With the Volcom Pipe Pro kicking off on the North Shore, the world’s best surfers are once again flocking to Hawaii for another session of premium big wave surfing.
Fancy a visit? Anya Gilbert gives us the Brit’s abroad lowdown on everything you need to know about the legendary Pipeline break and beyond.
“When the waves are big enough and Pipeline finds its rhythm, your footprints along the sand will fill in behind you.”
It had been almost a year since I’d heard this story from an elderly guy in Constantine, his biggest life events regaled alongside those of his trips to the Hawaiian islands as if each memory bookmarked the next. Hawaii was the far-flung and alluring dream I visited each time a duck dive gave me brain-freeze; a seductive but unachievable trip at the time.
But 10 months later we were driving away from the Honolulu International Airport, eyes aching with a fatigue fought only with zeal and very strong coffee. Trains, planes and runway delays had us clocking 22 hours travel time from Cornwall to the North Shore of Oahu and we’d made it, all 7’262 miles.
Honestly the Hawaiian Island cluster has majorly lucked out in the global location lottery. Nine volcanic islands sit surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, 4’835 miles from mainland America and 9’129 from Australia. Now that you’re no longer required to sail there like Captain Cook, these island swell-traps have become something of a surfer’s Mecca. But you already know this right?
You really can’t live on £5 a day like you can in Indo
I wanted to see those giant December swells the old man had spoken about. Would almost a month on Oahu be enough time? We had a lot of questions and figured it out as we went, so here are some pointers we learnt, that are good to know before you go.
Set a budget and stick to it
Hawaii is a money sucker and will tug your self-restraint into throwing it around. Being an island so far from anywhere, almost everything must be brought in. You really can’t live on £5 a day like you can in Indo. Give yourself a realistic daily budget that makes allowances for occasional crazy splurges and try to stick to it.
Plan and book way in advance
Brexit is set to ruin most things, not least our currency. Keep a lazy eye on the value of the pound against the US dollar. It’s dull but worth it if the trip is a big one and already costing you a bomb.
Give yourself 2-3 weeks minimum on the islands if you can. Jet lag steals a day or two and it takes a while to really get a feeling for a place. The lifestyle is charmed on the North Shore; give yourself some time to live it.
If you’re hoping to see a competition, try and be on the island for the whole waiting period. There were more than a weeks worth of lay-days at this year’s Pipe Masters and almost the entire contest was run at the end of the waiting period. You really don’t want to miss it.
Get a car, you won’t regret it. Unlike most things on the island, fuel is cheap!
Unless you’re super strapped for cash or are a legitimate terror on the roads (be truthful ok fool) get a car, you won’t regret it. There is so much to do and see around the island when the surf is bad and Honolulu is only 30 minutes away. Haleiwa is the North Shore’s main town.
If you’re staying around Pipeline, Haleiwa is too far to cycle to every night for dinner, but it’s somewhere you won’t want to miss seeing. The famous Rainbow Bridge is the entrance to that town. There are only a few fuel stations on the North Shore, mostly in Haleiwa and one just past Banzai Pipeline. Unlike most things on the island, fuel is cheap!
Take a look at a map and find Waimea Bay. Everything to its East, between Pupukea and Sunset Point is within cycling distance for mere mortals like me. A cycle path approximately three miles long runs between the two and takes roughly 45 minutes to pedal.
Sat in the centre of this route is Banzai Pipeline, the world’s most famous and dangerous wave and the host to the Billabong Pipe Masters Competition in December.
Some accommodations provide a bike rental included in their price, but if they don’t it is worth hiring a beach cruiser anyway, especially if you haven’t rented a car.
Tip – Jeeps are 100% the most rad vehicle to drive around but if you don’t have the need for a 4×4, refrain and get a cheaper car. It physically hurt my soul when I saw our nondescript red motor, but Oahu’s roads are really good and even for surfing we couldn’t justify a jeep for the price. You’ll save a whole tonne of cash that can be spent elsewhere.
There’s one main road in and out the North Shore and you’ll be on or beside it every day. Just call it the ‘Kam’ Highway, everyone else does. You don’t want to sound like a knob by repeatedly saying it wrong; the satnav will lie to you about its pronunciation continuously.
Where to stay
How much money do you have? The North Shore has accommodation for most budgets as long as you’ve saved some pennies.
Backpackers Hostel in Pupukea sits just above the Waimea Valley and was established by famous big wave surfer, Mark Foo. He lost his life surfing Mavericks in 1994 but his hostel has been kept going in his memory. There are beds from $30 a night to full beach house sits right on Three Tables Beach.
Foodland is the only big supermarket on the North Shore and you are highly likely to see some of your favourite surfers in its aisles
It’s one of the few places you can be really flexible about your dates on the North Shore as long as there’s room still available. There’s a free cancellation policy, so you can book for the full duration of your trip and then change your mind if you find somewhere better to book afterwards.
Airbnb and booking.com are great places for finding and comparing alternatives. If you’re staying for a while, it’s easy to find nice and simple accommodation that has safe places to store your boards and gear. Just watch out for additional tax and cleaning fees.
Grab a local SIM card at the airport
There’s a local SIM card machine opposite the doors to baggage claim at Honolulu International Airport. Local SIM’s aren’t easy to come across on the island; you can’t buy them in local supermarkets or shops so if your phone contract doesn’t extend for usage overseas, grab one when you arrive just in case.
Eat out! Food truck city
A loaf of bread costs between $3-$5 on Oahu. Instead of spending $70 on groceries every two days, go visit the food trucks in Pupukea for dinner. It’s a fairy light city of semi-permanent food wagons selling freshly cooked local and international dishes, mostly all for under $12.
Tip – The Elephant Truck makes some of the best Thai on the island and it has gluten free and vegan options for those with dietary requirements. Expect a 20-minute wait on food. It’s worth it.
General other Food
Foodland is the only big supermarket on the North Shore and you are highly likely to see some of your favourite surfers in its aisles. Somewhat less excitingly but definitely more helpfully, Foodland has a discount scheme meaning you’ll be charged a lower price for each item.
Give them the 10-digit telephone number of where you’re staying and you’ll get a discount every time you shop. There’s a lot of money to be saved by doing this, especially if you’re staying for longer than a week.
Billabong Pipe Masters
Now for the most desirable number one, Pipe. It’s the final event on the World Surf League Championship Tour and the top jewel of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing.
Laptop cinema sessions with friends and pineapples were my previous annual experience of the event, but our attempts at channelling Hawaii with fruit didn’t exactly permeate winter in Newquay. I wanted to see it for real.
The entrance to the competition site at the Ehukai Beach Park is big, blue and friendly, greeting you with an Aloha from the WSL. Then you’re on the beach, Pipe is in front of you and Toledo is 5ft away. It’s otherworldly.
The contest organisers meet everyday at 7am to assess and conditions and make the call.
Cycle there if you can
Parking restrictions are gnarly on the North Shore. Get there early if you have a car and want a free space, there’re a few directly in the Ehukai Beach Park but contest organisers will probably nab them first if you’re not quick about it!
Some of the locals open up their land across the road for parking during the competition. It’ll set you back between $10-20 a day depending on the size of your vehicle but they’re safe and legal places to park.
Traffic can be mental during the contest, especially because the competition site is directly across the road from an elementary school. Watch out for kids and bikes and dogs and other cars and falling coconuts. There’s a lot going on.
Take snacks and drinks
Cholo’s food truck is the only one parked inside the contest site and it sells super tasty Mexican food. Leave time to cue, if you’re already starving before you join the line you’ll be in for a torturous wait.
Best take some drinks and snacks with you on the beach from home and get a Cholo’s when you’re not ready to eat the person in front of you.
Event merchandise becomes half price as soon as the competition ends and is sold in almost every store along the North Shore. You can spend much less just by waiting and still get the goods.
Turtle Bay Resort
It is place of luxurious refuge when the hostel rooms start grossing you out, or you want to grab a beer. The SURFER Bar host’s events almost every evening during the Pipe Masters competition and most are free to attend.
And finally if you are here in December, perhaps the biggest surprise of all was that Christmas in Hawaii isn’t just a little bit Christmas. Christmas is huge on Oahu. There are Christmas trees among palm trees, reindeer antlers attached to cars and more tinsel on shops than you’ll see on oxford street.
Every year in Haleiwa there is a Christmas parade. Local businesses decorate their vehicles with fairy lights, tinsel and ball balls and local people line the streets as the convoy drives through the town to a soundtrack of the 50 Greatest Christmas Hits and local school music bands.
The Hawaiian Father Christmas stood on the last float, bringing up the rear on the biggest and brightest sleigh decorated with fairy light pineapples. He threw Christmas shaka’s and ho ho ho’s out towards the families lining the streets and in summer dresses we yelled back “Merry Christmas!”
Lead Image: Pipeline, North Shore Oahu