This worn-out adjective seems to work its way into a headline, cover blurb, caption or storyline every single year in nearly every media outlet covering any part of the Hawaii winter season. Heavy. A word with literal burden. Say it out loud and you can feel your eyebrows droop with the weight.
Now, often this word specifically evokes the waves in Hawaii, and by Hawaii, most mags and websites (ours included) mean the North Shore, as that’s where most coverage finds itself. And indeed, the waves here are undoubtedly denser, if not carry some profound and bizarre open-ocean power with them when they finally hit the shallow shoreline full-force. But I’m talking about the rest of the place this word describes.
This word — this heaviness — has somehow high-jacked the yearly narrative representing the North Shore over the last decade-plus. What do we constantly hear? Watch the f–k out. Act up, and there are consequences. Look at that guy; get slaps. Surf there…at your own risk. So-and-so got his ass kicked last winter; what’s-his-name got choked out the winter before. The names of the notorious ones. Tha Boyz [don’t f–k with].
Certainly there are enforcers — protectors, if you will — that keep a close vigil on the chaos and goings-on, but…Is it really that bad? Is the North Shore truly some lawless coast run by vigilante justice, akin to South Central L.A. or Mogadishu? Is there not more to love about the surf world’s perennial home away from home (or actual home) than fear about it?
I posit no. It’s lighter than that bloated, repurposed rep. Brighter than the dark tales and obscure rumors and people and customs that aren’t fully understood. Like, can we still have fun here? Like, laugh in the water and hoot each other into bombs and greet strangers without cringing or looking over our shoulders for…whomever they told us to watch the f–k out for?
You’re goddamn right we can.
Photo: Scotty Hammonds
Is it better to be loved or feared? This question alludes to a theme the famous Italian Renaissance writer Niccolo Machiavelli described in his book The Prince. It goes without saying that the North Shore demands our respect, but surely there is so much more to love and embrace about this place.
Because believe it or not, there is something soft about the place. Something gentle. The way the tradewinds mix with the humidity is an inexplicable chemistry to the skin. The air constantly seduces you into being half-naked, which you happily accept, and the weather often seems confused with showers passing by warmly in the sunlight and leaving rainbow mist in their wakes. These same constant showers keep the land in a perpetual state of bloom and all around you can smell the earth’s odor. The fragrance of plumeria and pikake flowers growing wild along the beach paths. It’s what I’d imagine heaven smells like and often times you catch yourself taking deep long sniffs of the evening like a lover’s shirt left behind in your bed.
Hell, even after dusk there’s a certain vibrancy in the darkness. The way the waves crash and roar at night in the distance or the rain pattering like a soft drumroll on the roof or palm fronds rustling with the wind — all if it — an applause, a celebration. Or a lullaby, or a conversation that perhaps you’re a part of in a dream.
There’s a certain sweetness in the people. Something to discover that’s so easily shared. There’s a rare authenticity in their smiles. A certain music in their language. Close friends become cousins and elders become aunties and uncles. There’s a code of courtesy that is a pleasure to be a part of. Stepping into a house with bare feet (mandatory), stopping to let someone pull out onto the highway: These niceties are expected here. There is a certain universal pride in being nice to one another here. Call it aloha, call it what you want, but kindness and generosity is easier to find here than aggression.
Yes, there is a certain buoyancy here. In the mixing of cultures and countries. In the community along Ke Nui Road, that parallel lane hugging the coast behind the beachfront lots. On any given stroll you can watch helmeted children on bikes trailing their dad to school, passing dusky Brazilian bombshells spooning fresh acai, passing sweaty Mainland filmers lugging camera gear and tripods, passing A-list celebrities in sunglasses and low ball caps, passing fit MILFs in their prime, passing bronzed pro surfers, trailed by swooning teenaged fans with stars in their eyes and fake IDs in their purses. There is no other road like Ke Nui in December, a beautiful intercontinental highway of humanity with a speed limit of 5 mph.
Photo: Scotty Hammonds
There’s something comforting about the options. In the variety of surf and sheer surface area on the waves. Indeed there are days when the swell closes out most waves from Haleiwa to V-Land and you’re asking yourself um…so where to now? with butterflies in your gut. But then there are those days…God, those days…Those days where the swell has settled and the trades sleep in and every single peak on that seven-mile marvel lights up and goddamn the choices! Punchy ramps at Rocky lefts or side-wedges at Kammie Land? Skirt the crowds at Backyards or knife it into growers at Off-The-Wall? Teal teepees over plush grains at the Sandbar, or venture west of Waimea to escape the pros?
There’s something surreal about the beaches. Something fake, almost. In the ridiculous size of the grains and the way you could let yourself fall backward standing up and the sand catches your body like a foam pit. All the lonely, sun-kissed, half-naked women that doze on the sand, to the throngs of grommets and beach babies sliding on boogieboards over the wet sand in the shorebreak. And the color of the ocean — where all shades of blue were born and the green flashes and the bonfires and…
And the moments in time, captured by a million lenses. The history in the making, the triumphs by the hour. Just yesterday, Jack Robinson put on a clinic and mowed through Pipe’s homegrown finest to win the Trials and a seat in the big show. Just yesterday, he became a thousand groms’ new favorite surfer. Just yesterday, Owen Wright paddled out, turned on a bomb and got the cover of a magazine. Just yesterday, a Brazilian’s entire life climaxed and you could hear the crowd screaming two miles away. And tomorrow the tents will fall and the scaffolding will collapse and the pros will fly home but the surf will keep coming for another three or four months. Each of these moments sparked by one geographic catalyst…
Sebastian Zietz and Axel Irons. Photo: Scotty Hammonds
Again, the question: To be loved or feared? Machiavelli actually said that it is better to be feared…if you cannot be both. But Machiavelli never made it to the North Shore. And, undeniably, here you can have both. And maybe deep down we adore what scares us. Perhaps we love that fear. Year after year after year. Perhaps there’s a certain attraction in the terror, and perhaps heavy makes for gripping headlines, but here’s to choosing the lighter side.
The Bright Side. —Beau Flemister