Friday, July 16, 2010

NORTH SHORE'S HALEIWA: surfing capitol of the world

Every island has a north shore, but the “North Shore” as a place name can only be on Oahu, and there you will find Haleiwa, which is the undisputed world surfing capitol—although it is not clear who bestows such a title.

Four surfing beaches on the  professional world surfing tour are along the coast extending several miles east of Haleiwa: Haleiwa Ali’i, a lesser-known venue, is offshore the town; a couple miles down Kamehameha Highway is Waimea Bay (home to the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational); next up is Pipeline (or Banzai Pipeline, or just plain Pipe),  right next to Ehukai Beach Park; and completing the run is Sunset Beach, home to huge wedges close to an easy-access big beach that inspired L.A. producer Dave Velzy to make those early 1960s surfer-Joe movies that in turn inspired the Beach Boys and a whole generation.

Haleiwa Town is an assemblage of wood-frame buildings, some quaint and some unremarkable, strung out along about a mile of a rural two-lane blacktop. You have to pick a few stopping points and poke around to find the eccentricities of the surfing culture that give the town its undeniable allure. With a railway that extended back to Honolulu (which since has been wiped out by the sea), Haleiwa began as a sugar-growing town, with tourism on the fringes. Agriculture receded, but an endless supply of waves remained, becoming the town’s new economic product.

When the swells are low, you can drive by these famous beaches without knowing it. But when the waves crank north of 18 feet (up to 50 feet!) then place is jumping, and, if you can find a place to park, ringside seats to see the best in the world are available for free.