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Welcome to the North Shore: Where to Stay and Where to Surf

Posted on Fri, 2014/11/14 - 5:53pm by Jessica Gellert

FROM THEINERTIA.COM | BLOG WRITTEN BY ALEXANDER HARO | Oahu’s North Shore is something of a legend. It’s the Proving Grounds. The Seven-Mile Miracle. Whatever you call it, if you surf, you’ve either been there, dreamed of being there, or are planning a trip there.

It’s paradise, through and through. Hawaii in general is what you see on postcards: swaying palms, perfect sand, perfect weather, and perfect waves. Although Honolulu – and this is especially true of the Waikiki area – is inundated nearly all year around by tourists, the North Shore stays a little quieter. Keep the country country, as they say. Apart from the media frenzy that descends on Haleiwa every December, the North Shore moves slowly. Roosters complain loudly to each other in the undergrowth just off the bike path, scratching in dirt that, for some reason, is obviously Hawaiian. The Islands may be the only place on earth where, once you’re gone, a person misses the the dirt. Everything smells lush, and hibiscus and kukui float through the air.

The North Shore is just a fraction of Oahu’s coastline – 7 out of 112 miles, to be exact – but it holds some the world’s best waves. In one short stretch, world-class waves pour through, back to back, just a few steps in between each one. Powerful swells march across the Pacific, taking their time, gaining speed and strength while organizing themselves for their assault on the world’s most famous stretch of beach. And on the very northern edge of all that perfection sits the only resort in the area: Turtle Bay.

As the biggest resort on all of Oahu, Turtle Bay covers a sprawling 850 acres, with five miles of oceanfront and twelve miles of winding trails to wander. Every single guest room has a view of the ocean. If the North Shore is Hawaii’s President’s Suite, Turtle Bay is the feather bed in the suite. It’s the cherry on top of the best sundae you’ve ever tasted.

Chances are good that if you’ve booked a trip to the North Shore, you’re there for the surf. But some of the best parts of a surf trip can come from those moments in between sessions, and Turtle Bay has that covered. When you’re surfed out – and trust me, you will be – nearly everything you can possibly think of is on hand to take your mind off your aching shoulders and, if you’re like almost everyone else, a bit of a bruised ego. There are stables, salons, beach cottages, bars, a golf course, and some of the most amazing food that’s ever been on a plate.

As the only resort in the area, it has a few guiding pillars – in short, they run their business and promote cultural and environmental sensitivity. And they’re doing a damn fine job of it. They’ve created something called the Guidepost, which enables you to see the North Shore with some of the most experienced guides anywhere. Because the area isn’t one where you want to just paddle out without knowing anything about the waves, they’ve enlisted people like Buzzy Kerbox, Ross Williams, and Kala Alexander, just to name a few.

The resort is also the only one on Oahu that has its own preserved agricultural land which, especially in a place like Hawaii, is an important part of the culture. The preserved land gives guests a farm-to-table experience, using local foods, and honoring the North Shore’s ahupua’a, an ancient Hawaiian division of land stretching form the top of a local mountain down to the water’s edge.

And the best part about it? It’s all within spitting distance of those seven perfect miles. Let’s break down a few of the North Shore’s most famous of waves, shall we?

Sunset – Comprised of at least six different sections, Sunset works on nearly any storm swells from the northern Pacific. With a vast range of directions to choose from, swells from straight west to northeast bend around Sunset’s massive lava-rock reef, creating one of surfing’s largest playing fields. Sunset is one of those places where experience truly counts. Shifting currents and ever-changing peaks force surfers to be almost constantly paddling. Generally regarded as the world’s best wave in while surfing – in its present form, at least – was in its infancy, Sunset has attracted the world’s best surfers from the 1950s to today.

Rocky Point – Between Sunset Beach and Pipe, Rocky Point might just be the most photographed wave in Hawaii. Close to shore with a sharp, shallow reef, the Point holds both a right and a left, depending on swell direction, although it’s nearly always breaking both ways. The left prefers a west-northwest, while the right works a little better with a northwest. As Rocky Point is such a perfect set up for photographers, it often attracts a crowd looking to be noticed – surfers here can be a little more aggressive and “high-performance” here than many other places on the North Shore.

Pipeline – Arguably the most famous wave on the planet, Pipe has become a measuring stick for all other waves (and aspiring professional surfers). Often touted as the best barrel in the world, it was truly made famous by Gerry Lopez, whose casual style focused the attention of the surfing world to the wave. When a large west or northwest swell appears on the charts, the North Shore surf community collectively holds its breath in anticipation. Pipeline is usually thought of as the left, but Backdoor is sometimes included. Pipeline has three stepping-stones, of sorts. First reef is the closest to shore. At just under a hundred yards out, it delivers those thunderous barrels that shake the sand beneath awed spectators’ feet. Second reef starts to work as the swell hits around 12 feet, and often feather lightly, giving surfers more time to prepare for the wave as it works itself into a First reef frenzy. Third reef pipe is almost never surfed. A large, ferocious big wave break 300 yards offshore, it’s normally thought of as more of an indicator for swell size. But the occasional roll-in epic barrel has been known to make winter highlight clips annually.

Waimea Bay – If Pipeline is the most famous wave on the planet, Waimea might be a close second. Reacting to huge storms in the North Pacific from the autumn to the spring, Waimea doesn’t work until swell heights reach around 12 feet. Since the 1950s, when people truly started surfing larger waves, the Bay has been revered as the pinnacle of big-wave surfing. More recently, as larger and larger waves have been conquered, it has lost some of its popularity, but it will never lose its mystique. The drop at Waimea is the stuff of legends – near vertical when it reaches “real” size, or around 20 feet. Greg Noll’s historic 15-foot day there in 1957 was the world’s true introduction to the wave, and for years after, it was by far the world’s most famous big wave.

Haleiwa – Haleiwa is one of Oahu’s most incredible waves. Working from anywhere between three feet to fifteen, it sits just in front of the town of Haleiwa at the southern end of the seven mile miracle. As the waves get larger, the line up changes drastically – at around ten feet, it becomes a whole different beast than its fun, barreling, five-foot counterpart. Up to around fifteen feet, Haleiwa spins into the Toilet Bowl, a spectacular close out section. A strong current runs west/east, dubbed “the treadmill” by locals, and non-locals are often pulled way out of position. Though Haleiwa can be slightly more fickle than other waves on the North Shore, when it’s on, it attracts more people than nearly anywhere else. It has long been a cornerstone of Hawaiian surf contests, and along with Sunset and Pipeline, is a stop in surfing’s crown jewel, the Triple Crown.

Alexander Haro, The Inertia Managing Editor
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