Professional surfing’s World Championship Tour has stricken the tents and winner’s stand at Moche Beach in Portugal. That seems, at first, irrelevant to anyone planning or enjoying a visit to Hawaii. But considering the fact that Oahu’s North Shore is the very belly button, or piko, of the multi-billion dollar surfing industry, and that that the “seven mile miracle” is the tour’s next stop, something that happened on a chilly beach at the tip of the Iberian Peninsula does matter here. It’s shaping up to be a cracking winter season on the North Shore, and an amazing time to be there.
It happens every year with the arrival of powerful swells spawned from massive weather systems in the North Pacific. But the 2014-15 season will be exceptional for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the surf itself.
The WCT’s World Title will be sorted out at Pipeline. And that’s how it should be. Pipeline is the most dramatic and important break in the world. Anyone on the planet who wishes to become a legitimate WCT surfer simply must prove themselves on the North Shore, and at Pipeline in particular. The Van’s Triple Crown is second only to the World Title in prestige. It comprises three events taking place at Haleiwa’s Alii Beach Park and Sunset Beach before culminating at the Banzai Pipeline.
Hawaii’s top pros are out of the race, but there’s a great deal of drama in that professional world right now. We could see a Brazilian, 21-year-old Gabriel Medina, win the crown for the first time in the history of the sport. 42-year-old and 11-time World Champion and possible space alien Kelly Slater, whose legend seems to grow every time he paddles out, is still in it. So is current champ Australian Mick Fanning. It all comes down to Pipeline.
Everyone wants to see John John Florence surf. He’s #4 in the world going into the Pipeline contest. He grew up, quite literally, on the beach and in the water there. No one in the world could possibly have a more intimate relationship with Pipe. And he surfs better than anyone anywhere, too, ratings be damned. He’s sure to earn his position as the highest paid surfer in the world with a level of surfing no one has seen before.
The waves will be epic. Industry forecasters are predicting “very average” swell conditions this year. Whatever that might mean, “very average” on the North Shore can still be better than the best day at any other surf break in the world.
What all of this means is that the eyes of the world of surfing will be peering more closely than ever at what happens on the strand of sand that is Oahu’s North Shore this winter. It’s always a circus, mind you, but the beach crowds are likely to be bigger, the parking more scarce, and expectations higher in November and December of 2014.
But with a little planning, it’s still relatively easy to experience the North Shore in all of its sundrenched glory. Whether you’re looking to find a quiet beach with gentle waters or rub up against surf celebrities taking on the challenge of the world’s best waves (there are tons of surf-celebrities, and they look like just everyone else), taking extra care and some good planning will get you there.
Start early. The surfers are up before dawn. So are the photographers, international journalists, team managers and crews, and broadcast teams. And professional surfing fans are legion. Winter on the North Shore is their World Cup without the four-year wait.
Rent a bike or enjoy walking. There is a bicycle/pedestrian path that runs along most of the North Shore from just north of Waimea Bay down to Sunset Beach, Turtle Bay and beyond. It’s the best way to beat the traffic, and to make a surf-celebrity sighting.
Be respectful of everyone and everything, and their safety as well as your own. In the water, on the sand, or on the road, the North Shore can be harrowing to even the best-prepared. Silly behavior like darting into traffic, ignoring posted signage, or menacing monk seals or green sea turtles creates danger for those who aren’t silly, too. “Live Aloha” is the unwritten rule on Oahu’s North Shore.