By Dan Hamlin Photos: Craig Hamlin
Ever since I started reading surf magazines I wanted to go to the North Shore. It began as simply a desire to see the waves that filled so many pages of those magazines. I wanted to watch Pipe, Sunset, and Rocky Point, to see first hand the spots that had gained international fame in the surf world. I didn’t really think about the reality of seeing those waves up close and personal. I didn’t take into consideration what it actually takes to paddle out and catch a wave on the North Shore. But the lore of the most famous stretch of coastline in the world had taken a hold of me. And eventually I made my way across the Pacific to that seven mile miracle.
As I waited for my boards in the baggage claim of the Honolulu International Airport, I remember thinking about all the legends of the sport that had done the very thing I was doing, and wondered if they were as nervous as I was their first time on the North Shore. I leaned against the wall, looked around at all the people coming and going, all the people who wore floral print shirts, all the tourist group coordinators who greeted their guests with a very insincere “Aloha” and proceeded to place lei’s around their necks. I also realized that a large number of those around the baggage claim were surfers, and apparently headed to the same seven mile stretch of coastline I was headed to. I began to wonder if this relatively small stretch of coast could handle all these surfers. The reality of Oahu began to slowly sink in.
My first North Shore surf took place at the not so world famous wave of Pupukea. Pupukea (“Poops” for short) is a sand bar wave, and pretty soft by North Shore standards, so I figured it would be a good place to ease into my first North Shore experience. If you ever paddle out at Pupukea, you will probably notice a couple of things. First, that there are a lot of girls in the line-up and it seems almost all of them surf better than the average surfer. And secondly, that even though Pupukea is a “soft wave” it can still ring your bell if it so desires. There is nothing more humbling to the male ego than getting worked on the inside of “Poops”, while watching a girl throw the tail out. But male ego aside, everyone gets worked on the North Shore.
When the first real swell during my trip arrived, I went straight to Pipe…to watch. I thought about surfing, that is until I walked down onto the sand and saw the beastly wave up close. “Real Pipe” is quite a scene, but for good reason. Every wave out there is quite literally a life or death situation, and I realized very quickly that the shots I’d drooled over for years in the magazines looked a lot different when seen in real life. Those shots of perfect stand-up tubes that fill pages of magazines every year, usually require a 20 foot elevator drop to get into them, all while the offshore wind sends plumes of spray up the face. So after realizing I wouldn’t be paddling out to get my cover shot, I semi-sheepishly decided to head toward the Haleiwa vicinity where I was able to find a much more user-friendly wave.
My first trip to the North Shore eventually got cut short. I had paddled out to Gas Chambers one morning and was having one of the best surfs I’d had yet on the trip. Then, about an hour into the session, I fell on a wave and bounced off the reef with my foot. I paddled back out thinking the throbbing in my foot was nothing, but on my next wave, as I got to my feet, I realized I wouldn’t be surfing for the rest of my trip. The throbbing was from a nice, deep puncture wound which would require stitches. And that pretty much sums up my first North Shore surfing experience. If I could describe it in one word it would be “humbling.”
I’ve continued to go back to the North Shore for a number of years now. Along with all the punishment it has served me, I’ve also had some great moments there. But no matter how ready I think I am for what I’m going to encounter there, every year it continues to humble me. I continue to get pounded and held down, continue to come up gasping for air, and continue to have the ocean send me home with my tail between my legs. But one thing I’ve realized over the years is that it’s not just me, it humbles everybody that surfs there. I’ve seen the top guys on the World Tour get washed in right next to your average blue collar surfer. It may be for this very reason that the North Shore’s legend never seems to fade. It doesn’t matter if you’re a world champion, WQS warrior, big-wave charger, an average surfer, longboarder, shortboarder, or whatever else you may be; if you surf on the North Shore, eventually you will be humbled. The North Shore is just like that. But if you show respect, and stay within your limits, you just might get the wave of your life…at Pupukea.
Follow Dan at www.danhamlinwrites.com