Stabbed with a red hot poke bowl (or, your five minute guide to Hawaii!)

Stu Nettle
Swellnet Dispatch

Poke bowls are hot, listicles are not, so let's play along here: the following ain't a list but the ingredients to a Hawaiian entree. In this case they're served up by someone with a few seasons under his belt but a decade-plus lapse since the last visit. Comparisons are part of the flavour.

Culture
Surfing is still the centre of the cultural universe in Hawaii. As Australian surfing success wanes on the World Tour it's become clear that while Oz has a beach culture it's not necessarily a surf culture. Board riding is prone to the whims of fashion, big with Baby Boomers, women, and adult learners, while kids flag it unless driven by zealous surfing Dads.

But in Hawaii? Surfing is just done. From tots to pops. It's bound so tightly to their culture that it's free of affectation or fad. Head down to Keiki and watch the next John John, aged just two, fearlessly skimboard into a double overhead shorebreak while Mom and Pop watch on with indifference. Nothing could be more normal.

Like helping to tie shoelaces, Brad Gerlach does up the legrope on an impish John John

Attitood
My deal in Hawaiian waters was always the same: stay silent, speak only when spoken to, and surf well. For fifty years the locals have seen tourists try every single strategy to ingratiate themselves and score more waves. I figured quiet commitment went further than any salutation ever could.

However, this trip I travelled with guys so amiable they simply couldn't do anything but front up and say g'day. It was like travelling with Mick Dundee through New York City. To play it evasive would be an egregious affront to nature - much better to go with the flow and serve it sunny side up.

The response from locals always went one of two ways: reciprocated smiles, or a subtle shift down the pecking order when our blowin credentials were betrayed. But even I, a notable non-smiler, reckoned the latter was worth it for the occasional kindred link of the former.

Every winter, Hawaiians have their coastline invaded by the hordes and they largely take it in good spirit. Whatever approach you take - cool or cordial - just remember to always defer to the crew who live and work there.

Floatation
Last time I visited Hawaii it was a towtalitarian state. Big wave boards were 5'10 and weighed 25 kilos. Skis buzzed between the outer reefs on big days. Everything was XXL by PWC, OK?

Since then the purists have risen up and the noble pursuit of paddle surfing has again taken prominence - though this time it's safety first. Skis don't whip people in but run safety. Floatation vests aren't rare, they're everywhere. And not just inflation vests but foam floatation numbers that put Schwarzengger-like pecs on even the most pigeon-chested punter. I wore one a few times and can vouch for the suit of armour appeal but fortunately its lifetime warranty - interpret that however you will - was never truly tested.

"You want to get mah-sive?"

Volume
I'm not talking 28.57 litres versus 29.10 - the excruciating debate of volume as a dimension. But rather the immutable fact of Hawaiian boards and their requisite size. You wanna ride a big swell in Hawaii? Tack at least a foot onto your boards, preferably two. Probably best you whack an inch of thickness in also.

Unless you're into double digits on the QS you won't need anything under 7'0" at big Sunset, and even then you'll be outpaddled by the ten-oh tankers steaming in from the shipping lanes. Better you rise up and join them. None of this will make sense until you experence the insignificance of an XL Hawaiian swell. Trust me, go big.

Design
Nowhere in surfing is the rush of progress more apparent than big wave board design. Haleiwa is still a fantastic place to go and tyre kick a quiver, but rather than the spear-like, flip-tip rockets of the past, what's now lined up in rows are thick-railed, forward-weighted missiles. Everything is geared toward early entry, which makes complete sense for big waves. Like MP said of his rocker shape - "It's like cheating, man" - you gotta wonder why water-pushing curves prevailed for as long as they did.

Big wave board design will likely keep moving forward, but for now take your time to marvel at these state-of-the-art creations and imagine the fantastic voyages they'll take.

North Shore weapons stockpile

Collateral damage
When each ride has more consequence it stands to reason that surfers invest more into their big wave boards. Not just coin, though they do cost more, but thought, energy, and damnit, even love. A connection is forged that just doesn't apply to your average six-one dragonfly slayer. Big boards are your ticket to fulfillment, the reason you're over here in the first place, so when a good one goes down - and it invariably will - it's like a death in the family.

Deal with it in whatever way seems appropriate: dress in black, mourn for ten days, wail like a Middle Eastern widow. The only upside is it provides an excuse to think and talk even more about board design, an opportunity that should never ever be missed.

Gone too young - the author grieves

Celebrity
There's Leonardo running down the path at Rocky Point, John John pulling in at Logs, Michael Ho shopping at Foodland, Nathan Florence too, Owl Chapman is talking shit in the Sunset carpark, while Healey is scarfing tacos, and there's Sarlo stroking a nine foot Bushman into Puena Point.

By dint of its history and size, no other surf zone on Earth comes close to the North Shore's celeb-to-pleb ratio. It's a kick for students of our history and starstruck groms alike.

Homeless
They say mainland cities are cleaning the streets by giving their homeless one way tickets to Hawaii. And why not take it up? If you're gonna sleep rough you may as well do it in paradise, so Hawaii's homeless situation has risen sharply. The best and worst of America has always been on show and this growing underclass represents the latter. It's confronting to see, especially for Australians with ready access to the safety net of welfare. Just don't mention the Aborigines...

Grindz
You'll either recoil at the hyper-processed sugar-bound fare sold in Foodland or run around like a kid in a candy shop - which is actually where you are. It's a struggle to find food that doesn't taste like something from an Easter Show sample bag, even muesli or granola gives you an instant buzz. Buy wisely, think bananas, eggs, and sausages, or just eat poke bowls (pronounced pokey, thank me later) and fish tacos from the grill wagons.

The abundance of cheap and ready Mexican only highlights how badly Australians get scorched for cuisine that's little more than beans, corn, and chicken. Then again, good luck buying a a banh mai or laksa on the North Shore.

And the bean juice? It's guaranteed to make a coffee snob out of you. Order it black, they cant stuff that up. Unless that is, you get handed a cup of anemic percolated dishwater.

Who cares about Michelin stars when you've got this?

Spread
Just cos it's two foot out front doesn't mean it's not six foot down the road. Hawaii has no continental shelf to attenuate and order approaching swells. The dramatic seamounts face into one of the most active ocean basins on Earth and the result is a coastline that can startle. Flag that two foot day at your own peril, then kick yourself when the neighbour slips a dripping gun from his pick-up while raving wide-eyed about Sunset. He may be talking it up, but then again.

Options
If you get a swell you think is too big to handle, consider paddling out anyway. Watch it from the side where you'll see some outlandish stuff go down, things that are largely invisible or unappreciated from shore: Lips that pitch horizontally, surfers with 1000-yard stares, wipeouts that'll make even a sadist wince.

Commonsense says this option only applies to Pipe or Waimea, dont do it at Sunset where you'll be flirting between the rip and the West Peak and one of them will ultimately claim you.

Alternatively, take flippers out at Pipe and duck the last section. Feel it pitch. Get the back of your head in the photographers line of sight. Smile when they yell. Then, when lumps of coral start to rain down head to Keiki for a body womp but watch out for two-year-old John John.

Just be in the water...within reason of course.

Cliche
It's Hawaii, every overstated boiler-plate of a cliche is true, from the postcard sun setting over Kaena Point, to rusty pickups slung with guns, to the damn swaying coconut palms. There's been songs sung, stories written, T-shirts printed. It's even, miraculously enough, an exact seven miles from Velzyland to Haleiwa.

Nothing here has escaped attention and comment, but don't let that lessen the impact for you, because real life is better than any postcard and even the most adept writer falls short when describing the primal terror of oxygen deprivation and the thrill of breathing it again.

A view worth holding your breath for

The pay off
Application is everything. Spend some months training, give forethought to boards while learning about Hawaiian lineups and you're almost guaranteed a session that transcends all measure of normality. I'm talking a session full of airfare waves - every ride equivalent to the cost - where strands of your surfing life connect: the experience you've gathered, the fitness you've earned, your acquired knowledge and how you apply it through considered risk.

And when that happens there are few better feelings on Earth.

Massive mahalo to Brett Davis, Pastor Larry, and the wise counsel of froffers

Comments

jimbrown's picture
jimbrown's picture
jimbrown commented Wednesday, 14 Feb 2018 at 10:18am

That was a joy to read and it has made the pilgrimage (not yet taken) all the more urgent

brettdavis59's picture
brettdavis59's picture
brettdavis59 commented Wednesday, 14 Feb 2018 at 4:27pm

Loved the commentary and just re-lived it with you!! Thanks for coming stu bd

brettdavis59's picture
brettdavis59's picture
brettdavis59 commented Wednesday, 14 Feb 2018 at 4:27pm

Loved the commentary and just re-lived it with you!! Thanks for coming stu bd

50young's picture
50young's picture
50young commented Wednesday, 14 Feb 2018 at 10:31am

Great read Stu!!

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Wednesday, 14 Feb 2018 at 10:52am

Excellent stuff.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Wednesday, 14 Feb 2018 at 10:53am

"Last time I visited Hawaii it was a towtalitarian state."

Hahahaha, pay that man!

abc-od's picture
abc-od's picture
abc-od commented Wednesday, 14 Feb 2018 at 11:04am

That was enjoyable. Less chest beating and more laughs, the way it should be done.

goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot commented Wednesday, 14 Feb 2018 at 11:08am

Fuck I love this.
Makes you want to jump on the net and book a flight the second you stop reading. And your right Stu, gliding into a solid wave nice and early on a big thick board then choosing your line has gotta be one of the best feelings on earth

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Wednesday, 14 Feb 2018 at 12:03pm

I'd forgotten how satisfying a simple line can be, especially when the waves are anything but.

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben commented Wednesday, 14 Feb 2018 at 12:49pm

"pronounced pokey, thank me later"

Is that poke-ee, poke-eh, poke-ah, or poke-ay?

I'm sure it's the last one though was never quite sure.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Wednesday, 14 Feb 2018 at 12:53pm

You want the haole pronunciation or the real one?

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben commented Wednesday, 14 Feb 2018 at 12:56pm

Haole, por favor.

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben commented Wednesday, 14 Feb 2018 at 12:56pm

While you're there, how do you pronounce haole?

amb's picture
amb's picture
amb commented Wednesday, 14 Feb 2018 at 1:33pm

Thermal "you're so haole you don't even know youre haole"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7nqgQIZKgw

crg's picture
crg's picture
crg commented Wednesday, 14 Feb 2018 at 1:03pm

Has it changed much in "a decade-plus" years Stu?
I imagine the details change, but it's Hawaii, it will always stay Hawaii.

It's been 7 years this season since my last trip. It's been on my mind constantly for awhile now that I have to go back. This upcoming swell has poured some fuel on the fire. This story has completed the circuit. I'm going back next year...late season again. Can't wait.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Wednesday, 14 Feb 2018 at 1:30pm

The place? Nah, not really, a few once-vacant lots are now houses, and a few bigger blocks now sport dual occupancies. However, the push towards higher density living is slow and it's largely masked by a lack of ostentatious development - Sunset Colony notwithstanding - and a uniform style of architecture.

I'm not sure if it's planned, but the latter should really be commended, it creates a cohesion in the built environment so rather than the monuments to ego we see at Malibu, Byron, Bondi....really wherever there's over-the-top wealth, the style of the North Shore has remained relatively humble. Think pitched roof, weatherboard, wraparound verandah - some are done in real style, but they keep within the style, if you know what I mean.

The people? Yeah, there's a growing Brzailian contingent, and the homeless situation is way beyond what I remember.

Trawling through my memories was a fantastic inner trip. So many moments when I stopped and recalled: I've been here before, I've seen this before. Not the big things like waves and buildings and carparks, but smaller things, a quiet pathway, a rockshelf, or even a forgotten smell.

Jeez it was good to go back.

neville-beats-buddha's picture
neville-beats-buddha's picture
neville-beats-buddha commented Wednesday, 14 Feb 2018 at 2:04pm

Be careful Stu you might bring a few people out of retirement!

Great piece BTW

rj-davey's picture
rj-davey's picture
rj-davey commented Wednesday, 14 Feb 2018 at 4:27pm

Great read.
I stayed with Ps Larry in 2015 I think. Love that guy.

evosurfer's picture
evosurfer's picture
evosurfer commented Wednesday, 14 Feb 2018 at 5:28pm

HAWAII yes the mecca of surfing heaven.
Love the place a thousand times over been home 2 weeks
and already booked accommodation for next year.
Go with a cool vibe and aloha attitude a friendly smile a lot
bigger boards and enjoy. Not the picture perfection of indo
but challenging, faster, more power just better with options.
Only place on earth id spend 5 weeks surfing. HAWAii
Indo with its crazed crowds, aggro and constant hassling
has definitely lost its appeal.

b

IF im not surfing im racing

jarvi's picture
jarvi's picture
jarvi commented Wednesday, 14 Feb 2018 at 5:41pm

Great read Stu. Hawaii is such a trip.

stanfrance's picture
stanfrance's picture
stanfrance commented Thursday, 15 Feb 2018 at 6:41am

Nice one Stu. I'm off there mid year for the 1st time...with family but for nearly a month. 3 islands, south facing shores + obligatory visit to the north shore to soak in the vibes. After reading that I'm pumped. It won't be epic Hawaiian winter conditions but I'm sure its still going to be rad. Can't wait.

Stan France

mdcroft's picture
mdcroft's picture
mdcroft commented Thursday, 15 Feb 2018 at 10:04am

Great article Stu captured the whole vibe very well. I suspect you have now done the Hawaii tourist board a favour.

surfstarved's picture
surfstarved's picture
surfstarved commented Thursday, 15 Feb 2018 at 11:49am

Shame about the Freeflight though... that had to smart.

Don't let the bastards grind you down

spiggy topes's picture
spiggy topes's picture
spiggy topes commented Thursday, 15 Feb 2018 at 4:49pm

For 40 years I dreamed of surfing there. Christmas 2016 and Maui seemed a gentler entry. I was so spooked by all the myths it reminded me of North Narra in the 70s. Locals said don't bother with Ho'okipa, too many meth heads and aggro. Not a bit of it. So chilled, 40 per cent women in the break, smile-a-minute Carissa Moore tuning up and miles of space. It was all I hoped for and so much more. Beautiful, vibrant water. The down sides are saddening if you have any compassion, seeing indigenous people displaced by carpet baggers now long gone. But the aloha spirit will never die so long as an Hawaiian walks the Earth. And we get each others' humour. After I complemented a mature woman on a wicked but elegantly edgy ride a very big man paddled up to me on my treasured kneelo gun and commented: "That's a beautiful ... colour."

Eggman's picture
Eggman's picture
Eggman commented Friday, 16 Feb 2018 at 8:03am

That was a great read. Thank you. .

Gary G's picture
Gary G's picture
Gary G commented Friday, 16 Feb 2018 at 12:04pm

Hey Stu,

Gary is always keen in hearing stories about things that bulk people up, especially artificially, so your flotation vest story was of particular interest.

Do you ever wear them at home and in what conditions?
Which conditions in Hawaii encouraged you to don the fake-pecs?

Gary is considering launching a range under the brand name 'Floating Adonis'; they'll provide water safety whilst accentuating people's pecs and triceps.

For your next holiday, why not get all up in Gary?
Gary, Indiana.
Nestled at the tip of Lake Michigan, the best spot for scoring a facey anywhere on the great lakes, Gary's such a delight that once you've come once, you're certain to want to come again.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Friday, 16 Feb 2018 at 12:20pm

Nought to do with wave size, Gaz. I mean, just check the background of that photo with Kala.

He knows.

Good luck with the Floating Adonis range. Mebbe consider a female version? The Sweet FA.

Larry Lee's picture
Larry Lee's picture
Larry Lee commented Friday, 16 Feb 2018 at 12:35pm

Good read Stu .
Reminds me of the Journalism of yesteryear . Maybe its the paddle retro grade purism that has brought this out in you ?
Don't mind Gary . I suspect he only read the article to get another peak at your magnificent Rig . And to think if you are home now , you may get the chance to bring that A game to home . ?

Gary, now I know I was wrong
I messed up and now you're gone
Gary, I'm sorry I neglected you
Oh, I never expected you to run away
And leave me feeling this empty
Please come home 'cause I miss you, Gary
Gary, come home
Gary, come home

Gary G's picture
Gary G's picture
Gary G commented Friday, 16 Feb 2018 at 1:26pm

It's cool Larry,

Stu's such a joker he's set Gary a challenge - take the best Telephoto shot of Stu from outside the court-ordered exclusion zone. Oh the hilarious game of cat and mouse we're playing!

For your next holiday, why not get all up in Gary?
Gary, Indiana.
Nestled at the tip of Lake Michigan, the best spot for scoring a facey anywhere on the great lakes, Gary's such a delight that once you've come once, you're certain to want to come again.

the-u-turn's picture
the-u-turn's picture
the-u-turn commented Friday, 16 Feb 2018 at 7:05pm

...now that is writing. Loved it Stu. you're spot on with your prose and subject matter.

I walked onto Makaha for the first time in 1988 mesmerised by the immersion of 'whole family' in surf, as Stu rightly points out, and in the years since I believe there has been a mellow that has evolved within Hawaii. Maybe it's the understanding of Hawaiian heritage and the respect that comes with a little knowledge from travelling surfers.

That said, west side is quite different to north shore which is of course different to town. Stu's commentary in Attitood is marvelous (as Richie would say).

...one short tale. A few years back the bride and I paddle out to Queens to Tandem, it's glassy, perfection and...packed. Sitting there waiting and waiting, polite beyond belief and still not a chance of a wave. A well known Hawaiian paddle's out asking where we're from and strikes up a conversation. We chat, there is some subconscious testing of Hawaiian knowledge and voila!

He sits up on his board (tanker) and proclaims in that un-mistakable pidgin, 'Dis my friends, they next wave'. Not a soul moves, the most perfect wave rises up and I'm the only one paddling.

Wonderful ride, bliss in the early morning sun. We paddle back out, nod say 'thanks' and that's it....not a chance of a second. Welcome to Hawaii.

The U Turn
...a little Aloha goes a long way.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Friday, 16 Feb 2018 at 2:33pm

Ha ha....we did a trip around to Makaha and on the way there I recalled the section in 'Nat's Nat and That's That' where a teenage Nat comes second in a Peruvian contest but he's passed out and too drunk to accept his award until Buffalo Keulana intervenes:

"Then the next thing I knew I was being lifted up, slung like a rag doll over Buffalo's shoulder and carried onto stage. The audience was yelling - apparently they'd been trying to get me up on stage for quite a while - but Buff, in his best pidgin, said, "Nat, he a liddle bit fuckdup jus now. He wud like say 'Aloha'"

the-u-turn's picture
the-u-turn's picture
the-u-turn commented Friday, 16 Feb 2018 at 7:03pm

...oh that's brilliant. Wouldn't you have loved to have seen it.

The U Turn
...a little Aloha goes a long way.

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Friday, 16 Feb 2018 at 11:45pm

Great article and great banter gents. Love it.

Watashi wa metabo oyagi desu.

eddiewouldgo's picture
eddiewouldgo's picture
eddiewouldgo commented Saturday, 17 Feb 2018 at 5:52am

Whys my boy Kala be like puffed up looking ?

marcus's picture
marcus's picture
marcus commented Saturday, 17 Feb 2018 at 3:51pm

Nice read again Stu. Well done. Hope you have a great trip mate

i remember the internet when it was just for inteligent people

Pete Jovic's picture
Pete Jovic's picture
Pete Jovic commented Sunday, 25 Feb 2018 at 12:39am

Thanks for the good read Stu. I really miss that place.

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