What's it like to grow up in surfing's most intense wave zone?
No location in the world is more steeped in surfing folklore than the North Shore. Even if you’ve never been there you feel a connection to the place and the mythology that surrounds it. However, while it lives large in the imaginations of many and is a volatile proving ground for travelling pros every winter, it’s also home to a bunch of surfers. Wyatt McHale grew up on the fabled strip of Oahu, taking notes from John John, while trying to keep up with his own rat-pack of local prodigies.
Wyatt recently escaped his hallowed homeland to take part in a Tracks trip, where he impressed with his long-limbed punts and refined tube-riding skills.
Below he talks about growing up in surfing’s most intense wave zone.
You grew up on the North Shore. I guess you didn’t really have a choice but to surf heavy waves from a young age? Can you recall when you first started paddling out at waves like Pipe and Off the Wall?
Growing up on the North Shore you definitely get exposed to some heavy waves at a young age. I don’t remember the first time paddling out to Pipe or Off the Wall but I definitely remember the process of starting by paddling out and sitting on the shoulder and then slowly over time moving more into the spot on the bigger days. It's a process I’m still going through!
What about your first or scariest experience as a kid?
I remember one day I was pretty young and I paddled out to Pipe and it was pretty solid but not too big but I didn’t know that the swell was quickly rising. The swell started picking up crazy fast and next thing I knew it was third reefing and I was sitting way in the channel, too scared of getting caught inside. I ended up catching a wave and going in pretty much at Gums (section just up the beach from the Pipe left). It was super scary but I also remember being mesmerized looking into these huge barrels from the channel.
Did you have a brat pack of young surfers who were all pushing each other? Who was your crew?
Yeah definitely. I grew up surfing with guys like Noah Beschen, Barron Mamiya, Finn McGill, Makana Pang and a lot more, but I think we would always push each other and it has made me into the surfer I am today.
Do you think it helps to grow up on the North Shore in an era when John John is dominating? Does it make the pro surfing dream seem that little bit closer?
Yeah, John being so good is awesome and he is an amazing person for us kids from the North Shore to look up too. It is fun to just watch him surf and see how he goes about things. I don’t think anyone does it quite like him.
Every surfing zone has its unwritten code and hierarchy. Who you have to give way to, who to watch out for, who to hoot and who to stay quiet with. That whole game seems far more intense on the North Shore?
It doesn’t feel like much of a game it just seems like that’s always how it’s been ever since I started surfing. I feel like as long as you respect everyone you won’t have too many issues on the North Shore.
Is it strange to have an annual influx of travelling surfers arriving on your doorstep to chase glory? I guess you meet different people but it must also be challenging?
Yeah it is fun to have all the best surfers come to the North Shore every winter. You get to see who’s who and it’s a great time to prove yourself and make a name for yourself. But also it’s definitely nice when everyone heads home and there are a little less people around town.
Do you feel like it’s your job to get down there and jostle with the world’s best when they come to town? It must drag your surfing to another level?
I don’t see it as a job but it is fun to get in there with the best guys and try to hold your own. It is the best time of year to work on my surfing and to see where the level is and where I’ve got to be.
Do you have any little secret nooks you can escape to? You don’t have to name them.
I definitely have a few secret spots but I don’t think I can show anybody. :)
What about other hobbies on the Nth Shore? Are you a bow hunter or a spear fisherman? Or more likely to shoot hoops and skate the ramp?
Lately with my knee injury I have been doing a lot of prone paddling to stay active and in the water. But when my knee is better you can find me at the basketball courts most nights!
Does the raw power in the waves on the North Shore sometimes make it hard to appreciate other waves that lack the same juice?
I think it just creates a bigger learning curve when we go overseas and compete in these smaller softer waves. It also makes me appreciate home a lot more!
You ride Pyzels. Is it cool to be able to drop in to your shaper’s yard and check Rocky Point at the same time?
Pyzel is awesome and I have been getting boards from him for a long time now. He is a super cruisey guy and sometimes I can even order boards while we are out in the lineup waiting for a set!
You have been experimenting with shaping a few boards recently. What tickled your curiosity? Your dad also did some shaping?
Yeah I have made a couple boards with my dad! It is really fun to ride something that you have made and it makes you want to go back and make another board to correct your mistakes. My dad has been glassing boards for many years but he sure can shape a good board!
What about the summer times when it goes flat? Do you roam the island and surf the South Shore?
The south shore definitely has fun waves in the summer. Also my friends and I always hit the beach and make a day out of it even if there are no waves. You just can’t go wrong hanging out on the beach with friends!
You are a tall surfer (how tall) once upon a time that was considered a disadvantage but I feel like now it’s in vogue?
Yeah I just recently grew a lot so I am still adjusting but I feel that I can use my height to my advantage, especially at places like Sunset Beach!
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What’s next for Wyatt McHale?
Well, unfortunately, it sounds like I am headed in for a knee surgery sometime soon but I am looking forward to the journey and being able to surf again with no pain. Hopefully sometime late season this winter!