Stepped out of manufactured oxygen on a 767 into Hawaiian air, heavy with water. It sends the signals up my brainstem, slow down and breathe. We navigated the usual trappings of airport travel until we finally are on the 99 to Haleiwa. Coming down the hill, I could see white caps and my pulse quickened. Rachel tapped my arm to pull my mind out of the Ocean and back to the road. The familiar arborous tunnel, the clucks, the deep and sticky sand of Eukai.
The last time I visited, I maintained a hyperfocus on Banzai Pipeline. This time, with locals as my guide I was blown away by the sheer diversity of bodysurfing waves. One of my first stops was Makapu’u beach park. A place I only knew from a beautiful section in Keith Malloy’s film Come Hell or High Water. I met Kanealii in the lot overlooking a picturesque setup. My camera became a victim to Makapu’u’s punishing shore pound and so I can only say… if you love hollow waves go there.
I spent the next few days skipping from north shore peak to peak with smaller swell prevailing. I sipped morning coffee and listened to living legend Larry Russo tell me about each wave. He didn’t know me from a Californian mountain goat, but his mischievous smile and unrelenting dedication to this hallowed ground made each morning’s story a pleasure. Mark Cunningham made a few appearances demo’n his patented outrigger riding style in less than perfect waves.
And as a seriously Northernly swell moved in, I tapped local wave expert and founder of Kaha Nalu Hawaii, Sean Enoka, to make the call. And call he did. After a short, beautiful ride I found myself in a coastal playground with crystalline water and a stoked crowd. The guys in the lineup hooted each other into gaping barrels while navigating the razor thin line between heavenly tubes and wrecked on the rocks. The session was amplified by seeing bodysurf charger and transplant from Southern California, Nick Menas, working the wave like a master.
With only a couple days left in paradise the locals decided to swim Waimea Bay. Looking out from the sand the crew started the long swim to Pinballs. They showed me how to use what Waimea gives and save my energy for riding. I can honestly admit a bit of intimidation. Looking for trees as lineup guides and keeping a careful eye on boils I watched the boys launch themselves into wave after wave. It felt oddly familiar, reminiscent of Killers. Finally feeling the fins beneath me I trusted my guides and training enough to pick a few waves off myself. I’m glad I did. The call was right again. Another session punctuated by a novel wave experience and inspiring visions of Sean, BK, Nick, Mel, Kane and others truly comfortable in an environment 99% of people would find utterly terrifying. The wave riding tribe abides.
Two weeks is but a scratch on the surface, a peek through the window of an island blessed. I still found time to take the solo swim and look into the Pacific’s grace. I take with me the aloha that felt like home just 3,000 miles away.