At Oahu’s southeastern tip is Sandy Beach, a world-famous beachbreak notable for its size and raw power. Locals love “Sandy’s” for its waves and easy accessibility, and visitors are attracted by is broad, white sands and crystal clear water. Two lifeguard towers, freshwater showers, bathroom facilities, expansive grass fields, and nearby food trucks make Sandy’s an ideal spot for an all day picnic at the beach.
But the tranquil environs of Sandy Beach belie the very real dangers posed by the surf that pounds the shore. It has long been known as “Broke Neck Beach” and the broken neck capitol of the world. Lifeguards at Sandy’s are kept busy year-round. There are a number of surf breaks that constitute the beach, each with its own distinct characteristics. None of them are for beginners. Facing the ocean, from east to west, the breaks line up as follows.
At the eastern end of the beach park is Full-Point, an offshore reef break popular with longboarders. It’s a couple of hundred yards from the beach, and should only be attempted by fit, experienced surfers. Sandy Beach lifeguards are among the best and most experienced in the world, but the sheer distance of Full-Point from the nearest lifeguard tower means that it takes at least a minute for them to reach anyone who gets into trouble there.
Half-Point is closer to shore, but the danger here is the harrowingly shallow reef the wave breaks over. That makes it a short, hollow tube-ride type of wave popular with body-boarders and more intrepid short-boarders. At lower tides, the reef goes dry. And it’s razor-sharp. Half-Point breaks both left and right, with the right ending in a channel and the left running into the shorebreak.
Half-Point feathers into Pipe Littles, a sort of sub-spot so named because of its uncanny resemblance to the famous Banzai Pipeline when conditions are right. In recent years, it has become popular among surfers on foam shortboards keen to pull into hopeless and punishing close-out shorebreak tubes.
Those shorebreak tubes break at Cobbles. A swim at Cobbles makes its name obvious. Because of the shape of the beach, it collects bits of loose, white coral that look and feel like cobblestones. Landing on the sand here is a lot more like landing in gravel.
The main break at Sandy’s is Middle Peak or just Middles. South swells focus on this part of the beach, where the shorebreak is biggest. There is palpable drama in the air as towering sets march toward the sand and bodyboarders and bodysurfers scratch for the horizon. People on the beach can feel the sand rumble when waves on bigger days crash ashore. The sand slopes steeply into the water in this part of the beach, sometimes causing spectacular backwash that launches riders onto practically dry sand.
At the western end of Sandy Beach is ominously-named Gas Chambers or just Chambers. This is the shallowest part of the beach and perhaps the most dangerous. The shallow water makes for the cavernous shorebreak tubes that give Gas Chambers its name. Rare is the rider that makes it out of a tube here. Its namesake on the North Shore has similar conditions.
Last Man’s is the last rideable part of the beach before it gives way to lava rock and reef heading toward the Halona Blowhole and From Here to Eternity Beach (or “Cockroach Cove”). Last Man’s breaks onto a broad lava rock slab that may or may not be covered by a thin layer of sand, depending on the tide. As the name implies, there can be only one person at Last Man’s, the furthest person at that end of the beach.
Visitors should always check with lifeguards about the conditions at Sandy Beach, and faithfully heed their advice and warnings. Having conducted countless rescues and recoveries, they know what they are talking about. When conditions are hazardous, requiring a rescue puts them in danger, too.