copy to her phone. Mona asked, “Can we have a day to look it over? I’d like to run it by our lawyer.”
“Certainly,” Monsieur Boulanger said, “I would expect nothing less.”
After a few more minutes chatting, Mona said, “Well, Kari has to surf tomorrow. We should get back to our hotel.”
Bennington said, “I’ll have my chauffeur take you.”
Once they got into the limo, the women let down their guard. “Wow, $150,000 for the season!” “And corporate jets to take us everyhwere, and luxury hotels when we get there!” On the way back, Mona forwarded the contract to their lawyer.
As the limo pulled into the parking lot, Kari said, “Uh, Mona, I have no clothes to wear.”
Mona handed her the Governor’s ID, as if it were some kind of charm, and replied, “Just walk through the lobby like you mean it, like you’re entitled to. Nobody will mind.”
Kari, skeptical, slipped the lanyard over her head and stepped out into the daylight. She held her head up and tried to effect a confident stride. Her friends fell in beside her.
As they walked into the lobby, some people went wide-eyed with surprise. The concierge was behind the main desk. She said cheerily, “Ms. Kaimana, how was the tournament today?”
She smiled back and said, “Wonderful.”
Later that evening, their lawyer responded. He said it was a good contract, very good for them in fact. He pointed out, “The only odd thing is that they seem adamant that Kari appear naked not only at her surf competitions but at their promotional endeavors as well.”
After dinner, over a round of beers, Mona asked Kari what she would do to become the best surfer in the world.
Kari said, “Anything. It’s all I dream about.”
Mona replied, “Since you’ve started surfing naked, I can see you’re close, very close to that dream. Are you willing to surf the rest of this year’s circuit naked?”
Kari paused and sighed. “When I’m out on the water, it feels perfect to be nude. It’s just the crowds, and everything else about it that I can’t deal with naked.”
Mona continued , “Well, the contract offer we got from Bronzée Solaire is a really sweet one. We won’t have to worry about arranging flights anywhere in the world. We’ll stay in luxury hotels like this. It’s everything you’d want in a sponsorship. Their only stipulation is that you surf naked.”
Kari raised an eyebrow and said wryly, “Just that?”
“Well, and attend some of their promotional functions.”
“Yes… Remember they said they may want to make you the face of Bronzée Solaire. You’d have a second career as a model.”
Kari blurted out, “Yeah, a nude model.” She got silent. It would be a perfect arrangement, letting her and Mona focus only on surfing and leave the financial and logistical stuff to their sponsors. Still, to get through this ordeal, she had been telling herself she would only have to surf nude this once. And now they want her to agree to do it at every tournament this year.
She asked hopefully, “Aren’t there any other options?”
Jessie said, “We have a couple other companies that are interested. But their offers are contingient on you surfing nude. And none are nearly as lucrative as this.”
Mona could see Kari was hesitating, and continued, “Face it, you garnered a lot of attention by surfing naked. Any sponsor will want you to continue doing that. And I think this company would be the one most likely to work with the League to make that happen.”
She knew her friends were counting on her. It wasn’t just a windfall for her but for them as well.
She thought back to the amazing connection to the sea she felt when she was nude and it let her feel a moment’s peace. Suspecting she’d regret it later, Kari shrugged and gave in. She sighed, “Sure, let’s sign it. It’s just for this year, right?”