The north shore of Oahu gets some of the biggest waves in the world during the winter months. I have always been fascinated by surfing and used to surf in Cornwall every summer as a teenager. Hawaii is the summit of the sport and the world’s best surfers gather there each winter.
So I was really keen to visit the famous surfing beaches as soon as we arrived in Hawaii. We are staying in Waikiki and it is a 50 minute drive to the North Shore. Thanks to jet lag we woke up early yesterday and got to our first stop the Banzai Pipeline before 8am.
By sheer chance we stopped for a coffee and bite near a little van called the “Dawn Patrol” and it was right opposite the access to the Pipeline break. The waves were smooth and big and already 20 people were out. The waves break on a shallow underwater reef and literally rise up and curl in beautiful symmetry when the conditions are right. However the waves are never predictable and half the rides end in a seemingly terminal wipe out. These guys have the experience and the fitness to take it and they know how to act underwater while taking a thrashing.
It would be suicidal for someone to swim out in big surf without years of experience. There are a few girls and some young teenagers out in these waves so it doesn’t really depend so much on physical strength but more on aerobic fitness – and just plain guts. I really am in awe of them and respect their dedication and love of the Ocean. They certainly don’t do it for the money – as there is none -except for the 10 or so top professionals.
There are really 3 main physically divided areas to the main part of North Shore – first is Waimea Bay which really is a bay with a river flowing out from a canyon.
There is a crashing shorebreak popular with kamikazee body surfers. Learning to relax and temper the thrashing from these waves must be a first step to big wave riding. When a giant swell hits Hawaii the biggest rideable waves hit the point of Waimea Bay. When we were there some waves of 12-15 feet were breaking and a couple of guys were out. However I have read that big wave Waimea Bay surf needs a 20 feet swell to break properly. A famous Big Wave event held in honour of a Hawaiain surfing legend Eddie Aikau, which this year is still awaiting the right swell.
Perhaps it will be tomorrow as I understand 25 foot waves are expected however with not so good weather conditions. Unfortunately we have to fly out tomorrow to Big Island Hawaii so I will miss it.
The second area is essentially a long beach with 4 or 5 world class breaks – Pipeline, Off the Wall and Rocky Point are the ones that could identify. Pipeline is the most extreme place with a crowd of surfers and some amazing breaking waves. Here is a video I took yesterday and it gets much bigger than this.
After the main area comes Sunset Beach which also is like a bay with its own well defined beach separated from the rest of the shore. To the left is one break and then the main big wave spot is far out on the right probably some 200 meters from the beach. Between the two is a fierce rip current which drags anyone foolish enough to go for a swim right out to the breaking waves.
For surfers it makes getting out easy so long as the waves aren’t too big. The beach itself is very beautiful, clean and with a huge expanse of sand. It is just extremely dangerous for normal people to go for a swim when there are big waves. One sight I shan’t forget is a young boy – probably just 14 years old going in to the water with his father – probably around 40 years old, to surf. The boy had clearly grown up in the water and had the confidence and the experience to surf 12- 15 foot waves – with his father to look out for him !
Below I add some of the best pictures I took yesterday from both places.