North Shore Escape Artists

by Daniel Nikulin

You’re reading Chapter 1 of our #BestTravelStoryEver series, featuring adventures from our very own Flighties! Catch up on the other chapters here!         

Peering over my shoulder from the backseat of my Charlie’s Cabs taxi, the busyness of Waikiki turned into a million twinkling little lights behind me, like a giant, well-lit Christmas tree. As I left the main drag and the dense parade honouring the 70th anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor, any leftover stress associated with the large crowds quickly left my body, almost instantly.

Coming up to midnight, the highway running north through the centre of the island was dotted with other escape artists like me, making their way from the bustle of the south shore to the much quieter and laid back north.

The majority of the tourists at this time of the year (Dec-Feb) are either flexible families looking for a low-season deal or surf culture enthusiasts, hoping to catch some of the world’s best in Billabong’s annual Pipemasters, a Triple Crown event. I came for the surfing and smartly pre-booked my accommodations to suit this fairly busy time.

Five miles east of Haleiwa, on the ocean-hugging Kamehameha Hwy, is 3 Tables Beach and the locally run Backpackers hostel, my cozy home for the next three days. I arrived quite late and was greeted by a waiting envelope marked with my name, a short message, my key and room number (and always, Mahalo!). Tired, I settled in for the night in one of the four beds in my large and clean private room. The idyllic sound of lapping waves proved its’ oceanfront location and I drifted away with the excitement of what I would see when I next opened my eyes.


The manicured, man-crafted Waikiki had morphed into a natural, rough and rugged beach. Volcanic bolders rested and jagged cliffs protruded to create lagoons and shallow, warm tidal pools. The California white sand imported for the hotel zone was now a Hawaiian gold, and I its only occupant. Well, besides Seth – a massive resting and completely photogenic sea lion. The air was misty with gentle rain and an early morning rainbow formed over the Pacific as it swelled off in the distance.

A five minute walk from my humble abode was the area’s Foodland shopping centre and the grossly popular Starbucks. Shrimp trucks and sandwich stands sporadically line the ocean road but with a fully equipped kitchen, I opted to forage in the grocery store instead, the local Kona coffee replacing Seattle’s venti Pike. Scattered east across the shore was beach after famous beach; Waimea, Three Tables, Shark’s Cove, Bonzai Pipeline, Sunset, and finally, Turtle Beach. Each easily accessible by a convenient bike trail spanning the coast, separating traffic from beach homes and sand dunes.


Under a palm canopy, I shared the trail on foot with locals on tired, single-gear bikes, one-handed cycling their surfboard to their favourite spot. Walking past beach house after beach house, many displaying a ‘FOR RENT’ sign, I pledged that my next stay here will be in one of these incredible typical homes.

A pleasant mile and a half through hibiscus and bouganvillea bush and I finally reached The Pipeline, Billabong’s home court. I was met by rows of spectators, contestants and photographers, two and three deep, all staring out at December’s 12 to 15-foot waves, in which floating men and women, locals and pro’s, waited for their turn to catch a monster.

Enveloped in a frenzy of navy, they were mere specks in the rolling sea, and appeared and disappeared as it saw fit. In my first half-hour there, two very competent surfers were visibly humbled as they made their way back up the beach to trade their broken-in-half boards for a fresh one-piece. Wow.

Those who managed to get up for a ride were immediately rewarded. Like bullets from a rifle, they disappeared and re-emerged from a spinning blue barrel that turned white as it crested and folded onto itself. The repeated spectacle drew jeers and applause from the well-entertained onlookers and I had no doubt about what I’d be doing tomorrow and the next day.


Professional surfing is a lucrative industry. A Triple Crown event, such as the Pipemaster,s pays the winner almost half a million dollars nowadays and brings out the best of the best from around the world. Vans also hosts events in these parts, and besides being a relaxing alternative to the loud and boisterous Miami Beach-like Waikiki, surfing and it’s culture has for years been the area’s undisputed niche.

Even after spending just a few nights here, I imagined that I was getting a pretty good feel for the real Hawaii and what its less visited islands might feel like. I returned to my room exhilarated, without having caught a single wave myself. I bid Seth the seal good night, finished my Longboard lager and kalua pork dinner and drifted off again.


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