Kew’s Corner: Unwashed In Aloha

I’m a cliché whore–figuratively, not literally. I bottom-feed off of familiar images, generic surf-speak, and iconic locations. Places that interest my mind’s eye, but bear little resemblance to something I yearn to add to my collection of passport stamps.

OK, I’ll admit it: I’m a lifelong surfer but I’ve never really been to Hawai’i. I’ve been to Honolulu twice, but that doesn’t really count. Yeah, I’ve ingested all of the stereotypes and glossy imagery: the pineapple fields, the black-sand beaches, Waikiki, Pipeline, Sunset, Waimea, the golf courses, the spewing volcanoes, the flower-scented trade winds, “brah, “haole, North Shore, “Blue Crush, Na Pali, plate lunches, Femme Nu, ukuleles… yada yada yada.

And, sure, I’m a haole Californian with simple access to large airports serving “the islands via dozens of daily flights. Yes, I’ve seen all of the photos and videos and films and magazines and coffee table books. I’ve seen 9,384 unpublished images, because everyone I know has been to the North Shore at least twice. And I’ve surfed California for 25 years and have traveled extensively in the South Pacific but haven’t bothered with the 50th state.

Why? you ask. It’s simple: I’ve already been there. Hundreds–perhaps thousands–of times…in my mind. And don’t tell me I’m the only person suffering from this Hawai’i Overdose Syndrome, due largely to surf magazines and videos, the staple material of my youth.

Some say Oahu’s North Shore is the best surfing area on our planet. I’d say it’s a marked obsession with seven epic miles of island coast, but not for good reason. Currency is the U.S. dollar, the lighting is perfect, the climate is mild, the water is warm, and the waves pump during winter–nowhere on Earth has so much film been burned on surfing.

But what about the rest of Oahu? Waikiki, Ala Moana, Sandy Beach, Pearl Harbor, the Bishop Museum. And the other main islands? I know nothing about the Big Island other than vague descriptions of its craggy, black lava reefs and funky waves. Lanai? Zilch. Kahoolawe? Ditto. Molokai? You’re asking the wrong person. Maui? Laird and Derrick ride some large waves at Peahi. Niihau? Hawai’ian tradition reigns free, and haoles ain’t welcomed. Kauai? I know that Titus is from there.

Media oversaturation can be a bitch. Do you really want to visit a place where thousands of other people go? Do you really want to be another sheep in the herd of tourists? Really, is there any reason to strike off of the beaten path and think about flying somewhere you know nothing about?

Well, when the waves are as good as they are in Hawai’i (so I’ve heard), I can understand why hordes of folks choose to live/visit and surf there. It looks like a nice place. An anomaly, for sure: there’s only one Hawai’i.

Sam George knows. Since 1967 he’s made dozens of Hawai’i sojourns, and he, in theory, as a previous editor of two surf magazines, can speak for our surf tribe. Few journalists in the surf world possess such observational acumen and astute surf education (Sam is a walking surf library), and he defines the Hawai’ian Experience concisely for those of us who remain Hawai’i virgins.

“Hawai’i will always be someplace special, Sam once wrote, “exerting a primal attraction that transcends the actual quality of the waves and the experience, existing in our collective imaginations as the still-beating heart of our ancient sport.

Maybe you’re there right now, or maybe you’ve got plans to check it out. Either way, Hawai’i’s all good. I just don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m in denial, like not going to see that new movie everyone’s talking about, or avoiding trends like stand-up paddle surfing–but, wait, didn’t that start in Hawai’i, too?

Like I said, it’s all good, and ’tis the season. Book a flight today, and tell ’em TransWorld SURF sent you.

Aloha.