Wandering the West
March 15, 2011
Living in landlocked states has fueled a personal interest in surfing. The big-wave surf contests on TV, guys like Laird Hamilton, and movies like "Riding Giants" have made me want to see the sport as a spectator. We finished a recent Hawaiian vacation with a three-day diversion to the North Shore of Oahu, which is nothing like the rest of Hawaii.
It’s a simple hour drive from Honolulu with simple directions I still managed to blow. Take the H-1 West to the H-2 North, which turns into the Kamehameha Highway which wraps around the North Shore. design and vote, those on the North Shore banned big hotels. They even banned little hotels. Housing along the shore is in private houses with shared kitchens and bathrooms. It reminded us of backpacking trips through Europe long ago, when our housing ran to hostels with shared kitchens and shared adventures with complete strangers across the table.
Our rental a room in a house that slept something like 50 was at Shark’s Cove in the heart of the North Shore’s seven-mile stretch of world-famous surfing beaches. The company we kept included a lot of Australians planning to stay weeks or months waiting for the perfect waves.
We didn’t find them the first day. The ocean was flat calm, a rarity for winter, when wave heights routinely run 10 to 25 feet high. It’s bone-crushing surf, where we landlocked skiers need to tread with extreme caution. But since the water was calm, we swam, snorkeled and waded from perfect sugar-sand beaches, all white against a deep blue sea and a shoreline ringed in palms.
We found the beach to replace our previous favorite beach at Poipu, on Kauai. Waimea Bay is a famed beach that I first heard about in a Beach Boys’ song. (Most everything I pretend to know about surfing originated in a Beach Boys’ song.) Waimea is a perfect bay with a beach maybe 300 feet wide, piled high in white sand. The surf break makes it one of the legendary surf hangouts on the seven-mile stretch. Further up the Kam Highway, Ehukai Beach has the perfect surf you’ve seen in surf films. Its most famous surf break is the Banzai Pipeline. On day two the wind came up, the Pipeline waves were running 10 feet small by Hawaiian standards but impressive to a mountain-town dweller and the world body-boarding championships were underway. Fifty or more body boarders sat on boards, bobbing up and down until the perfect wave, with the perfectly curled pipe, came along and the show was on.
On the tree-lined bike path down to the beach, trees had little shrines built into the branches honoring dead surfers. I wonder how many Wasatch cliff huckers would still jump if the hikes in were lined with shrines to dead skiers. But the beach was filled with photographers with long lenses and the show was on.
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I always thought body boarding was for kids and tourists, but these riders, many of them Australian, did amazing aerials on top of, on the down slope of, and inside the pipeline of the North Shore’s waves. I could have watched all day.
Besides a lack of actual hotels, the other charmingly funky aspect of North Shore traveling is the lack of actual restaurants. The few we found were in the town of Haleiwa, at the start of the seven-mile stretch of beaches. Beyond town, food comes from shrimp trucks colorfully painted delivery trucks and RVs that clearly haven’t moved in years. The shrimp trucks serve amazingly tasty plates of shrimp in a dozen styles, served up with a side salad and ball of rice for about 10 bucks. My favorite was Fumi’s Kahuki Shrimp Truck, permanently parked next to a shrimp pond north of Turtle Bay. Can’t get much fresher shrimp than that.
For higher-dollar vacationers there’s one luxury resort with fancy golf courses at Turtle Bay, and for those with kids there’s the Dole Plantation where you can learn all things about pineapples, ride a pineapple train, run through a pineapple maze and eat pineapple. They also might like the Polynesian Cultural Center, an LDS Church-owned theme park about all things Hawaiian.
For me, a bed in a private house, a shared breakfast with Aussies, a plate of garlic shrimp, a nice beach and a live surf show at the Banzai Pipeline is entertainment enough.
Writer, filmmaker and author Larry Warren has made the West his beat for the past three decades. He is the general manager of KPCW.