Waimea Bay is one of those big waves spots you need to see to believe.
I was there in 1985 I think it was, could have been 1986, and they were calling it 50-60 feet high surf. That’s gigantic, and there is nothing I can write about it that will help you to feel the power you feel humbled by as set after set of 30-40, 60 foot surf rolls into the bay.
We came over the hill in our little Toyota Tercel or some such beast, and the salt and mist were heavy in the air. We couldn’t even see the north shore’s massive breaking waves – just the mist over top. It was a giant day – and one that not one person was seen in the water. Go figure, right? Today – there’d be someone, you can count on it!
We stopped in Haleiwa at Three Turtles and all our mouths just hung open. There is a nervousness, an anxiety about even standing there and looking at the waves like that. Really, it’s a fear that must be in our genes. Our caveman mind says – RUN, we’re all going to die! Our logical mind says we’re back far enough behind the lava rocks to be safe. I’ll never forget the fear I felt inside when I saw the big waves for the first time… I’m sure everyone feels it. It’s like “awe”. The body is telling you what “awe” is.
We headed over to Waimea and we couldn’t believe what we saw. It was outrageous. Everyone’s eyes were glued to the giant breakers rolling in, one after another. The beache area was all closed, there police and lifeguards, all standing around – lest anyone dare to jump in and make a quick paddle out for the ride of their lives. Nobody did. It would have been suicide. The waves were breaking so strongly – and with nowhere to go – closing out spectacularly.
Actually, today they’re having 15 feet (Hawaiian measure) waves at Waimea and there are some guys surfing it. Waimea is a natural big wave spot, and has been for decades. In 2009, over 20,000 spectators came to watch the big wave event at Waimea – Eddie Aikau. There were up to 50 foot waves among solid sets of 30-40 feet.
Again, that is sick-sized-surf.
I have one story about riding big surf on the north shore…
Veteran surfers watch the waves and see where they are breaking, where they are building. They look for the best or fastest spot to get out far and beyond the breakers.
On one of my first trips up to the north shore to bodyboard I was much too cocky. I went up alone and found Sunset Beach surf to be big – but good for me. I had been on 6-8 foot surf in Waikiki, at Diamond Head, over at Makaha I rode 5 foot, in Makapu’u I was on solid 6 footers. I was ready for North Shore and 8-10 feet..
Well, I didn’t sit and watch the waves long enough to figure out what was up that day. I should have sat another 20 minutes, in hindsight. Wait… in hindsight, I shouldn’t have got in at all. I should have watched like the hundreds of other people on the beach.
I jumped in and paddled out… the waves grew to giants after I got in. The complete story is here. Being in big, I mean, gigantic surf of 15-20 feet is no fun when you are unprepared. I survived, but it was close!
Riding waves 30+ feet – just doesn’t interest me. It’s ridiculous – really. Waves like that are made to be watched with eyes, not ridden with feet on surfboards, or chests on bodyboards.
Today there were some news reports of a family – with kids, having big waves wash over them at Waimea. They were too close. I have a couple things to say about that.
1. Shut Waimea Beach Down During Big Surf – There is no reason anyone should be able to even get ON the beach, let alone be hit by waves. There should be barriers in effect, so idiots like those with their kids on the sand can’t get washed out to see. It happens OFTEN. I saw it in Florida when a hurricane was on it’s way. I was over to bodyboard in the Daytona Beach area. I had just come out of the water, it was wicked slush and a churning toilet bowl of currents. A big wave came up and hit 2 kids just above the knees. Both went down when the water ran back down the steep sand, one kid was pulled in. I ran out as fast as possible and the kid was already 10 meters away in the water – being sucked out. I dove in, got sucked out too – reached him and held on to him while I tried to make it back to the beach. It didn’t take too long – we were lucky. But, we were 60 meters away from where he went in in just a minute or two before!
2. Don’t Underestimate Surf – The pull a wave has on you at a beach with a steep sand embankment is very strong, I’ve seen it knock adult guys off their feet. Don’t risk your children’s lives by walking them on the beach, or worse, letting them play on the beach during big surf. Big surf is always accompanied by giant waves that surprise everyone. The line between surprise and getting your towel wet, and dying as a result – is too thin. Don’t risk it.
Video from the 2010 Eddie Aikau Surf Contest at Waimea:
As I watched this footage, something struck me. 90% of the guys on the water are just trying to get through the wave and continue breathing. They’re trying to stay alive, not concerned about tearing the wave up. Sick guys!