At 12 years old, in the middle of the Allegheny Forest in Pennsylvania during deer hunting season, after having sat in the 18 degree freezing air for 12+ hours without seeing my uncles that said they were coming back for me in 4 hours – I realized something. I am not staying in the cold north USA for a day more than necessary after high school graduation. I declined acceptance at Penn State and joined the Air Force. I chose all east coast bases by the beach to be stationed at. The Air Force had a surprise for me – a good one. I was going to be living in Hawaii for 4 years.

The first Hawaii beach I ever saw, as far as I can remember – was Makapu’u. I went with some friends and learned bodyboarding – to some degree. Swallowing more water and being more scared in the ocean than I ever was… the waves were 4-5 feet Hawaiian and I really had no business being out there. I was a strong swimmer though – so I gave it my best and enjoyed it more than feared it.

The second beach I ever saw was a very calm place. There are a number of soft-sand beaches with fir trees covering part of the beach where one can enjoy a lazy weekend afternoon. Maui has a lot of these beaches, and as much as I love Maui – and consider it the best Hawaiian Island to live on – I like a beach on Oahu even better.

Bellows AFS, or “Bellows Beach”.

Bellows is a small Air Force Station in Waimanolo on the windward side of Oahu. It is stunningly beautiful, but not in the way that you might imagine – surrounded by sheer cliffs or rocks, with booming 6 foot surf. There is none of that. Bellows is a simple beach with soft, white sand where big crabs dig holes just beyond the reach of the waves that come inshore. If you have the patience, you can dig them out and chase them around the beach. I’m 45 and I still enjoy that for some reason. If you have kids – they’ll shriek and almost shee-shee their speedos when a big (6-10″) crab pops out of the hole after you’ve dug to the end of the hole!

The photo above is a scan of a 4″ x 6″ photo that was taken years ago – about 1985 when I first arrived in Hawaii and had a cheap color film camera to take photos of the island. When I first saw Bellows, I was blown away by its beauty. The white of the sand, the sparkling bright blue water, the contrast of the Ko’olau mountains in the east and the few small islands near Makapu’u. The trees give great shade, and the up and down bumpy sand dunes around the trees – are part of what makes Bellows more special than most beaches in Hawaii. These create private little areas to layout your tent, chairs, and mats and spend the day eating and sleeping in.

Being on the windward side, there is almost always some sort of breeze blowing in from the ocean and mild waves are usually cranking in endless sets – great for bodyboarding and bodysurfing. Four to five-foot waves are not that uncommon, and big sets will always include a 3 foot, or bigger wave. The conditions are not great for long rides, but you can often just stand on the sand next to your board and jump on for a quick 6-10 second ride – and then walk/paddle back out 30-100 meters for another short ride. It’s fast, and non-stop action. It’s great for kids or adults. A good place to learn bodyboarding basics – not good for surfing at all as it’s choppy and the waves are fast and of short duration.

I’ve stayed in the water for 10 hours at a time at Bellows. Someone would bring me some BBQ chicken to eat as I sat in the shallow surf, or some bananas, fruit juice, or anything else to fill me with calories so I could keep going. I’d stay in the water from 8am to 6pm. That’s no exaggeration. I was literally NUTS for the water, for bodyboarding. I was so exhausted by the end of those days, I was asleep by 8:30pm. To live in Hawaii was paradise at 18 years old, and as you get older – even better, because you appreciate rarity of the islands even more.

Did I ever tell you about my friend Kasey’s nipple falling off?

Kasey is a guy friend of mine that spent almost as much time in the water as I did. Every weekend, and every free hour of a workweek – we’d hit the waves. The unfortunate event occurred after after back to back 8+ hour days in the water one weekend as we rented a military cabin on Bellows Beach for a big party. Most of our friends were relaxed at the beach during the days – having consumed enough alcohol to kill buffalos the night before. They barbequed big shrimp, chicken, and swordfish. We were catching hundreds of waves – and loving life.

Kasey and I wore tight nylon surf shirts to keep warm and protect ourselves a bit from the harsh sun. Well, Kasey didn’t have one that weekend – and was using his cotton t-shirt for the two days we were out on the water. On the second day, his nipples were rubbed absolutely raw and bleeding. It was not a pretty sight – but, of course we laughed about it. Me harder than him!

The next day we woke up – it was a 3-day weekend. Kasey pulled up his t-shirt and scratched – he said it was so itchy. Right there on the ground fell his left nipple. It had completely scabbed up and fell off when he scratched it. I laughed until I couldn’t breathe – and of course he howled in pain loud enough for everyone in the camp to come and see his smooth chest.

Unbelievably, Kasey was back on the water with me the next weekend. He had not grown back that piece of anatomy yet, and I’m not sure if it ever regenerated. I’m guessing – no, but I was never curious enough or morose enough – to ask him.

Despite the inevitable setbacks, you can live in Hawaii and have an amazing time of it. Oahu is great and has everything you’d ever need. Maui is better – and has nearly everything you need… Big Island is probably nice enough, but a bit big and hot, and of course you might have vog to deal with. Kauai is better than anywhere to live, but they don’t have all that you’re used to – and you’ll likely eventually find that to be a problem.

Article originally authored by Vern Lovic and any expressed opinions are his own.