For this surfing rite of passage it helps to have a few guidelines.
After a good couple of seasons on the rock, we have some hard-earned advice for any one going to Hawaii for the first time.
The best guidance I ever received before going to Hawaii was to spend as much time as I could in the pool, swimming laps, and in open water, swimming in the sea or canals. It was great advice, so after a few more years of North Shore trips, we made a short list of tips we would give to anyone venturing out there for the first time that knew nothing about what the place has to offer.
- Train by swimming, as mentioned. If you’re going to give it a go, you will most likely be doing some swimming at some stage, and either way, swimming does make you really fit. The North Shore is simply awash with currents, and you’re going to need a little bit of swimming endurance if you have to swim in.
- No matter how late the drop, or how impossible the section looks, always give the surfer who is up and riding the benefit of the doubt in Hawaii. If you do decide to go, and it’s the wrong decision, you could either be involved in a heavy and dangerous collision, or you could incur the wrath of a North Shore local, and both options are totally crap.
- Find a quiet place. There is a lot of noise in the houses on the North Shore for the surf season. If there’s not a party, there’s a barbecue, a team function, or a bunch of people hanging out and socializing. If you’re on the main stretch, you need to find a quiet little corner to sleep; otherwise you’re going to be mizz.
Pipe is a different beast when it comes to crowds and consequences. It's best to become familiar with other breaks before tackling Banzai. Photo: WSL/KEOKI SAGUIBO
- There are plenty of waves east and west of the seven-mile stretch. Some of them better than others, but always way less crowded than the main spots. Do some online research, check the wind forecasts, and head on out.
- As poké bowls explode all over the world and become the latest trending seafood dish and restaurant, the best place in the world to get the real deal is the Kahuku Superette, just a few miles east of Turtle Bay. It’s more of a grocery store than a restaurant, and you’re going to get your poke in a plastic bowl, but it is heavenly, and it always gets a 5-star rating on trip advisor for the poké.
- Talking of Turtle Bay, it is the best accommodation option on the North Shore, and it is good advice to try and get a room there, or a cabin on the edge of the golf course. It is a bit on the expensive side, but it is a fine establishment, and there are four waves right there for you to surf that are always totally uncrowded and loads of fun. None of the waves in the area are very heavy.
- If you decide to drive into the Backyards (Backyards is one wave back from Sunset) neighbourhood, just make sure that you obey the local ruling of 5-miles an hour speed limit. It’s pretty serious, and if you don’t stick to it you will get your self into big trouble. The locals keep check of every street there, and as a result everyone knows about the speed limit, and the kids can play in the streets and not worry about speeding cars. If you do go fast in this area you will definitely be confronted, and it won’t be comfortable at all.
- Watch out for the shorebreaks, and in particular the one at Sunset Beach. It’s one of those strange beasts that can be totally benign for the whole day, and then one freakish beast of a thing will grow out of nowhere and splat everything in its path. Note what happened to Tracks editor Luke Kennedy in 2010 when he nearly died. Watch here, and please note, the video is a bit of a gore-fest.
- Try not to overthink it too much, as there is so much to learn on the North Shore with regards to conditions, directions, dangers and locals. For example, Sunset Beach likes a swell from the north-west, north north-west and straight north, with different sections coming alive on different swells. Pipe loves a west swell, but when it is west, Backdoor becomes negligible. It takes years of experience to figure it out, so just follow someone who looks like he or she knows what they’re doing, and you’ll be fine.
Want to surf Sunset? Get a bigger board – bigger than the ones the Pros ride in the comps. Photo: WSL / FREESURF/KEOKI
10. The North Shore is flush with boards. Pro surfers sell off their quivers when they leave the island and many of them are available at Liam Macnamara’s shop at Shark’s Cove. You can hunt around for something a little cheaper, but still completely suitable, in Haleiwa. For the full experience track down the shaping details for one of the Nth Shore’s prominent shapers like Jon Pyzel, Jeff Bushman or Eric Arakawa and place the order before you go. A trip to the Sugar Mill, where many of the shapers are based, is a worthy experience. The reality is that the Hawaiian-based shapers have a real feel for the waves they are designing boards for – particularly when it comes to the bigger craft. If you want to surf waves like Sunset or big Laniakea, you will need a significantly bigger board. Waimea is another story all together.