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Kilometer 99: A Novel

Kilometer 99: A Novel

5.0 9
by Tyler McMahon

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Malia needs to leave El Salvador. A surfer and aspiring engineer, she came to Central America as a Peace Corps volunteer and fell in love with Ben. Malia's past year has been perfect: her weeks spent building a much-needed aqueduct in the countryside, and her weekends spent with Ben, surfing point-breaks in the nearby port city of La Libertad. Suddenly, a major


Malia needs to leave El Salvador. A surfer and aspiring engineer, she came to Central America as a Peace Corps volunteer and fell in love with Ben. Malia's past year has been perfect: her weeks spent building a much-needed aqueduct in the countryside, and her weekends spent with Ben, surfing point-breaks in the nearby port city of La Libertad. Suddenly, a major earthquake devastates the country and brings an abrupt end to her work. Ben and Malia decide to move on.

Now free of obligations, they have an old car, a wad of cash, surfboards, and rough plans for an epic trip through South America. Just as they're about to say goodbye to their gritty and beloved Salvadoran beach town, a mysterious American surfer known only as Pelochucho shows up—spouting grandiose plans and persuading them to stay.

Days become weeks; documents go missing; money gets tight. Suddenly, Ben and Malia can't leave. Caught between bizarre real estate offers, suspect drug deals, and internal jealousies, this unlikely band of surfers, aid-workers, and opportunists all struggle to find their way through a fallen world, in Kilometer 99 by Tyler McMahon.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“In this dark adventure tale, McMahon summons both the mystical joys of surfing and the angst of young people trying to navigate a treacherous world.” —Booklist

“With immediacy, ferocity and a deep sense of place, Tyler McMahon draws his reader into the complex world of American aid in foreign countries, in this case El Salvador. The main characters in Kilometer 99 are idealistic and sympathetic, but as they strive to protect themselves and each other in a country crumbling after a catastrophic earthquake, they are forced to make decisions that push them ever further from their moral center. In bold, tight prose, McMahon explores a world replete with drugs, corruption, money, and the undying devotion of two lovers pushed to the edge of their humanity.” —Kristiana Kahakauwila, author of This is Paradise

“Kilometer 99 is the best surf novel of the 21st Century. Set in war torn El Salvador at a time of terrible destruction, it is a world filled with drugs, danger, moral ambiguity, thrilling adventure, suspense, tragedy and triumph. The narrator, Malia, mines the essence of surf culture with spectacular authenticity. It is a coming of age story, a story of loss and redemption, a universal story. Even if you've never stepped foot in the ocean, you will love this book.” —Katie Arnoldi, author of Point Dume

“Adventure thrums in the landscapes of El Salvador, in the point breaks of the Pacific, and in the hearts of these young travelers trying to navigate love and purpose in a shaken country. The surfing passages are mesmerizing. ” —David Bajo, author of The 351 Books of Irma Arcuri

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St. Martin's Press
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On shore, the mariachis struck up with a flourish of horns. The first wave of a new set rolled toward us. Ben and I paddled hard for the outside. Atop the still-unbroken swell, a would-be lip feathered white against the wind.

“We’re too shallow,” I said.

“I think we’ll make it,” Ben shouted back.

I paddled up the face. Ben turned to commit. The wave jacked along the point, then stalled. I duck-dived my way through before it broke, board twitching in my grip. From the backside, I caught a glimpse of Ben’s red hair rising once against the curl, then disappearing down the line.

The next wave looked even bigger. As I was the deepest surfer out, it belonged to me. I turned around and rose with the crest.

One of the rich kids from Santa Tecla took a couple tentative strokes, incredulous that a girl might catch the best set wave so far today. I shouted “¡Voy!” and fixed a stink eye on him. He stopped paddling and floated over the shoulder.

The mariachis played a minor chord and I made the drop. The face opened, broke top to bottom. It was big: double overhead at least. I took a high line and kept a lookout for the Mother Rock.

Through the first section, I pumped cautiously and built speed. The wave fattened up farther down the line. I unloaded a turn at the top of the lip, sending a fan of spray at one of the local guys. “Chinita!” he hooted. The wave re-formed for another speed section.

Some mix of instinct and guesswork took over. I pulled into the upper part of the face and crouched lower to my board. The lip turned sharp and silver. A land breeze blew mist backward off the wave. I stuck my front arm into the water, up to the elbow. A loud rumbling drowned out the mariachis. My feet shuffled forward on the deck, almost off the wax. I crouched lower, my free hand nearly pressed to the board’s nose.

With eyes turned upward, I watched as the lip reached over like a rainbow, covered me up, and touched down by my opposite rail. Surrounded by water on three of four sides, I felt a moment of woozy vertigo. The board wanted badly to creep up the wave and spin out inside the barrel. Only my body weight kept it down. I stood higher, hoping to pump up some speed. The top of my head hit water and I returned to a crouch.

I’ve had lots of in-and-out barrels before, quick cover-ups in hollow beach breaks. If asked, I’d have said, Yes, I’ve been tubed. But never like this: setting it up, stalling with a hand in the face, stepping forward as if in a surf film. This was no fluke. Barrels didn’t get any more legitimate than this one.

Afraid of going too deep, I took my arm out of the water. Through the almond-shaped eye of the wave, I saw more ocean, the pier, and—to my surprise—Ben paddling back out. He pumped a fist in the air and cheered at the sight of me. I smiled so hard, my ears popped.

I wished I could always see the world that way: from out of the inside of a wave, through a telescope of salt water, a swirling set of blinders that block out all the second guesses.

And then, a fraction of a self-satisfied second later, the whole thing came undone. My head was struck sidelong by a blast of aerated seawater. The wave closed out, with me inside, and soon I was spinning about underwater, connected to the board by nothing more than a rubber cord.

Back at the surface, Ben grinned a few yards away. El Salvador’s swell season was only beginning. The mariachis came together in a festive waltz.

Side by side, Ben and I paddled back out toward the lineup.

“Wave of the day,” he said.

I smiled and nodded.

“You were in that tube forever.” He laughed.

“Ben, I love you.” It was the first time I’d ever said that to him. Maybe it wasn’t the best moment. But something about the ecstasy and the power of that wave made clear the fact that I’d never have had the chance to ride it if not for him. I couldn’t hold the words in a second longer.

He smirked and said, “I love you, too, Malia.”

Another set loomed on the horizon. We stopped talking and sprinted for the outside.

We didn’t know then about all the troubles that were only a few months into our future. Back then, I didn’t know how hard I’d try to regain that view from inside the tube. Not just the quality waves—though I certainly would want to get those back—but also the perspective. I’d want my life to look the way it had for that too-brief instant before the barrel collapsed: fast, obvious, moving forward in one direction, with Ben at the center. In some ways, it’s what I’d always looked for in El Salvador: a small, safe space where I fit in, between layers of violence and gallons of water.


Copyright © 2014 by Tyler McMahon

Meet the Author

TYLER MCMAHON is the author of the novels Kilometer 99 (2014) and How the Mistakes Were Made (2011). He teaches fiction writing at Hawaii Pacific University and is the editor of Hawaii Pacific Review. He lives in Honolulu with his wife, food writer Dabney Gough.
Tyler McMahon is the author of the debut novel How the Mistakes Were Made. He received his MFA in fiction from Boise State University. His stories have appeared in Threepenny Review, Sycamore Review, and Surfer's Journal, among others, and he has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He is a professor of fiction at Hawaii Pacific University.

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Kilometer 99: A Novel 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I look at you sadly* no need to call me sir. Just call me Aragon, please.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Watched slightly amused
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Master, I am leaving to go with my brother Darkflame to the mountains of the north, and I will not return for I long time." ((I'm leaving the nook world for a while.))
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not anymore
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ha! I gtg too.GTGBBT