Surfing's Big Stage

Locals say you haven’t seen real surfing until you’ve visited the North Shore. Now is the time to go.

By: Marty Wentzel

NORTH SHORE, Oahu In the world of surfing, they say you haven’t made it until you’ve made it in Hawaii. If you live on Oahu, the locals agree that you haven’t seen real surfing until you’ve visited the North Shore.

It behooves visitors, then, to make the 45-minute drive from Honolulu to the North Shore during the winter months, when mammoth waves stand as high as 40 feet.

“There are very few places in the world like the North Shore, where you can find waves so big and so close to shore that they make the earth shake,” said Jodi Young, Hawaii surfing promoter and North Shore resident.

“We call the North Shore ‘the country,’ because we still have farms and unaltered landscapes, without any high-rise development,” said Young. “This time of year, it’s beautiful, green and thundering with waves.”

Each November and December, the world’s top-ranked surfers and best big-wave riders converge on the North Shore for the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing series, the grand finale to the annual international professional surfing season.

Scheduled this year from Nov. 12-Dec. 20, the series of events is free to spectators, and all of the contests provide excellent viewing opportunities from the beach.

On the days of competition, clients are sure to witness some hair-raising sights, said Young.

“The atmosphere is electric, the conditions for surfers are life-threatening and world titles and credibility are on the line,” she said.

Entering its 21st year, the Triple Crown is comprised of three men’s and three women’s events. The women take to the waves for the Roxy Pro at Haleiwa’s Alii Beach Park (Nov. 12-22), Women’s Pro at Turtle Bay Resort (Nov. 24-Dec. 7) and Billabong Pro in Honolua Bay on Maui (Dec. 8-20).

The men, meanwhile, challenge the waves in the Vans Hawaiian Pro at Alii Beach Park (Nov. 12-22), the Rip Curl Cup at Sunset Beach (Nov. 24-Dec. 7) and Pipeline Masters off Ehukai Beach (Dec. 8-20).

“Without a doubt, Pipeline is the king of all surfing venues,” Young said. “The waves are nothing but dangerous, barreling off like a pipeline over just two to three feet of water and gnarly coral heads. Coupled with that, the waves break just 50 feet off shore, so it’s like watching a movie screen in front of your eyes. The thrills and spills are always fantastic, as are the perfect tube rides that this venue provides.”

Each event within the series features a 10- to 12-day window, and competition takes place on the biggest and best days within that period. In Hawaii, clients can call the surf hotline each morning for the status of competition. It’s also posted first thing each morning on the Triple Crown Web site.

Even on the days when the competition doesn’t run, clients can find plenty to do on the North Shore. Haleiwa town is a bustling, rustic hamlet with boutiques, art galleries, restaurants and ocean sports outfitters. North Shore attractions include Waimea Valley and the Polynesian Cultural Center. Sports-minded visitors can hike, bike, ride horses and go rock climbing in the rural region.

Young shared some important tips for clients who want to watch one of the upcoming Triple Crown surfing contests.

“Don’t talk to surfers as they prepare for the competitions on the shore,” she said. “With their lives and careers literally on the line, tension levels run high.”

She emphasized that clients should check with lifeguards and heed signs on the beach when considering entering the ocean to surf or swim.

“It’s not uncommon in the winter time for ocean conditions to change dramatically in the course of just one or two hours,” Young said. “I’ve seen the ocean jump from flat to 20 feet in no time.”

As the place where surfing began centuries ago, Hawaii and particularly Oahu’s North Shore is a logical place for the end of the year’s pro surfing circuit, Young said.

“We can guarantee big waves during the months that competition is held,” she said. “The North Shore is a laid-back community where surfers can come and live for the two months of competition.

“Over the decades, legends have been made and broken here, and every competitor is out to prove themselves,” Young added. “This is the heart of the industry and the lifeline of the sport. If it matters, it happens here.”