Hawaii calls to us as a distant dream. These tiny jewels of the Pacific are as far from most of us as any other vacation destination can possibly be, yet their call captures millions of visitors each year.
Flights from the west coast make the trip in about six hours, and some fly straight to Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and Hawai’i (the Big Island). For most tourists, the first stop is Oahu, and its capital on the beach, Honolulu. Here you can find a stunning strip of high-rise resorts, lots of shopping, restaurants, and water sports. There’s kayaking, sailing, snorkeling, and of course, the sport of the Hawaiians – surfing. Many of these you can participate in with a few lessons, or as a guided activity.
For me, sports are more often something I like to watch, and none more than surfing. I guess being a boy from Brooklyn, and seeing “The Endless Summer” back in 1966, I’ve always dreamed of seeing the big waves sending surfers gleeefully through the tubes of sparkling blue-green froth towards the shoreline. I can still hear (and play on my electronic drum kit) the Surfaris’ “Wipe Out!”
You could watch surfers off Waikiki Beach, mixing novices (gremmies) with competent surfers from the lower 48, but the real action is on the North Shore of the island. Grab a Jeep from the rental pool, and head up towards Haleiwa, the town that starts the strip of legendary surf spots like Sunset Beach, the Banzai Pipeline, and my choice for watching: Waimea Bay.
Waimea isn’t a very long strip of beach, it’s a bay, hemmed in by a ridge and rocks mix, with a curve of silky sand in the middle. It’s just off the highway, so you can pull off the roadside (in slow seasons), walk down to the grassy areas or stay up on the ridge, and then watch the surfers off the point. They are always here, although in season from December to February, the higher wave crests draw the best of them.
It can be as mesmerizing as looking at the light pour over the Grand Canyon, or the mighty waters rolling over the Niagara Falls. I found myself saying over and over “Look at that one!’ Sometimes I’d be saying to my wife or my kids, sometimes just to myself. You want to jump up and down when a “double-overhead” wave crashes down after a good ride, or just bask in the glory of realizing you are at one of the great surfing viewpoints in the world, and just minutes from another!
Yep, right down the road lies the Banzai Pipeline, or just Pipeline as its called locally. The waves here are tighter, more curving, and more dangerous…the signs often warn off rookies. Just wait until you see up close those curls spewing out a blast of whitewater behind the surfers. The action here is closer than at Waimea, so the intensity of the experience is different (not necessarily better). I would be sure to see all the spots on a single day or multi-day visit.
If its multi-day, there is a place to stay up here – The Turtle Bay Hotel is a beautiful resort sitting atop an old volcanic point of land. It’s on the same Highway so it can’t be missed. If you’re not staying over, its still a great place to grab an exotic beverage and some island fruit. However, it’s not far back down to Honolulu if that’s your preference. There is also a newer resort area called Ko’Olina where some companies like Disney, and Marriott have built mega-resorts.
The other islands also feature surfing. One of the best is in Maui, at a place called Pe’ahi AKA Jaws. Here the wave is strictly for professionals, since a 25 foot high wave is not unusual here. Watching is more difficult though, because the wave is off a steep cliff side location. Years ago, I found out that if I drove through a pineapple field (not legally!), I could get to a great vantage point. I’m not only advising against it since it’s not legal, but I also don’t know if there is any access today. But a bit further up is Hookipa Beach which is unique in that it is a favorite of windsurfers, due to the way the breezes cut through there. It’s easy viewing…just follow the signs and crowds.
I love Hawaii. Yes, its far, and expensive. Yet once there, everything I’ve experienced tops any of my expectations. The weather, food, people, culture, and especially the sand and surf, have stayed with me longer than any other place. The only problem with Hawai’i is, once there, you’ll want to return…and there’s that long flight to endure. But you might get lucky and catch sight of those waves on approach…if the Surf’s Up!