Article

HARSH REALM

| posted on July 22, 2010

1700′s Hawaiian folklore tells of an adventurous alii from Kauai named Kahikilani, who sailed the treacherous 90 miles from Lihue to the north shore of Oahu with the express purpose of riding the thundering waves at Paumalu, the site today’s surfers call Sunset Beach. There the handsome, daring surf-prince caught the eye of a beautiful bird-maiden who lived in a cave high on a cliff behind Paumalu. Seriously smitten, she dispatched two bird messengers to deliver an orange lehua lei to Kahikilani, with an invitation that left no doubt as to her intentions. The two birds led the curious prince back to the bird maiden’s cave where, enchanted, he stayed throughout the long, flat summer months. Autumn rolled around again and with it came the season’s first swells. Kahikilani, his priorities straight, gathers his board and heads for the surf. The bird maiden, naturally, wants him to stay, but settles for a promise never to kiss another woman. While out surfing Kahikilani attracts the attention of another beautiful wahine strolling on the beach. So taken is she by his performance that when Kahikilani beaches a ride she approaches and gives him an ilima lei—and a kiss. But the bird maiden’s spies were on the wing, flying back to tell her of the illicit kiss. She rushed down from her cave in a rage of jealousy, replacing the ilima lei with one of her own, tongue-lashing Kahikilani for his faithlessness. The hapless surfer, protesting his innocence, chased the bird maiden back up the hill toward her cave, but before he could reach it poor Kahikilani was turned to stone, frozen forever, the lehua lei around his neck.

Kahikilani, having played out a romantic melodrama that would repeat itself countless times in surfing’s centuries to come, sits on the north shore still, his stony visage peering out of a kiawe patch alongside the Kamehameha Highway, just north and across the road from the A Taste of Paradise Grill.

1832 Having survived the long, arduous sea voyage from Boston, Protestant missionaries the Reverend John Emerson and wife Ursula Sophia embark on a circumvention of the island of Oahu in the brigantine Thaddeus. Putting in near the mouth of the Anahulu River in Waialua Bay, the Emersons come across a village known as Hale’iwa (hale, home, of the iwa, or frigate bird.) The Emersons are met and welcomed by Hale’iwa’s Chief Laanui, whose amiability convinces the Protestants to establish a church in the village, backed to the southwest by lush, rolling hills undulating down from the plains of Wahiawa, and facing, to the north, the wide, blue Pacific. The Emerson’s journals make no mention of what the surf was like that first day in 1832, but it would have to be imagined that the New England couple witnessed plenty of North Pacific power during their years in Hale’iwa. Their Liliuokalani Church still stands, as does the structure of their original adobe home, located in Haleiwa across from Matsumoto’s Shave Ice.

1994 After more than 5 years of detailed analysis, costly feasibilities studies and countless design proposals, the Honolulu Department of Transportation installs a sign on the H1 Freeway, located approximately two miles west of Pearl City, just past the last exit for Waimalu and Waipahu, and in conjunction with the Wahiawa/Schofield Barracks off-ramp. In familiar green backing with white lettering, the State of Hawaii’s newest and certainly most poignant freeway sign reads, simply: NORTH SHORE. 160 years after the Protestant missionaries’ arrival, it’s finally official.

1932 Andrew Anderson Jr., son of the manager of the Bank of Hawaii’s Waialua branch, takes up surfing at the nearby Army Beach. The 10 year-old Anderson borrows a redwood plank from a local Hawaiian named Solomon Kukea, who, by all recorded accounts, is the first surfer to ride the North Shore in the modern era.

1951 Phillip “Flippy” Hoffman and Bob Simmons rent a small, clapboard house, tucked between palms and pandanas in the Paumalu neighborhood, several miles west of Kahuku and adjacent to the reef break already known as Sunset Beach. Although surfed tentatively in the early 1940s by pioneers like Woody Brown and Fran Heath, then more regularly in the decade by Island greats George Downing and Wally Froiseth, the newly-dubbed “North Shore” had yet to be colonized by intrepid mainland surfers as had Makaha, located on the west side of the island. Hoffman and Simmons, eschewing the communal nature of the Makaha camp, which included early frontiersmen like Flippy’s brother Walter, Buzzy Trent, Jim Fischer and Billy Ming, hole up on the sparsely-populated North Shore, first-surfing many of today’s popular lineups by day, eating rice and fish and arguing over fierce chess games at night. Innovations abound, including Flippy’s attempt to control the drift of his wide-tailed balsa board in the grinding Sunset peak by affixing a thick hawser to the transom, letting it drag behind like a sea-anchor. Almost 40 years later surfers would make a similar performance leap by towing into waves on a rope, rather than towing one behind.

1943 Having been trapped outside by a fast-building north-west swell at Sunset Beach, Woody Brown and Dickie Cross make the wrenching decision to paddle down the coast to Waimea Bay, which, though unridden at the time, had never been seen to close-out. Both make the journey through and around offshore cloudbreaks that today would host numerous tow-in squads, arriving off Waimea Bay in the late afternoon. Caught inside the point by a huge set, Brown barely crests the bowl, while Cross disappears, perishing somewhere under the avalanche of whitewater. Brown makes it to shore; Cross’s body is never found. Big wave surfing retreats to Makaha for the next decade.

1957 Greg Noll, Pat Curren, Bing Copeland, Del Cannon, Mickey Munoz, Mike Stang and Bob Bermel ride Waimea Bay for the first time, paddling out en masse on a clean, “15-to 18 foot” day. Long pondered over, Munoz remembers that, aside from the specter of Cross’s demise, the Bay’s ominous reputation was that of being shark infested. Locals lined the rim of the bay to watch the crazy haoles deal with the steep drop and run for the shoulder. Munoz, riding his balsa Malibu hotdog board, shows plenty of gumption, but wipes out on every wave he catches. A relatively anti-climactic session, it is still a landmark day. A session much less mythologized, however, comes later on the same day, as under stormy skies the swell builds to a solid 25 feet. Late in the afternoon, as the setting sun fires the tops of the dark-bellied clouds, a very game (considering his earlier performance) Munoz joins the more experienced Stang in legitimately terrifying, maxed-out conditions. Dodging cleanup sets, Munoz clings for his life to his Malibu board while the bearded Stang sits up and hurls Shakespearian taunts at the elements: “Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more, or close the wall up with our English dead!” Munoz survives the go-out, returning home to the Mainland the next day to resume spring semester of his junior year at high school in Santa Monica.