Published on February 6th, 2013 | by Daniel Nikulin0
North Shore Escape Artists
Peering over my shoulder from the backseat of my Charlie’s Cabs taxi, the busyness of Waikiki turns into a million twinkling little lights behind me, like a giant, well-lit Christmas tree. As I leave the main drag and the dense parade honouring the 70th anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor, I feel any stress associated with large crowds quickly leave my body – almost instantly.
Coming up to midnight, the highway running north through the centre of the island is dotted with 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 north’s 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 am of the latter breed and have 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 arrive quite late and am greeted with only a waiting envelope marked with my name, a short message, my key and room number. And always, Mahalo! Tired, I settle in for the night in one of the four beds in my large and clean private room. The idyllic sound of lapping waves prove its’ oceanfront location and I drift away with the excitement of what I will see when I next open my eyes.
The manicured and man-crafted Waikiki has morphed into a natural, rough and rugged beach. Volcanic bolders rest and jagged cliffs protrude to create lagoons and shallow, warm tidal pools. The California white sand imported for the hotel zone is now a Hawaiian gold and I am its only occupant. Well, besides Seth; a massive resting and completely photogenic sea lion. The air is misty with gentle rain and an early morning rainbow forms over the Pacific as it swells off in the distance.
A five minute walk from my humble abode is 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 opt to forage in the grocery store instead, the local Kona coffee replacing Seattle’s venti Pike. Scattered east across the shoreline from me is beach after famous beach; Waimea, Three Tables, Shark’s Cove, Bonzai Pipeline, Sunset and finally, Turtle Beach. Each is easily accessible by a convenient bike trail spanning the coast, separating the traffic from beach homes and sand dunes.
Under a palm canopy, I share the trail on foot with locals on tired, single-gear bikes, one handed cycling their surf board to their favourite spot. Walking past beach house after beach house, many displaying a ‘FOR RENT’ sign, I pledge 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 reach The Pipeline, Billabong’s home court. I am 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, wait for their turn to catch a monster.
Enveloped in a frenzy of navy, they are mere specks in the rolling sea, and appear and disappear as it sees fit. In my first half-hour here, two very competent surfers are visibly humbled as they make their way back up the beach to trade their broken-in-half boards for a fresh one-piece. Wow. I mean, WOW! Those who manage to get up for a ride are immediately rewarded. Like bullets from a rifle, they disappear and re-emerge from a spinning blue barrel that turns white as it crests and folds onto itself. The repeated spectacle draws jeers and applause from the well-entertained onlookers and I have 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 Pipemasters 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.