So, what equipment will you need for your debut Hawaiian season?
Perspective: the author is an average surfer, with average fitness and a little big wave experience, but very little bravado. Nervous as fuck.
For my first trip to Hawaii I ordered a quiver of surfboards. They were all long and narrow pintails. I was going to be ready for massive Sunset, and big Haleiwa. I was gonna be brave. I was not going to back down from a session at Log Cabins or solid Backyards. I was going to have the right equipment and I was going to be in tune with that equipment, so that I would be able to charge the North Shore. This is what I told myself.
One of my younger friends had been to Hawaii before. He wasn’t that good a surfer, but he knew his way around big waves. His advice to me was to not take any big boards with me, to just take my usual small wave shooters. At the time it seemed like the most stupid advice I had ever received – go to Hawaii, the Mecca of big waves in the whole world, and just take your small boards with. I decided to humour the fool though, and see what his thoughts were. He had three basic reasons behind his thinking.
Traveling to Hawaii with big boards is difficult and is extremely expensive. As soon as you start going through American airports, they stop you and make you pay for every board for every stop. By the time you arrive at Honolulu your boards have cost you so much it would have been cheaper to buy boards in Hawaii. You still have to get your boards home as well, which will double the cost.
Buying boards in Hawaii is a good idea because the local shapers know what boards to make for the local conditions. Even if your shaper is the best in the world, nothing beats a local-shaped board for Hawaii. The waves in Hawaii are very different to anywhere else in the world and thus your boards need to be entirely different as well. Rather have one solid locally made board than a quiver of 5 boards made somewhere else.
There are piles and piles of good, cheap second hand boards in Hawaii. If you know what you are looking for, and you have the time to go and hunt, you will find a local board at an absolute bargain price. It might have a ding or two, it might be a bit heavier than what you expected, but you’ll find a gem amongst them all. Garage sales, surf shops sales, private on-the-beach sales and people flogging boards on the side of the road. There are hundreds of boards available.
He also mentioned that when the North Shore gets small, the waves are still amazing and you need your normal board for the conditions. Did I listen? Did I fuck.
I hacked off to Hawaii with my pack of new guns. He was right, and my boards cost a fortune. When I got there the waves were small for the first week and I spent all my time on the one small board I had brought along, wishing that I had brought a couple of really small, fun boards. I had the 6’4, my smallest board, when all I wanted was my 5’9.
Then the swell arrived. We woke up early, determined to beat the crowds. It was a north swell, and I knew that good old Laniakea would be rifling through like Supertubes. When we arrived we could see eight-foot lines reeling down the reef. We slipped out somehow without getting caught, and I was stroking confidently on my 7’6 machine.
I was in the perfect spot when a solid set wave appeared. I turned around and started paddling. A big Hawaiian guy said to me, “you got a wave brah,” and I jumped to my feet. I made the drop, got to the bottom of the wave and started easing into a bottom turn, and my board stopped going forward. It was like I was stuck in mud. I looked up as eight Hawaiian feet of water landed on my head.
I was sucked over the falls. I surfaced and was sucked over again. I hit bottom, and I got a few more on the head. Eventually I caught a whitewater in
“Big wipeout brah,” some guy said to me on the beach. “You ok?”
I nodded my head. He picked up my board. “This board is all wrong. Not enough foam here,” he said to me, pointing to the top of my board.
As quick as that my faith in my quiver was gone. I didn’t want to ride another wave on one of my boards and risk another wipeout like that. If memory serves me well, they are still under a garage somewhere near Waimea. All I did for the rest of that trip was borrow boards, or look under houses for boards that had been stashed there. I rode local boards, big, thick behemoth boards, with foam under the chest and thin tails, tapered rails. Boards that were refined, but kept their volume. Boards that paddled easily and let you catch waves nice and early, and turned cleanly off the bottom.
When you go to Hawaii and you’re an average surfer, all you want is a board that floats you nicely, gets you into waves with ease, and turns cleanly off the bottom.