Urban Surfing: Honolulu, Hawai’i

If you think about it, surfing’s natural world isn’t supposed to mix with concrete and confusion¿it’s perceived as a suburban sport. The demand for quality waves forces dedicated surfers to travel to remote places, miles away from the nearest McDonald’s. But what we fail to recognize is the fact that industries such as shipping and tourism forced many of the world’s metropolitan cores to thrive in coastal regions. Therefore, we have this overlooked phenomenon called urban surfing. Honolulu’s one of these places. Not only does it have a population well over one million, but the city and its neighboring islands’ beauty entices tourists to converge from four continents¿North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. As a result, the birthplace of the sport has become a victim of inward and upward sprawl. It’s this sprawl that provides the scenic backdrop for familiar spots like Kaiser’s, Three’s, and Ala Moana. In the 70s these breaks were small-wave performance centers for guys like Larry Bertleman, Mark Lydell, and Louie Ferreira¿all who pushed progressive slashing. Today, surfers from all over the Islands still go to Honolulu, but they seem victimized by the problems that have gotten worse with time, such as parking and crowds. To understand it, we enlisted three different voices¿Jason Shibata, Rik Iaconnetti, and Pete Johnson¿to give you three different viewpoints. Enjoy the tour.¿A.C.

Pete Johnson Simply put, “Town sucks.” Town being the South Shore of O’ahu, and surfing there really sucks. First of all, the surf in Town rarely gets over four feet¿some spots barely generate enough energy to push you and your surfboard along. Town is also the center of surf hype. It does get sunny and blue, so you’ll probably see some misrepresentation in this magazine¿a photo of a surfer enjoying a beautiful wave all to himself. Don’t be fooled, because that’s rarely the case. When there is a swell, everybody and their cousin knows about it. There’re surf reports on the TV news, Internet, pagers, radio, phone surf lines, word of mouth¿you name it. Not to mention, a population of one-million people actually live in front of the surf. The end result is a max-capacity mixture of locals, traveling surfers, tourists learning to surf, canoes, jet skis, boats, Boogie boards, and longboards aggressively striving to get a wave all to themselves. If you live on the North Shore, or anywhere besides Town for that matter, your Honolulu surf experience goes something like this: You hear that the surf is four to eight feet. Simply divide the wave height by two, and add one, which means the surf is three to five feet in town. So you load up your car with your wave-starved friends for the long, hot journey. (You rarely need to pack anything larger than your smallest board, or perhaps a fish.) You know you’re getting close to Town when you start hitting traffic. Some people don’t think there’s traffic in Hawai’i, but Honolulu traffic can rival that of Los Angeles, California. You make it through the traffic, and now you have to find the elusive “parking space.” Often times you’re forced to risk a ticket or a tow by double-parking. The actual Town surf check usually starts at Ala Moana Bowls. This is probably one of the most competitive lineups in the world¿lots of grimacing, angry locals, and the talent level is very high. Unless you want your photo taken, you should avoid this spot at all costs. To the right are the spots Tennis Courts, Concessions, and Big Rights. These spots somehow attract a lot of bodyboarders and longboarders¿very frustrating. To the left of Ala Moana is Kaisers and the rest of the Waikiki surf spots. The heart of Waikiki has it all¿lots of big boats and eye candy. Sometimes it’s entertaining to surf here just for the full “Waikiki Experience.” Further down the beach you run into surf spots like Publics, Rice Bowls, and Suicides. At Rice Bowls and Suicides you y have to put up with the weight-lifting crew from the Outrigger Canoe Club. You end up having this surreal surf session with a bunch of people who can’t surf very well but are catching more waves than you because they’re in such great shape. Because of all this, you’ll probably end up driving further down the coast toward Diamond Head, which is usually bigger in wave size but gets hit hard by the wind. Surfers there share the lineup with turbo-charged windsurfers who aren’t afraid to see just how close they can get to you. You then drive farther to Portlock. It also gets blasted by wind and high tide. The morale of your crew is sinking. Inevitably, you end up sucking it up, driving back to Ala Moana, and paddling out, realizing that there’s a good chance you’ll either get run over by a longboarder or get into a fight with an angry man. But other than that, Town is killer. You should check it out.

Rik Iaconetti Freedom of choice, or freedom from choice¿which is easier? On the surf-laden island of O’ahu in winter and summer, the answers become obvious to the student of the surfing lifestyle. Winter is simple, obvious, and has in-your-face surfing. Summer, on the other hand, is sublime¿filled with side alleys and distractions. Less obvious are the realities of summer and Town. First, what is Town? Simply defined, true Town is located between Diamond Head and Honolulu harbor. Ground zero is the famed Ala-Mo bowl, where the main boys park down at the end of the Ilikai entrance boat dock, and everyone else, the Kaisers and Rock Pile crew, park in the big lot in front of the Ilikai. Direction is noted as such: In Hawai’ian style, Mauka means toward the mountain or mountain side, and Makai means on the ocean side. Diamond Head is east and Ewa is west. Take notes, there’s a quiz later. Next up is the Magic Island. Ala Moana Park surf areas are punctuated by the spots Big Rights and Courts. Heading farther Ewa is Kewalo’s¿a private sanctuary of the Kalihi Valley crew and where the full underground begins¿and all points west. Moving the opposite direction, Kaisers is in Waikiki. It’s full of interesting, and at times, perfect sections on the right tide and swell. Then there’s Old Man’s, Rice Bowls, Tongg’s, and then there’re a few eastbound underground spots ’til you reach Black Point. Wintertime at night is all about house parties and little discreet gatherings, with the odd weekend jaunt to Haleiwa Joe’s. Town is an altogether different species at night, more like “What’s your pleasure?” Eighteen-and-over night spots abound like forbidden fruits on the limb¿tempting and dangerous. Town has less sponges, but more longboarders¿which is worse? Shortboarding in Town is an acquired taste, so there’re certain rules to remember, like, “Don’t surf Big Rights between 8:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.” Unless, of course, you enjoy watching a bunch of old guys paddle around you, catch every wave, and go straight down the line. Another rule to remember is “Don’t surf Point Panic if there are any bodysurfers in the water.” Unless you enjoy getting pounded by the football-player-sized guys who hang out there. Town is all about deception. The surf’s deceiving and the crowds are ridiculous, so you must be clever and find your little slivers of tide, time, and place that offer up jewels as a reward for your search. You must decide and act quickly to score¿delay, and it’s over. Town is all about tides¿the subtle nuances of tide-swell are as complex as a Biophysics equation. Low tide is a killer, a full-on swell can appear D.O.A. at most spots unless you know where to look, and catching it at the precise moment of tidal swing can make or break the session. The players: At the top of the All Time Hall Of Fame roster is Gerry, as in Gerry Lopez. An honest to god true Town surfer who conquered the world, and The Banzai Pipeline. But most Town surfers stick to Town. Why, you ask? Because they like it. Town’s fun, they’ve got the waves wired, and it breaks almost all year. They live there, so they only need a small quiver (at most) to have it covered. Each spot has its heavy crew who own it¿drop in on ’em and you’ll get beaten like a dog, but rarely does a Town guy move around¿they stick to their spot like glue, so learn to be flexible. Reuben local heavy is another Town surfer of distinction, following in the Bertleman/Buttons tradition of Afro-haired shredding. Speaking of Bertleman, he has to be just a whisker behind Lopez. In fact, if we’re talking about best Town surfer of all time, my vote goes to Bertleman. His switch-foot in-the-tube, ass-drag, backside bottom turn to vertical attack was all-time! Town’s all about small surf, with the new, just for Hawai’i, wave-face measuring system. It fully faked out everyone at the start this summer, but we all got used to it quick. Like last year, three to five foot on the report meant Hawai’ian three to five foot. Well, that’s no more, because now it means only one to three feet.Adapt. Evolve. Survive! Parking. What parking? Unless you’re at the beach at 5:00 a.m., there’s no parking, but that’s when low tide is so it’s usually junky anyway. Leave and forget about ever getting another parking spot that close again.

Jason Shibata”Eh, go run over dea and stand in dat stall¿save ’em, uh!” Is what I screamed to Fred as we were trying to go surfing at Ala Moana Bowls. It had taken us 45 minutes to finally get this parking spot. The waves were only two to three foot, but after that 40-minute drive from Pupukea on the North Shore, anything looked good.

Uncle Kimo: “Hey, boys! What you guys going? You guys going surf or what?”

Fred: “Eh, Uncle Kimo. What? Choke guys out there, uh? What worth it or what?”

U.K.: “No worries. Only longboarders and sponges. You guys going have plenty fun.”

Jason: “You surf yesterday, Uncle? Was bigger or what?”

U.K.: “Yeah, had way less guys and was bigger, too.”

Braddah Walter: “Yeah. Get so many haoles out thea today. What, get contest or somting?”

Fred: “Nah, it’s not that bad out there is it?”

Jason: “Who cares? We’ll still have fun¿just catch the good ones.”

(This was the first thing that came to mind when I thought about urban surfing in Hawai’i.)

Almost every surfer’s dream is to go to Hawai’i once in their life to see what things are really like. Hawai’i is everything you see in the magazines and the videos, but you know what? It’s more. Hawai’i is unexplainable¿the vibe you get from aloha spirit is unfathomable. The smiles you receive from kama’aina (locals), and the beautiful, white-sand beaches are priceless. Although, Hawai’i is only a good a place as you make it. When you hear of Hawai’i, you usually thinks of the North Shore of O’ahu¿surf spots like the Banzai Pipeline, Sunset Beach, and Waimea Bay, which are famous for their fifteen-foot-plus waves. To get a good idea of what Hawai’i’s like, imagine the beautiful scenery seen in Hawaii 5-0, and take away the Baywatch comedy. Nevertheless, like anywhere, you’ve got your positives and negatives. From my standpoint, I want to highlight the good things about urban surfing in Hawai’i.When you think urban in Hawai’i, it’s the South Shore of O’ahu you’re probably thinking of. There you can find everything you possibly need, plus there’s a large variety of surfing spots for all surfing skills¿from first-timers on a board to world-class professionals. The difference in surfing in Town versus the Country isn’t the wave strength or quality, it’s convenience. Parking is endless¿if you know when, where, and what to look for. It takes a little while to find a spot due to the large masses of surfers and beachgoers, but parking is close and abundant. You can always come into a nice fresh shower and rinse off. You don’t need to bring your own bottles of water as if you were surfing Lani’s on the North Shore. Who’s hungry? No worries, you fun, they’ve got the waves wired, and it breaks almost all year. They live there, so they only need a small quiver (at most) to have it covered. Each spot has its heavy crew who own it¿drop in on ’em and you’ll get beaten like a dog, but rarely does a Town guy move around¿they stick to their spot like glue, so learn to be flexible. Reuben local heavy is another Town surfer of distinction, following in the Bertleman/Buttons tradition of Afro-haired shredding. Speaking of Bertleman, he has to be just a whisker behind Lopez. In fact, if we’re talking about best Town surfer of all time, my vote goes to Bertleman. His switch-foot in-the-tube, ass-drag, backside bottom turn to vertical attack was all-time! Town’s all about small surf, with the new, just for Hawai’i, wave-face measuring system. It fully faked out everyone at the start this summer, but we all got used to it quick. Like last year, three to five foot on the report meant Hawai’ian three to five foot. Well, that’s no more, because now it means only one to three feet.Adapt. Evolve. Survive! Parking. What parking? Unless you’re at the beach at 5:00 a.m., there’s no parking, but that’s when low tide is so it’s usually junky anyway. Leave and forget about ever getting another parking spot that close again.

Jason Shibata”Eh, go run over dea and stand in dat stall¿save ’em, uh!” Is what I screamed to Fred as we were trying to go surfing at Ala Moana Bowls. It had taken us 45 minutes to finally get this parking spot. The waves were only two to three foot, but after that 40-minute drive from Pupukea on the North Shore, anything looked good.

Uncle Kimo: “Hey, boys! What you guys going? You guys going surf or what?”

Fred: “Eh, Uncle Kimo. What? Choke guys out there, uh? What worth it or what?”

U.K.: “No worries. Only longboarders and sponges. You guys going have plenty fun.”

Jason: “You surf yesterday, Uncle? Was bigger or what?”

U.K.: “Yeah, had way less guys and was bigger, too.”

Braddah Walter: “Yeah. Get so many haoles out thea today. What, get contest or somting?”

Fred: “Nah, it’s not that bad out there is it?”

Jason: “Who cares? We’ll still have fun¿just catch the good ones.”

(This was the first thing that came to mind when I thought about urban surfing in Hawai’i.)

Almost every surfer’s dream is to go to Hawai’i once in their life to see what things are really like. Hawai’i is everything you see in the magazines and the videos, but you know what? It’s more. Hawai’i is unexplainable¿the vibe you get from aloha spirit is unfathomable. The smiles you receive from kama’aina (locals), and the beautiful, white-sand beaches are priceless. Although, Hawai’i is only a good a place as you make it. When you hear of Hawai’i, you usually thinks of the North Shore of O’ahu¿surf spots like the Banzai Pipeline, Sunset Beach, and Waimea Bay, which are famous for their fifteen-foot-plus waves. To get a good idea of what Hawai’i’s like, imagine the beautiful scenery seen in Hawaii 5-0, and take away the Baywatch comedy. Nevertheless, like anywhere, you’ve got your positives and negatives. From my standpoint, I want to highlight the good things about urban surfing in Hawai’i.When you think urban in Hawai’i, it’s the South Shore of O’ahu you’re probably thinking of. There you can find everything you possibly need, plus there’s a large variety of surfing spots for all surfing skills¿from first-timers on a board to world-class professionals. The difference in surfing in Town versus the Country isn’t the wave strength or quality, it’s convenience. Parking is endless¿if you know when, where, and what to look for. It takes a little while to find a spot due to the large masses of surfers and beachgoers, but parking is close and abundant. You can always come into a nice fresh shower and rinse off. You don’t need to bring your own bottles of water as if you were surfing Lani’s on the North Shore. Who’s hungry? No worries, you can have anything from plate lunches, McDonald’s, and Kua Aina¿yup, there’s even one Kua Aina in Town these days. So what’s up now? Surfing Ala Moana doesn’t sound that bad after all, now does it? You’re probably thinking, “With all of this available parking, doesn’t that make it vulnerable to crowds and all kinds of surfers?” Well, you’re completely right, but that’s what should make surfing in Town so fun¿meeting all sorts of new people from all over the island and even the world, if you’re lucky.If you’re a beginning surfer, then the waves in Town are perfect for you to start progressing to the bigger and better stuff. If you ride a longboard, then no worries, there’re spots for you ranging anywhere from Diamond Head, Waikiki, Publics, Pops, and Threes. And for all you shortboard junkies out there who like progression and high-performance ripping, you can’t go wrong with any of the spots between Kaisers, Rockpiles, Bowls, Big Rights, and Kewalos.For a little self-training in the weaker and mushier waves that the North Shore doesn’t provide, you can count on spots like Ewa Beach, Barbers Point, Sand Island, or even Diamond Head. Plus, it’s who you know and where to look to get those secret sessions where there’s no one out and the waves are firing.The aspects of urban surfing in Hawai’i are just as good as those on the North Shore, if you put it in the right perspective. A good surfer can make the best out of any given wave condition. Who knows? You could meet your next best surfing partner while surfing Town.you can have anything from plate lunches, McDonald’s, and Kua Aina¿yup, there’s even one Kua Aina in Town these days. So what’s up now? Surfing Ala Moana doesn’t sound that bad after all, now does it? You’re probably thinking, “With all of this available parking, doesn’t that make it vulnerable to crowds and all kinds of surfers?” Well, you’re completely right, but that’s what should make surfing in Town so fun¿meeting all sorts of new people from all over the island and even the world, if you’re lucky.If you’re a beginning surfer, then the waves in Town are perfect for you to start progressing to the bigger and better stuff. If you ride a longboard, then no worries, there’re spots for you ranging anywhere from Diamond Head, Waikiki, Publics, Pops, and Threes. And for all you shortboard junkies out there who like progression and high-performance ripping, you can’t go wrong with any of the spots between Kaisers, Rockpiles, Bowls, Big Rights, and Kewalos.For a little self-training in the weaker and mushier waves that the North Shore doesn’t provide, you can count on spots like Ewa Beach, Barbers Point, Sand Island, or even Diamond Head. Plus, it’s who you know and where to look to get those secret sessions where there’s no one out and the waves are firing.The aspects of urban surfing in Hawai’i are just as good as those on the North Shore, if you put it in the right perspective. A good surfer can make the best out of any given wave condition. Who knows? You could meet your next best surfing partner while surfing Town.