Hawaii. The ultimate destination for surfers.
My addiction started during my first quick visit in October 2012 and ever since it’s been my dream to go back to Oahu during the Pipe Masters. And here's why...
I was expecting a bit of jetlag with the 11 hour time difference between Amsterdam and Honolulu, but as soon as I hit the ground, the aloha-spirit immediately vaporized my jetlag. You feel it anywhere you go in Hawaii. First things first, I headed straight to the Waikiki waves for some mellow surf sessions. Then I checked in at the Backpackers Hostel and Plantation on the North Shore the day before the competition.
Accommodation is a challenge on the North Shore. There are no hotels except for the pricy Turtle Bay Resort, no official campsites and only 2 hostels. If you’d like to stay in a hostel, make sure you book early. They’ll be fully booked months before the competition. If you’re traveling with a group, try to rent a house in or near Pupukea and make these arrangements as early as possible to be able to find anything affordable.
The Pipe Masters isn’t just one of the stops of the World Surf League, it’s also the grand finale of the entire season. The 2014 finals were something special, since there were 4 contesters in the race to become world champ. Gabriel Medina led the points ranking, but Mick Fanning, Kelly Slater and John John Florence still had a chance to finish in the top spot. The excitement of the event was palpable everywhere on Oahu’s North Shore.
There’s something special about this place. It lives and breathes surfing in December. 'The seven mile miracle' is a perfect nick name for it. Even though there is little to do other than water activities and hikes, the North Shore is heaven. Beautiful beaches, countless surf breaks, snorkeling areas, a bike path, skate park, cheerful people. What more do you need….?!
Well, food and music! There are few but good options for those. For food you go to Foodland, Ted’s Bakery or one of the food trucks along the main road, and for music and evening activities you can go to Turtle Bay Resort’s Surferbar. Since there are only these few options, you’ll find yourself at the same spots as the pros. Even for me, as a down to earth Dutch girl, it’s hard not to get excited about standing in line for a sandwich in front of Mick Fanning, watching a movie with Gabriel Medina (and 100 other people) and receiving a shaka from Freddy Patacchia Jr!
During the comp, no matter where I went on the North Shore, the main topic was who would win the World Tour and who would win the Pipe Masters. An Airbus packed with excited Brazilians seemed to be flown in to cheer for Gabriel Medina, yet there were still enough people on shore supporting all the other contesters.
Even lay days were exciting. At any surf spot, you’re likely to see some pros free-surfing and pulling off some mad tricks that they wouldn’t do during the competition. The Pipe Masters normally runs pretty fast, in the previous few years, the final rounds were mostly surfed in the first week of the scheduled period. This made me a bit nervous because I had to go to Waikiki on the 12th of December for the weekend. I checked in at a luxury hotel, the Wyndham Royal Garden to give myself a treat and prepare for my big challenge: The Honolulu Marathon on the 14th of December.
The Honolulu Marathon runs yearly on the second Sunday of December. It starts at 5:00am with a fire work show to launch the 42 kilometer run. I had been training for the marathon for almost a year and had been raising money for the Dutch Association of Huntington's disease. Huntington's disease is an inherited disease that affects certain parts of the brains . It is expressed in involuntary (choreo) moves slowly worsen and a variety of psychiatric symptoms, including personality changes and mental deterioration. There’s no cure for the disease or even ways to slow it down, and because it’s quite rare, there is no commercial interest in the discovery and development of treatments. My sister's best friend has the disease and I was happy to try to make a difference by raising money and awareness by running the marathon. The collection box is still open if you want to chip in http://www.justgiving.nl/en/honolulu-marathon
So I did my bit and managed to run the 42 kilometers in under 5 hours. It was a tough challenge and I was happy it was over! And when I came back to the hotel I was even more pleased to find out from the bell boys that a lay day was called at Pipe. So I didn’t miss a thing!
The people in Hawaii are lovely. Everyone is so friendly and always smiling and willing to help you out. I got lifts around the island (which was a blessing for my sore legs after the marathon). I had my first couchsurfing experience as a guest instead of host. Couchsurfing.org is an international online community where you offer your couch to travelers to stay while they are traveling (for free) and you can look for free couches to crash on during your own trips. My host was great. Not only did I get a really comfy double airbed on his porch, he was a great chef and tour guide to, showing me a secret skate spot. Sorry, not allowed to divulge any more than that.
When I went to Haleiwa I met up with Doug Falter, a surf photographer who moved to Hawaii to follow his passion for surfing and photography. Over the years he’s become a good friend of Thrillseeker and supplied us with epic pictures that we often share on our site and social media and even our very first flyer. His work is amazing. He showed me some of the pictures he shot just before we met up to have a burger and he has recently opened up a gallery. Make sure you check it out when you’re on the North Shore and get a regular fix of his great work on his Facebook page and website. Here's a pic of Doug and I catching up for lunch.
Due to the amount of lay days during the scheduled competition period, I found some time to explore the surroundings and went to Haleiwa by bike. Haleiwa offers some shopping, galleries, bakeries, restaurants, and if you go just a few miles further, you can’t find the best coffee on the island at the coffee factory. I highly suggest a visit.
Between December and March, whales migrates past Hawaii and you can catch a boat from Haleiwa harbor to go whale watching. My couch surfing host's friend works on one of the boats, so in exchange for me cooking a nice dinner, we joined him and saw some whales spray and even a whale's tail. No impressive jumps unfortunately as it was early in the season.
By that time it was ASP World Tour finals time and the beach in front of the Banzai Pipeline was packed with extremely excited surf lovers. When Gabriel Medina won heat 5 against Josh Kerr and became the 2014 champion, all the Brazilians went mental, including Gabriel himself. Yet there were still two competitions to finish, the Pipe Masters itself and the Vans Triple Crown. Even though Medina wasn’t in the race for the Vans Triple Crown, the challenge of taking out the Pipe Masters was calling him back into the tube. Medina kept performing on top level in the semi finals and got into the final with Julian Wilson. But Julian put it all on the line and proved he can perform under pressure and took out the Pipe Master and the Vans Triple Crown during the last few minutes in a heated battle between him and the world champion. And from then on, it was a party time everywhere! On the beach and later that evening in Surferbar. Some of the contestants celebrated their victories, some drowned their sorrows and danced it out. In case you’re wondering, Mick Fanning takes the trophy when it comes to drunken dancing.
Oahu’s North Shore is impossible not to love. The scenery is gorgeous, the surf is fabulous, the aloha-vibe is contagious and everything you could ever need is there.
In the surfing world Honolulu and Waikiki are generally known as places to avoid while in Hawaii, but I have a special place in my heart for Waikiki and that side of Oahu. Yes, it’s crowded with haoles (Hawaiian word for non-native Hawaiians), tourist, honeymooners, homeless and even more cars than official registered people, but it’s still a fun place to visit. Even if it would only be to get that famous picture of The Duke’s statue, it’s worth the time.
The benefit of a touristic spot like Waikiki is that it offers a wide arrange of activities and dining. My ultimate favorite when it comes to food in Waikiki is Me BBQ. It’s tasteful, affordable, prepared quickly, portions are too big for my European standards, and anything you’re supposed to eat with chopsticks makes me happy.
Surf wise, Waikiki isn’t much of a challenge in December, except for fighting for a wave. The waves are mellow, with long waits between the sets and on the better days, it’s crowded. But the view of the Diamond Head crater and the Waikiki beach, as well as watching a father giving his stoked little boy his first surf lesson, is reason enough for me to enjoy the surf sessions I had during my first days in Hawaii.
For transport, you can take The Bus to most places, but renting a car is a wise decision if you want to explore the island. If you’re on a budget you can rent a bicycle like I did from Hawaiian Style Rentals, located at the Queen Kapiolani Hotel, next door to my hostel. The bike was really good. (As a Dutch girl, I definitely know what I’m talking about when it comes to bicycles.) I cycled to the Koko Head crater. Unexpected and unprepared, I decided to hike it. It didn’t seem to be that hard from a distance, since there’s an old railroad that is now like a stairway, but believe me, it’s a tough hike. 1000 big steps and lunges later you’ll be at the top and you’ll realize that it’s definitely worth it.
Some other suggestions during a stay in Waikiki:
- Free Ukulele lessons at the Ukulele PuaPua shops, near the Moana Surfrider Hotel daily at 10 AM and at Sheraton Waikiki Lessons: daily at 4PM and on Sun, Tue, Wed, Thu also at 10AM.
- Diamondhead hike
- Sunset drinks at the Duke’s bar or the RumFire.
- Saving your ABC receipt for a free gifts (+- 35 ABC convenience stores in Waikiki)
- Day trip to Pearl Harbor (if you want to visit the Arizona Memorial, go REALLY early, sold out before 10AM.)
- Spending a day at the Fort DeRussy Beach Park, where you’ll always be able to find people for a game of soccer, volleyball, frisbee, or whatever team sport.
- Snorkeling (in Waikiki, best stops for snorkeling in the direction of Diamond Head)
I never had a hard time enjoying myself in Hawaii. Not in North Shore, not in Waikiki. Not even when I wasn’t able to move around much for a couple of days due to a staph infection. But just being in Hawaii, kept a smile on my face the whole time. Time to lock in my calendar for the Pipe Masters 2015.
Aloha till next time.
http://backpackershawaii.com/ (Hostel on North Shore)
http://www.kalanihawaii.com/ (Hostel on North Shore)
http://www.couchsurfing.org/ (International community for free lodging)
https://www.sailingcat.com/ (Whale watching and snorkeling tours Haleiwa)
http://www.surferthebar.com/ (Surfer bar, Turtle Bay Resort, North Shore)
http://www.honolulumarathon.org/ (Honolulu Marathon)
http://www.royalgardensatwaikiki.com/ (Wyndham hotel in Waikiki)
http://www.hawaiianstylerentals.com/ ((Bicycle) rentel Waikiki)
http://www.hawaiianukuleleonline.com/ (Free Ukulele lessons Waikiki)
http://www.thebeachwaikikihostel.com/ (Good hostel in Waikiki)