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How To Surf Sunset with Hank Gaskell

| posted on November 29, 2011

If you’re looking for a true North Shore gut-check, look no further than Sunset Beach. Once heralded as the pinnacle of the Hawaiian surfing experience, Sunset has been overshadowed by high-performance venues like Off the Wall and Pipe in recent years. But ask any North Shore surfer worth their salt, and they’ll tell you that the North Shore experience is incomplete until you’ve paid your dues at Sunset. To guide us through the lineup, we rang up two-time Sunset champ Hank Gaskell, for some insight into surfing’s original proving grounds.

Hank Gaskell, looking all too casual on his way into a powerful Sunset bowl. Photo: Heff

Surfing Sunset can be a really humbling experience. It’s not like many other waves on the North Shore. Even though it doesn’t get as much exposure as some of the other spots, it’s still one of the best waves on the North Shore. It’s always changing and it’s just really, really hard to surf well—I guess that’s what makes it so fun. It’s not easy.

The currents at Sunset are kind of legendary. I’ve had some sessions out there where all I did was fight the current. The entire session was a battle. I actually had a heat there once where one of the guys in the heat got sucked out to Backyards and had to get towed in by a Jet Ski. So the currents are no joke, you’ve got to keep mind of them the whole time you’re out there.

As far as boards go, if you want to use a 10-foot day as an example, I’ll ride a 6’11″ or a 7’2″ Tokoro. Those boards seem to always kill it out there. You definitely want a bigger board out there, something with a little more meat that can handle an open wave like that. You’ll be dodging plenty of West Bowl sets, so you want something that you can paddle.

The crowds out at Sunset aren’t as intense as they are at some of the other places on the North Shore. I mean, it can still get pretty dense, but it’s mostly an older group of guys who surf there a lot. As long as you know what you’re doing, the crowds don’t have to be too intimidating.

As far as actually surfing Sunset is concerned, my favorite part of surfing the wave is how you can really lay into your turns there. You’ll have all this speed and energy and the wave is just bending back at you—it just makes it perfect for putting all of your strength into your turns. It’s one of my favorite things about surfing Sunset, it’s a real down-the-line wave that allows you to put everything you have into it.

  • Scott Stephens

    Wow i feel totally ready to surf sunset now, thanks Hank! The next time you guys need to fill up web space try something a little more applicable.

  • Mike

    I was hoping for a few more tips for when I come over next year. Like the best place to paddle out and come in. Leash or no leash? Best tactics for hold downs? Or caught inside? Is it advisable to have a jetski partner over 15 foot?

  • Stephen Trobaugh

    Have made a good ten extended trips to Oahu but have only paddled out to real Sunset twice. Was lucky enough to have a friend who was a regular. Thought that would help. Once, the first time I got lucky. Just one clean swell and not to much wind. Made a couple drops I though I wouldn’t and Hank is right, the power you can generate off the waves is amazing The second time it looked like it would be easier. Wrong. Took off on a fair size one and pulled a 2 G bottom turn, set up on the wall and then watched in horror as the whole wave bent around and started to close for a hundred yards in front of me. Maybe someone named Ho would have pulled in but I straightened out just in time to get clipped. One of the worst beat downs I have ever had (and I’ve had a lot). Now I just stick to Lani’s and Hultons.

  • jdubbs29

    OBSF is a good training ground for Sunset as far as the currents and huge, shifty waves. And let’s face it, you’ll have your pick of waves on double to triple overhead days.
    Seems like surfing a wave where the water is a lot warmer would be easier. Think I’ll paddle out at Sunset this winter and show the locals how it’s done.

  • Whamo

    You should have asked Bradshaw to write this article, or Owl, or Owens.

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