Photo courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority/Tor Johnson.
If there is such a thing as the perfect wave, you’ll likely find it on Oahu’s North Shore. Large, glassy winter waves of this legendary surf mecca attract top surfers from across the globe, while more mellow summer waves create a dream for newbies and veterans wanting to hone their skills.
That said, winter is when Oahu’s surf scene truly rocks. Locals and visitors flock to the Islands' north-facing shores between November and March to witness majestic swells and catch some of the world's top pro surfers competing in high profile competitions.
Here are five ways to experience Hawaii's monster swells as top surfers face off in world-class events.
Considered “The Super Bowl” of pro competitions, the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing razzle dazzles at a trio of North Shore beaches along what’s deemed as “The Seven Mile Miracle.” Rolling out from Nov. 12-Dec. 20, 2016, the three “jewel” competitions of esteemed event serve as the finale on the World Surf League (WSL) calendar that crowns surfing's 2016 world champions.
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Insider’s Tip: To avoid parking hassles, consider taking public transportation. From Waikiki, North Shore bus routes are #52, #55 and #88A. Spectators can also park at Turtle Bay Resort and catch hourly shuttles ($20-25 fee round-trip).
Also, be flexible and patience for catching surf events since appropriate conditions are entirely dictated by Mother Nature. Check out the Vans and WSL websites for updates on days that competition is a go.
Reef Hawaiian Pro – Nov. 12-23
The first stop of the Vans Triple Crown and WSL Qualifying Series (QS) 10,000 event, Reef Hawaiian Pro at Haleiwa’s Alii Beach Park is respected as a true test of a surfer’s ability to handle a multitude of conditions at the same break. Running along the west side of Haleiwa Boat Harbor, surfers face tricky reef that’s capable of delivering hollow rights and powerful closeouts. In layman’s terms, it’s tough stuff.
Thanks to ideal conditions, this year’s event wrapped up early, with newly crowned 2016 World Champion John John Florence returning to his island home to win with the support of his local community.
Insider’s Tip: After viewing the competition, refresh your palate at Matsumoto’s Shave Ice in Haleiwa. For the ultimate, order your favorite flavor with ice cream and azuki beans.
World Cup of Surfing – Nov. 24-Dec. 6
The second leg of the Vans Triple Crown, the World Cup of Surfing at Sunset Beach is lauded by big wave surfers for infamously long, shifty and complex wave action. Only a few dedicated surfers have mastered Sunset’s lineup and the powerful waves that pour down the point.
Pulling in swells from the west to the northeast, Sunset is a wave magnet with the potential to showcase some of the biggest waves ridden in Triple Crown competition.
This QS/10,000 event pumps energy as surfers battle it out as epic waves elevate the caliber of surfing. Some chalk it up as delivering “the ultimate surf drama.”
Insider’s Tip: Be sure to hit Ted’s Bakery for its famous Chocolate Haupia Cream Pie, a layer of rich, smooth dark chocolate custard cream filled with another layer of haupia (creamy coconut pudding) that’s crowned by a whipped topping.
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Billabong Pipeline Masters – Dec. 8-20
The quintessential event in professional surfing, the Billabong Pipeline Masters at Ehukai Beach Park is revered as home to the Holy Grail of waves by which all others are measured. The third and final Vans leg and final event of the WSL Men’s World Tour, this jewel is one of the longest running events in professional surfing – even pre-dating the Triple Crown by more than a decade.
Known for its perfect, heaving top-to-bottom barrels and break just 75 yards off the beach the event delivers perfect waves for watermen willing to charge.
Whether competitors drop into a wedging Pipeline left or free fall into a Backdoor right, surfing Pipe – especially Big Pipe – requires a physical and mental commitment all to itself. That’s why the Pipe Masters title is so prestigious in the Vans trio of events.
Insider’s Tip: Turtle Bay Resort is a surf-centric haven where North Shore visitors and local residents are swept into the vibe with Talk Story sessions at Surfer, The Bar. Check Turtle Bay’s website for special events and packages during the Triple Crown.
The Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau – December through February
Considering the grandest big wave competition, “The Eddie” begins its three-month wait for a full day of consistent 40-foot-minimum wave faces in December. If there are no 40-plus footers, there’s no Eddie. After a seven-year drought, the event was on for Feb. 25, 2016, as John John Florence of Oahu’s North Shore scooped top honors.
Aside from massive waves, The Eddie has a massive backstory. The first official lifeguard at Waimea Bay, Eddie Aikau earned a reputation as one of the best big wave riders in the world. Surfing every major swell to come through the North Shore from 1967-1978, Aikau reached 12th in the world on the early IPS pro surfing rankings.
Bound for Tahiti on the Polynesian voyaging canoe Hokulea in 1978, Aikau set off on his paddleboard to seek help for stranded crewmembers after the canoe capsized in treacherous seas. He was never seen again.
The Eddie competition launched six years later. The rules require that waves are 40 feet high and that the swell has enough sustained power to last all day. The winds and tide are also taken into account. When everything falls into place, it’s a “go.”
HIC Pro at Sunset Beach – Late October-Early November
The HIC Pro Presented by Vans ignites the North Shore surf season with a lineup of both local and international surfers at one of the most consistent big wave venues on the planet. This Sunset Beach experience earns raves as one of the greatest accomplishments for Hawaii athletes, as it provides a stage for them to demonstrate versatility, talent and athleticism to the entire surfing industry.
The North Shore’s Mason Ho added a second HIC Pro title to his list of winnings in 2016 after he delivered a clutch 9.0 barrel that thrust him into first place in the final heat’s closing minutes.
Tips for Viewing Vans Triple Crown of Surfing
- Arrive early to score parking and avoid traffic.
- Pack sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat.
- Bring a reusable water bottle to events, as water filling stations are available at all contest sites.
- Sunscreen is a must – especially on overcast days when harmful ultraviolet rays are even harsher.
- Bring a camera and binoculars.
- Pack a towel, mat or beach chair for more comfortable viewing.
- Plan ahead by bringing a slicker, rain jacket or hooded sweatshirt in case of drizzles.
- Avoid tickets and towing by heeding road signs, warnings and private driveways.
- Remove your trash from the beach.
- Be courteous to local residents who live with events and crowds in their driveways and backyards.
- Pay attention to lifeguard warnings since winter waves can double in size within an hour.