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Hunting and Gathering in Hawaii



The shore break at Waimea Bay (winter).


Here's our surf club at the foot of Diamond Head a few years back. You Ultimate guys may recognize a few of the tournament folks: the three people standing, from left, are Grant (our TD), Ray (sales), and Jim (accommodations).

If you want to try surfing, you may spend half your life cruising around for spots and finding equipment. If you will just accept a few grim realities, you can get going much faster. First, you are a kook. Second, the best place for kooks is in Waikiki. Third, the kook boards (giant cruisers) really are best for learning. And finally, accept that you're going to suffer. The first time is about 99% pain and humiliation and 1% great fun. (It's kinda like the first time snowboarding, if you've tried that.) However, surfing is the sport of kings. The great moments are worth it.

Waikiki has beach concessions with rentals and lessons. These are all up and down the beach. I think the best spot to surf is "Canoes", right in that open area near the Duke statue, so that is where I'd look for a board.

Get a tanker with twice the floatation you think you'll need. Get a leash if they offer it. Ideally go out for a short (like 30 minutes) attempt on your first day, then wait a few days and try again for a little longer session. This will toughen your ribs and paddling muscles. Consider a lesson or at least ask for tips.

Probably the trickiest concept when you first start surfing is how important it is to be in the right spot. The waves break because of the way the bottom is shaped. The waves may appear random, but there really is a pattern you'll eventually learn.

When you paddle out, head for the safest and easiest place for kooks: inside and in the middle of the break. (A break is shaped like the letter A, with the point out in the deep water and the legs on the beach. You want to be about on the cross bar, in the center.) There you'll get lots of small white-water waves barely big enough to carry you. Nothing will kill you, although you'll have to dodge a few waves and surfers. Nobody will be fighting with you over the waves.

Most new surfers have a different intuition about where they should go. Some go "outside", on the point of the A. If you do this, your only choice will be to ride giant killer waves. Little waves do not break out there in deep water. And you'll be dropping in on real surfers, ruining their waves and possibly ruining boards and bodies as well.

The other natural spot to try is the sides of the A, figuring to be out of the way. (That's what I always used to try.) This doesn't work very well either. The only waves that break there are also big. (The A just becomes a bigger A when bigger sets come in.) The surfers catch the waves at the point, and go down the sides of the A, following the break. So you end up right smack in their way. You are also usually in a channel, in the deep water that surrounds the shallower A. The current in the channels runs you right to the outside point.

(The waves break in the shallow water of the surf break. As they break they push the water in towards the beach. That water has to get back outside, and usually goes out in the calmer, deeper sides of the surf break. This part of the pattern will be useful later in your surfing career, to get outside easier. You might want to try it a little: ride halfway out to the point, then paddle in to the center of the break, to the right place, the cross-bar of the A. I hope it is obvious that when the waves are big this current stuff becomes a crucial survival thing.)

A final safety note: When you are here for the tournament, August, is prime time for BIG summer swells in Waikiki. If you ignore the advice above and go all the way outside anyway, watch out for the big sets. If you're outside, and you see a little bump on the horizon and everybody else starts paddling out, get moving no matter how tired your arms are. The safest places to run are the sides. And before this happens, ask one of the surfers how to "turtle".