The Bigger Picture
Get cleaned up, sent in, cane your credit card... Enjoy surfing more.
This time last year I’d never been to Hawaii and was kind of proud of it. I mean, why would an average punter like myself want to? Crowds, hype, gnarly locals, a zillion frothing pros, photogs, TV crews, helicopters, jetskis, not to mention of course life-threatening surf conditions. I figured I’d chosen wisely to have done numerous trips to Indo, the Philippines, Oz, New Zealand, Africa, Central America and so on. I’d been around for a little while; I knew the score. Maximize your wave count and quality for money spent. Get the most out from what you can. For these very reasons the North Shore sat pretty low down my list of places to surf.
Then one day I got to thinking about my next-door neighbour, who had recently earned himself the right to be called Hadj, an honorific title reserved for Muslims who have made the pilgrimage to Mecca. A good Muslim is expected to make the trip at least once in their lifetime. I got to thinking about that, and then the opportunity came up to do some work at the Rip Curl Pipemasters, so instead of flying to Saudi Arabia, I undertook my quasi-religious mission with a return ticket to Honolulu, the North Shore’s sacred grounds awaited. On arrival, I discovered the famous landmarks I recognized without having ever set foot there. Those photos you’ve stared at all your life are suddenly reframed in normal size… Haleiwa’s white bridge, the church at Waimea Bay, the Kam Highway. Before the most frightening one, with tense stomach, beyond this last line of palm trees, Pipeline. The lifeguard tower seems ridiculously small on the steep little beach. The wave density hits you as well, on both sides of Pipe it’s a myriad of spots left, right and centre.
I loved that trip, because I discovered an island I didn’t really know or understand despite the thousands of photos that came past the lightbox in seven years working at a surf mag. I loved it because there is more to the North Shore than Pipe and more to Oahu than the North Shore. I didn’t get as many waves as I have one other trips, didn’t get as barrelled, I snapped my boards, I got cleaned up, humbled, but loved it. I loved the sense of heritage and history, and the understanding that comes with it of surfing being more than just about the waves that come to you and what you do on them. Something like a broader understanding of it all, a feeling that the ocean is so much more powerful than you, potentially dangerous, and yet also such a beautiful and fun place to be. And wasn’t that the whole attraction of surfing in the first place? Long live pilgrimages.