It’s always convenient when your passion coincides with most people’s idea of a dream holiday location. So when your parents are considering a winter beach escape overlapping the dates of the Billabong Pipe Masters in Hawaii, it would be rude not to drop some gentle hints.
Two days after a frustrating hunt for stormy Cornish waves, it was time for an early-morning trip to the Airport. A further 22 hours of cramped seats, questionable airplane meals and severe jet lag finally paid off as we touched down in Honolulu.
The hints had worked. Nestled amongst breath-taking mountains on the North Shore of Oahu, a 5-minute walk from Sunset and 10 minutes from Pipeline, was our abode for the next couple of weeks.
Hawaii isn’t a bad place to wake up on a Monday morning
We soon got chatting to the host, Yuki, who seemed to know everything about Hawaii. Coincidentally, Pat Gudauskas and his family had stayed here the year prior. (Funnily enough, Pat had also occupied the Moroccan hostel I’d stayed in the previous Easter.) The founder of Xcel was our new neighbour, and I was recommended to go “chat to Jon Pyzel, who lives down the street” about picking up a surfboard.
Nonetheless, not all of Yuki’s advice was so reassuring. A quick run-down of the local breaks involved warnings such as, “avoid this one because that’s where most people die” … “and this is the beach where most of their bodies are washed up”. She eventually decided on a suitable recommendation for my first taste of Hawaii’s waves, before adding, “actually, you shouldn’t go today because it rained this morning so there’ll be plenty of tiger sharks” … “that reminds me, don’t surf too close to dusk because that’s feeding time”. Despite my parent’s urges that maybe surfing was no longer the sport for me, I rented a board (coincidently Michel Bourez’s old stick) from North Shore Surf Shop, and headed to Sunset Beach. The first surfer we saw emerging from the water casually hopped up the beach on his only leg.
How can you not surf until sunset when Hawaii looks like this every evening?
Thankfully, I dodged any deadly beatings from the overhead swells and managed to snag a few of the smaller waves of the day. I didn’t even see so much as a dorsal fin.
Walls like this and a double rainbow to top it off? Not a bad first session in Hawaii
In fact, the only perilous wildlife we encountered in Hawaii was a somewhat terrifying 8-inch centipede. I was as much concerned that it would try to take a bite out of me as it would the countless geckos littering the bedroom ceiling. A chase ensued; we first tried to capture it under a large mixing bowl as it scurried across the living room. However, it soon became apparent that the bowl not be big enough; it was time for the heavy artillery. Dad found a bucket and we finally expelled the monster, 30 minutes later. The following morning, Yuki reassured us that it must’ve been dying already, else it would have been completely impossible to catch. Yikes.
It was time for a far less terrifying activity. The Pipe Masters Trials had just been called off for the day, and – since it was my 23rd birthday – I decided I’d come of age. The waves had dropped since the morning, so were now a comparatively manageable (haha) 8 foot (2 foot by the Hawaiian scale). Regardless, it was solid enough for the likes of Kanoa Igarashi, Caio Ibelli, Michel Bourez, Occy, Zeke Lau and Kolohe Andino to be trying their hand at a few bombs before the official contest began.
Check out my extended highlights from the Billabong Pipe Masters, Hawaii: dropping soon on Urban Surfer
I’ve never seen so much water moving. Being a reef break, the waves just seem to pop up out of nowhere; first you’re enjoying the postcard views of Hawaii from the line-up, then suddenly you’re on an elevator taking an express ride to the 10th floor. I gingerly looked over the edge of a few, only to pull back as a 12-year-old local would drop in, navigate the barrel and finish with an air on the end section. Thankfully I managed to steal a few smaller waves off the pros before returning triumphantly to the beach, all limbs and equipment intact.
Ever-hunting the elusive green room
With my newfound confidence, I returned to Pipe for a sunset session. As I reached the take-off spot, I noticed someone sitting alone way deeper than everyone else. “Hey Brucey” – I turn to see Strider paddling past me to greet the enigmatic figure in the distance. Strider flashes me a smile on the way past, and I mention how we’d shared a session in Portugal the month prior. (Note: he is probably the biggest frother you’ll ever surf with.) I was joined by a handful of other surfing celebs (Wilko, Conner Coffin, Glenn Hall and Mikey February) and started to stick some gnarlier drops.
The pros weren’t the only exciting personalities in the water
My final roll of the dice was on a Backdoor closeout; I straightened out to avoid the guillotining lip, only to look at water in front of me to see the infamous reef inches below the surface. In a desperate attempt to save my fins (and skin), I jumped backwards and kicked the board out in front. Miraculously, I only scraped the surface of the jagged rocks. I scrambled to my feet in the ankle-deep water, but turned to see another 6-footer sucking up what little water remained on the reef around me. In a split-second decision, I dove into the portal of the open face and emerged on the other side, amazingly unscathed. I decided to call it a day – but not before diverting to help rescue a swimmer who’d drifted into the impact zone.
Don’t look down: the calm before the storm
We live in a small world. After randomly bumping into a pro Chilean skateboarder I’d befriended while working in South West France a few years ago, I then got a message on Instagram from North-East surfer – and owner of Tynemouth Surf Co. – Louis Thomas-Hudson. He was also staying on the North Shore, so we surfed a few sessions together.
When you give Dad the GoPro and he somehow makes an out-of-control floater look like a punt attempt
In more local news, Louis recently competed in Secret Spot’s King Of The Point (supported by Rip Curl). The contest draws the UK’s best surfers to compete in maxing conditions at three point breaks around the North East. Check out a brief write-up of the event here, but special congrats to Kris Fairest for taking the crown.
However, it was my dad who had the ultimate chance encounter. He was loading my (Slater Designs) board into the car when a passing truck wound down its blacked-out window. “A bald guy leaned out and shouted ‘nice board’, then he laughed and drove away,” Dad retold the story, perplexed. Had he just been mocked or was my board genuinely recognisably great on the North Shore? I showed him a picture of the undisputed greatest surfer of all time, and yep – Kelly had just driven by, and was probably left very confused that someone could ride one of his own boards in Hawaii and not even get the slightest bit excited when the GOAT himself strikes up a conversation.
Nonetheless, after educating himself in case of any more claims to fame, Dad was excited to tell me a few days later that Jeremy Flores had said “excuse me” to him on the beach.
The Slater Designs ‘Banana’ that prompted the incident
To take a break from cooking and cleaning, we moved to Turtle Bay Resort for Christmas. The hotel overlooks a private right-hand point break, so my parents could keep an eye on me from the jacuzzi; this resulted in more willingness to sit photographing me, but almost gave them a heart attack amidst one fateful session.
Palm trees and Christmas decorations seemed odd at first, but we managed
Since the wave is so easily accessible to hotel guests, sharing the lineup with a few under-experienced surfers was inevitable. The only thing worse than an arrogant surfer is a stand-up paddleboarder with the same overconfident mindset. A freak outside set – twice the size of the others – surprised the day’s SUPer in question. Unfortunately, I was paddling behind him when he bailed his board on top of a wave. The last thing I remember before my duck dive was a 20kg, 8-foot torpedo flying towards me, to the gasps of the other surfers; never have I duck dived so deep and with so much intent.
Fortunately, the board flew over the top of me, the fin narrowly missing my head. Upon surfacing, the SUP recoiled and lightly touched my shin, leaving a cut and bruise which lasted a couple weeks; imagine the consequences of a direct impact to my head at its initial speed! I was later reassured by another surfer that they were prepared to retrieve my unconscious body and call an ambulance; silver linings, eh? Regardless, I received a heartfelt apology from the culprit and concluded my final days in Hawaii without further drama.
Mum spotted Humpback whales out to sea, unsurprising in such a utopian setting
Prepare for summer with my picks from Urban Surfer this month…
…and stay tuned for an edit of my personal adventures in Hawaii, dropping soon!
~ Will Davies (@willdavies11)