The funny thing about the North Shore winter is that everyone is here because everyone is here. Some love it, some come dragging their heels, and others are so accustomed to the circus that they’re indifferent. But nonetheless, year after year, the surf industry makes the trek, descending upon a small place that’s arguably unfit for such a massive invasion.
Being on the North Shore in December is like taking a walk through a surf magazine, it’s as if you decided that you were going to post up for a few weeks between the contest coverage, the colorful ads, and the winter photo gallery—that for just a little while you would exist within the glossy pages of the surf world.
On an average day in this Hawaii pseudo-magazine, you wake up in the morning and drive to Starbucks for a cup of coffee; there, whether you know it or not, you wait for your latte with the CEOs, team managers, and marketing executives of all the major surf companies. They all mostly know each other—they used to work together, or surfed on tour together, or grew up together. You step outside and immediately jump out of dodge of one brand’s logo-plastered van, a conspicuous mobile billboard that nearly hits you as you walk to your car. You head to Pipe to see what’s happening there, but you’ve arrived late, dozens of photographers are already spread across the beach capturing identical moments that will enter cyberspace hours later—sent to magazines, websites, and editors’ inboxes, either to be placed amid the pile of possibilities for the limited space in the Hawaii feature or immediately uploaded (in an attempt to beat the others in the perpetual race to cover things first). You head down the road and find a spot to paddle out for a few, only to be greeted by a pack of over-caffeinated groms hopped up on energy drinks. But their ability level is awe-inspiring, and you’re kind of jealous, so you don’t mind all that much, and make a mental note to pick up a case of Red Bull on the way home. An after-surf Ted’s Bakery run usually comes next. There’s nothing like a breakfast sandwich and an unobstructed view of the post-session pro parade. Later, as you drive down Kam Highway, you pass the three Gudauskas brothers sitting on an abandoned truck posing for a catalogue shoot, several former world champions riding their bikes for a surf-check, and a crew setting up to film a commercial with their A-team. In the evening, you might head to Foodland for some groceries, and after standing in line with several of the Top 45, decide you’re exhausted. There’s an autograph signing tonight in town, a surprise party for a retiring surfer down the road, and somewhere someone is auctioning off boobs for charity. But it’s all a bit much for you, so you call it a night.
What’s strange is that the North Shore is an amazing place year-round: the surf can be world-class for nearly eight months of the year and it’s absolutely gorgeous everyday. Yet people wait until December to flock here. It’s the only time of the year when surfers travel somewhere not in spite of the fact that it will be packed, but because it will be packed. And everyone will tell you that although the crowds are horrendous, and the bumper-to-bumper creep along the congested highway can be insufferable, and the amount of necessary schmoozing is off the charts, they’ll be back next year, because somewhere along the line, the North Shore became the agreed-upon place to see and be seen—it’s where everyone goes, and because of that, that’s why everyone else will always come.