Driving up over the hill on the Kam Highway, flanked by muddy pineapple fields and Hawaiian pine trees, you wonder: How big is it… is it clean… how crowded is it? Will I nab the wave of a lifetime? Am I due for a big-wave beat-down?
Butterflys float in the gut as you crest the hill and then, BAM! – there’s the North Shore of Oahu doing it’s thing – whitewater on the reefs, south east wind blowing plumes of spray off the back of the waves…. its ON.
Our annual winter trip to the “seven mile miracle” looks to be well-timed this year. Light south-east winds blow dead offshore and consistent swell is lined up in the western Pacific. Scramble to the house, unpack the coffin, wax boards, slather sunscreen on my “haole” body, and jump in the car for the first of many surf checks in the coming week.
Ross Clark-Jones at Sunset --- Photo: W Lewis
Sunset is firing – double to triple overhead and flawless. Medium crowd, looks doable. Grab the 7’10” and jump in the rip. 15 minutes later, floating in the lineup, dodging the west bowl sets and trying to find my strategy. It’s big, and I’m under-gunned. Sit inside and take a few bombs on the head? Sit on the West and wait for the peaky ones? The pro’s are on it; Ross Clark Jones, Makua Rothman, Maya Gabiera, all taking off deep behind the peak. Maya sits deeper than the guys and grabs one of the biggest set waves of the day – when an old guy threatens to drop in on her, she roars like a lion and scares him off. My inside strategy works… and after some patience I’m racing the right hander towards the hollow inside section. The wave is long, fast, and has that magic Sunset power that makes the beatings, long paddle, and contentious crowd all well worth the trouble. Japanese tourists pull up in limos and take photos.
Back to cruising the highway, what’s looking good? Pipe is a zoo. Chambers and Logs are way too heavy. Waimea’s not breaking. The shorebreak is packed with people trying to break their necks. Ahh, what’s this? Super clean, overhead, and 2 guys out… we pick our way down to the beach and navigate the hellacious paddle out to Alligator’s. A maze of reef, with bulbs and death spikes sticking out, the timing is critical. Sketchy, but worth it. No damage to the board this time. Now we’re bobbing out in the lineup. The water is warmer than usual, the waves are fun, and the vibe is pure Aloha. Swell marches through, bowling into a nice peak, a few beautiful turns, and the wave peters out into the channel. North Shore, warm, sunny, 4 guys out during the “busiest time of the year.” Love the North Shore!
Nick Thomson at Alligator's
The days blur together – eat, surf, eat, surf, eat, sleep. Repeat.
Swell is bigger – much bigger. We park at Ehukai, and Pipe is macking. The lineup is packed with pro’s and the beach is packed with pro-ho’s. And photogs, hecklers, regular guys, surf industry wanks, crackheads, stray dogs, kids, hot girls, and fat people from Ohio. Sets cap on cloudbreak reefs and second reef is on. Guys scratch for bombs, getting in early and pumping towards cavernous barrels. We sit and watch – it never gets old, it’s a gladiator pit and it’s right there. Everything you hear is true, its heavy.
Crowd at Pipeline
Evan Valiere at 2nd Reef Pipe ---- Photo: W Lewis
Where to surf? Sunset is giant and out of control. Pipe’s too heavy. Waimea? Let’s cruise and look at the wierdo spots. Closed out. “Pull over. Thats the spot – Himalaya’s.”
Himalaya's --- Photo: Thomson
Big wave spot, wayyyy off shore. The butterfly’s come bubbling back. But it’s holding – bomber sets break out the back, off in the distance. We jog up the beach with our guns and enter the rip, which would be considered Class III water if it was a river. But it’s not, it’s the ocean, and it’s sucking us offshore – fast. Whoa! It’s big out here. A few guys bob quietly out the back on giant guns. The trades are putting a big sideshore chop on the wave face, but also providing a little ramp you can use to get into the beasts. I’ll sit on the shoulder to get situated. Creep into the takeoff zone. Line up the big tree with the white farm house. There it is – a swing set, the big left-hander walls and bends on the reef and I take off, deep and vertical drop, nice wall… long long wall. And then kick out and back into the rip for a quick return to the lineup, feeling good. A few sets later, I’m in the same spot and an even bigger bomb rumbles through. A late drop, but should be ok… ugh, ahh, stuck in the lip, the offshore wind stings the eyes and I’m cooked. Worst case scenario. Hung up in the lip of a breaking wave, I leap off my board and free-fall all the way to the trough. Here we go.. penetrate the water, and that sickening feeling as I rise back up in the face, and then it’s tumbling around inside the wave followed by a smashing and a hold down that goes on and on. When I finally pop up, dazed, the old guy in the channel smiles and says, “cartwheels in the barrel – nice!”
Time to head back to the Mountains.