I recently spent a week at Waikiki, where tourists go to hire SUPs or longboards and infest a bunch of small but otherwise fun-looking reef breaks. From the sand, it looks like absolute carnage. Here are five things I learned:
1. It’s not as crowded as it looks. That’s because it’s not so competitive. People don’t paddle out here trying to score the wave of a lifetime. If they’re tourists, they are just hoping to get some GoPro footage (there are more mounted GoPros here than there are at Backdoor) to show the folks back on the farm. The waves are fun, but not serious.
2. If someone accidentally runs over you, the custom is to smile at them and throw them a shaka, not chase them to the beach and beat them to a pulp. After a week at Waikiki, I started to wonder how the custom of violence and localism ever took hold everywhere else.
3. The Duke’s legacy is alive. His statue might have its back to the water, but it’s like he’s looking over the line-up anyway, gently enforcing the aloha with his beatific smile. When a longboarder can’t catch a wave, he yells “go!” to the shortboarder closer in. Sometimes, even old locals will give you a wave if it looks like you are in a better position or simply want it more.
4. During a decent swell, when a set approaches, it feels like Indonesia. These swells have travelled a similar distance to the ones that hit Bali, and by the time they march into Waikiki, they have sorted themselves into proper long-line sets with 15-second intervals. At Publics, the left-hander at the eastern end of the beach, the sight of an approaching 5-foot set is exhilarating, the lines backed up on top of each other and the relatively thin crown either scrambling to get one or get out of the way of someone who has. Get in position for one, and… well, you’re not going to get shacked, but you will bang off a couple of turns. The waves here can be pretty damn good on their day.
5. Longboarders are cool. There’s something awesome about the lines the old guys on 10’6″s here pick. They fade and bottom turn and carve off the top with power and grace. They never waste a section just trimming in the pocket. And they don’t paddle straight back out and pick off the first wave off the next set. I’ve never felt so at ease surrounded by dudes on antique equipment.
(And now for bonus point number six.)
6. When the tropical vibe and endless ukuleles starts to make you jaded, there’s a country-western bar under the Ohana Hotel on Kuhio Avenue called Nashville, where good ol’ homesick mainlanders meet to drink beer and throw women around on the dance floor. There’s a hip-hop bar a block away, too, where homies on the pavement outside offer cocaine to passers-by. I’m guessing their gear is pretty ordinary. Anybody who needs to do blow in Waikiki probably deserves to be ripped off anyway.
Fred Pawle has written an interactive feature about his pilgrimage to Waikiki, during which he met Fred Hemmings and got to ride a replica of a 100-year-old Duke Kahanamoku board. You can read it here.