Kawela Bay at Turtle Bay Resort // © 2015 Turtle Bay Resort
Feature image (above): One of Turtle Bay Resort’s top priorities is to get guests into the waves. // © 2015 Turtle Bay Resort
After a sunrise breakfast, I hopped onto a golf cart full of groggy writers awaiting a tour of Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu’s North Shore. Our driver, Mark “Skip” Taylor, wasn’t fazed by the early call time. He met us with a wide smile, his sun-bleached hair glinting in the morning light.
Despite being born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, Taylor talks story like someone who has never left Oahu. As an experience creator for Replay Destinations Inc., the hospitality management company tasked with reinventing Turtle Bay Resort, he has spent the better part of the past four years on-site, redesigning programming and permanent venues. The Replay team aims to turn Turtle Bay into an experiential and culturally grounded property — merely offering a pretty pool and rooms with views wouldn’t do the North Shore justice.
Until recently, though, there was a rift between the property and the community. For starters, the resort’s entry gate — among the first things removed upon Replay’s arrival — created an emotional and physical divide, though Turtle Bay’s beaches have always been public.
“The gate made everyone feel like persona non grata,” Taylor said. “Taking it down represents some of the most fundamental changes we’ve made: making it clear that locals are welcome here, and helping guests connect with locals, too.”
Beyond the gate, more than $45 million has gone into upgrading the resort’s rooms and venues. The Guidepost, a digitally enhanced experience center in the lobby, is a notable addition. Here, guests peruse adventure options on interactive screens and get suggestions from on-hand guides. Ever hungry, I asked one guide for a local shrimp-truck recommendation. He shared his personal favorite — Giovanni’s — and gave me step-by-step directions on how to catch a bus to the beloved roadside eatery.
The overwhelming number of on-site excursions makes The Guidepost an essential resource. Out-of-water activities range from helicopter and horseback tours to farm visits and seaside hikes. But the Replay team encourages all guests to embrace the waterman culture, whether it’s through a kayak tour of Kawela Bay, a surf lesson with the on-site Hans Hedemann Surf School or a self-guided snorkeling adventure in Kuilima Cove.
“Hawaiian culture is deeply tied to the water, so experiencing the waves is paramount,” Taylor said.
Back on terra firma, Surfer, The Bar is another new gathering place. Once the outdated Bay Club, this reimagined multimedia venue is a collaborative effort with Surfer magazine. The bar will host the publication’s annual Surfer Poll Awards and other large-scale events, but on a day-to-day basis, it is intended to be “the North Shore’s living room,” attracting locals and visitors with an island-inspired menu, live music and talk-story sessions with legendary surfers. The bar’s profits have more than tripled since its redesign. Taylor attributes that success to bar employees, including general manager and former pro surfer Chris Pirrone.
“At the start of the revamp, my biggest worry was finding the right people,” Taylor said. “You can build a great race car, but unless you know someone who can drive it, the results aren’t going to be very good.”
Of course, the results are better than good. In just four days, I listened to the incredible Paula Fuga strum her ukulele, turned ghost-white on my first helicopter ride and hiked a volcanic shoreline to the North Shore’s behemoth banyan tree. On my last day, green sea turtles swam below me as I paddleboarded in Kawela Bay. No wonder Taylor loves this place so much, I thought. If the North Shore was my second home, I’d wear a smile at 7 a.m., too.