A Journey To
The Land Of Kings
by KIRK LEE AEDER/IMOCO
The King Kamehaha Statue
is a landmark in Kapaau Town.
For the most part, surfing on the Big Island of Hawaii
is an early morning experience. Ask anyone who knows
and they'll tell you the same thing. As dawn's first
light makes it's presence amidst the towering volcanic
mountain peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa Mountains,
hard-core surfers are already on the road, heading for
spots with names you've never heard of. Early morning
brings perfection. By 10 am though, it's time to start
planning the rest of the day's activities or patiently
wait until the evening glasses off. The prevailing wind
conditions can be brutal. No one said surfing the Big
Island was easy. If so, the rest of the world would
have been here years ago.
The Big Island, also known as the Orchid Isle, is the
youngest in the Hawaiian island chain. The best thing
about living here, other than the relatively uncrowded
surf spots, is that the island is still growing! The
Hawaiian Islands sit almost in the middle of the Pacific
Plate, a volatile "hot spot" that moves ever
so slowly in a northwesterly direction. For the past
eleven years, an active lava flow emanating from the
renown Kilauea Crater on the Island's southeastern end,
has flowed actively into the sea. Pele, the Hawaiian
Goddess of Fire, is constantly in a state of creation.
One day, these same areas where lava currently flows
inhibited into the sea, might well be surf spots of
the future. Though creating, she has also destroyed.
Close by, the Kalapana community has felt her power;
over two hundred houses devastated; the infamous Black
Sand Beach at Kalapana demolished; as well as the best
surfing spot in the area, formerly known as "Drain
Pipes" being overtaken by lava. Someday in the
distant future, there will be a new Hawaiian island.
Currently, "Loihi Seamount" is rising from
the ocean floor some 25 miles southeast of Hilo and
Here on the Big Island, there's even "vog".
A cross between fog and volcanic vapors that emanate
from Kilauea's activities, have created a slight health
hazard for some residents on the island. The only good
thing it produces are the spectacular fiery-red sunsets.
Such is life on an island with an active volcano. Frequent
earthquakes and tremors only add to the experience.
Barren, stark, primitive, vast, desolate and empty.
Those were my initial impressions about the Big Island
of Hawaii when I first moved here over three years ago.
You fly into the airport at Kona, which is built directly
upon a 200 year old black lava flow that originated
from nearby Mt. Hualalai. Driving from the airport in
either direction you would swear you were on another
planet, anywhere but earth. There's hardened lava everywhere!
Long flowing intertwined fingers of centuries old brown
and black ooze. The power of the legendary Pele is more
than evident everywhere you look. One question immediately
comes to mind. Does life really exist in such a vast
and arid land? The more important question for wave
seekers however is what about the surf?
The answer to both questions is yes, you just have
to know where to look. Describing my perception of the
Big Island today would be much different. Respect, awe,
diversity, heavenly, powerful, and harmonious. If it
sounds like I died and went to heaven then, you're probably
right. The Big Island of Hawaii is truly a diamond in
the rough. Especially, when it comes to surf. Of course,
no one here wants you to know that. Yet, when you consider
that the island of Hawaii is more than twice the size
of the other Hawaiian Islands combined, there may be
plenty of room, and waves, to go around.
Unfortunately, surfing on the Big Island is not that
simple. Due to it's massive size and open accessibility
to swells from all directions, there are an abundance
of spots. Accessibility to them however, is the main
dilemma. Owning a four wheel drive vehicle on the Big
Island is the choice of serious surfers. If you don't
have one, then you're quite simply going to be left
out. Kona has it's fair share of decent surf. That's
the civilized world though. Head south towards South
Point (the southern most tip of land in the entire United
States), or north towards the Kohala Coast (an area
rich with Hawaiian history), and the surf experience
becomes slightly more hard-core. Big Island spots are
often remote meaning supplies become a definite necessity.
Water is a must.
It seem ironic that the Island of Hawaii has remained
so reclusive when it comes to it's hidden wave treasures.
There are many reasons why. Nothing more needs to be
said about Oahu, especially it's infamous north shore.
Maui has more than it's share of gems. Kauai and Molokai
have remained a bit mysterious over the years, but the
masses are slowly finding out anyway. Often overshadowed
is Hawaii, I mean the Island of Hawaii, is more of a
enigma. That's just fine with the local surfers. The
less people who know about the place, the better. With
all of the Hawaiian cultural aspects that thrive hero
though, the place is still somewhat of a mystery for
visitors, but probably will not be for long.
Tourists visit and pour millions of dollars into the
State of Hawaii's economy. That's how the Islands manage
to thrive. Yet, most of the people who visit here see
typical Waikiki or revamped Maui. The real Hawaii sits
by, knowing that's it's time will come, and that appears
to be now. One of the best kept secrets in the world
is apparently no longer. The Island of Hawaii has everything
all the other islands have to offer, and more. Where
else in the world can you be surrounded by hot, pulsating
red lava one moment, and on top of a snow covered mountain
the next! There are thirteen climactic regions on earth
today and the Big Island has all but two; the Arctic
and the Saharan. You can be driving along and pass through
deserts, fern forests, groves of coffee trees, macadamia
nut orchards, hardened lava fields, wild orchid fields,
and tropical jungle all within a few minutes of each
Raised in Kona on the Big Island, Shane Dorian provided
the first hint to the outside surfing world that the
Island of Hawaii had potential. Just being from the
island was good enough. No pro surfer of any caliber
unless you count body boarder Mike Stewart before him
has returned so much recognition to his home island
of Hawaii. Dorian has also shown that the Big Island
was a possible breeding ground for young talent. Since
then, Kona's Conan Hayes has followed in his footsteps.
Now, they're setting the ASP circuit ablaze. They met
each other years ago when Conan bought one of Shane's
old boards. The two have been friends ever since. Together,
they rode the fickle surf around nostalgic Kona. ÒBanyan's,Ó
a formidable left-right combination breaking over sharp,
shallow water filled with coral heads, was usually the
choice. Here, the local crowd in the water resembles
V-land in nature. Drop in on someone and you'll pay
Across the horseshoe-shaped bay is "Lyman's".
Prone to frequent speed changes, it's a long, often
sluggish, but big left. Performance is the name of the
game at either spot, separated by some three hundred
yards. Dorian likes to tell the story that most surfers,
who have lived here long enough, already know about.
An estimated twelve foot tiger shark lives somewhere
in the bay, often causing a panic in the water for those
surfers who don't know he's been there for years and
has never harmed anyone. It's good to note that shark
attacks have been virtually nonexistent here, probably
because the island's surrounding waters are loaded with
marine life........big marine life! An example of this
are the major billfish tournaments that take place annually.
Fortunately, sharks are not part of the hunted creatures.
Most stories in Hawaiian history about the "aumakua",
seem to originate from the Big Island. These were animal
helpers who were half god and half human, usually in
the form of a shark. With this in mind, hopefully all
the Aumakua off the Big Island are friendly. While there
has not been an attack here in recent memory, sharks
can often be spotted in the lineups at more recluse
spots, such as mystic Waipio Valley.
Ask Shane or Conan about other good spots on the Big
Island though, and you're likely to get a blank stare.
No names, no directions, no clues. They would prefer
you found it on your own. That includes a spot in Kona
with a slight resemblance to Back-door Pipe, where coconut
palms sway in the warm trades, and wild parrots squawk
incessantly from among the trees.
"It has to be that way," admits Shane. "A
lot of photographers have asked to come over here and
shoot with me and I usually turn them down, not to be
rude, but because of the wrath I'll face from the local
guys. Not that it's THAT heavy or anything. It's actually
pretty mellow overall. It would just bum a lot of guys
out," he added. Instead, Shane's numerous pro surf
friends have visited him, leaving the photographers
behind. One surfer who has made a few visits here is
Shuji Kasuya. In March of this year, Shuji made an appearance
on the Big Island, and managed to get in some good sessions
at Anaehoomalu Bay and Pololu Valley.
Keeping with Shane's desires, very few places mentioned
within the remaining text of this article will reveal
names and locations. On the Big Island, there are river
mouths, point breaks, beach breaks, and some very shallow,
nasty reef breaks. Perhaps the most epic spot, a picturesque
right surrounded by a lush, uninhabited valley, is only
accessible by boat or helicopter. On the Big Island,
one thing is for sure, don't expect to surf at a lot
of places with white sand beaches. In fact, there may
only be just one, Hapuna Beach along the Kohala Coast.
At the southern end of this half mile long stretch of
white sand is Hapuna Point, a lodging right that breaks
up to eight feet. Hapuna, which means "Springs
of life," in the Hawaiian language is hardly a
secret. It's currently the number one rated beach in
all of America. Having a world class surf point here
only helps matters. The winter months here are the best,
and the more west in the swell direction the better.
The Point at Hapuna is actually a 114 mile paddle out
from the white sand beach. You CAN however, surf at
places with black, green, or even gold sand. How's that
for variety Speaking of which, variety is the name of
the game here, whether it's surf or the numerous other
things one can become involved in.
Take snow boarding for example. When measured from
their true base upon the ocean floor, both 13,680 foot
Mauna Loa and 13,796 foot Mauna Kea would respectively,
be the tallest mountains in the world. Major storms
often deposit snow at the summit's top. It's a sharp
contrast to be standing amidst the warm sand at Hapuna
Beach, surfboard tucked under your arm, and gaze up
towards two massive snow capped mountains. Then the
thought hits you, "Snow in Hawaii?" Most surfers
on the Big Island have discovered it's best to have
a snow board on hand too. You surf in the morning and
head to Mauna Kea for the afternoon thaw-off. What possibly
could be better than that?
While exploring for surf spots, it's best to keep in
mind the incredible amount of Hawaiian history that
presides here. British explorer Captain Cook was killed
just south of Kona while trying to institute the policies
of outsiders in 1779. Resistance was strong. The Hawaiians
are a proud people, and most indications of this today
are found on the Big Island. Ancient heaiu's (places
of sacrifice and worship) are numerous, especially along
the Kohala Coast where configurations of lava rock walls
mark the ancient path once known as the "King's
Trail." A youthful chief named Kamehameha controlled
the Kona and Kohala districts after the death of his
king, Kalaniopuu, in 1782.
Over the next few years, Kamehameha took power on the
Big Island through a series of fierce battles with other
chieftains on the island. In 1795 he began to invade
the other Hawaiian islands, and in 1810 ruled all of
the islands in Hawaii. He died in 1819, and rumor has
it that he was buried somewhere along the Kohala Coast.
The focal point of Hawaii's history, the Big Island
is currently a reflection of that past.
It takes approximately six hours to circle the island
by car never stopping! It would take three hours to
drive from South Point to Kohala town along the northern
most edge of the island. By comparison, on Maui you
can get from Maalaea on the south shore to Hookipa on
the north shore in twenty minutes. Inaccessibility to
spots and long drives to the better ones, are perhaps
the key reasons why Hawaii Island has maintained a low
surf profile over the years.
One recent occurrence on the Big Island may change
the relatively obscure appearance it now has. This occurrence
even attracts some of the best surfers in the state
including Laird Hamilton, Buzzy Kerbox, and Brian Keaulana
to name a few. They weren't here to surf, although they
did manage a few sessions in between filming for the
most expensive movie ever made in Hollywood history.
"Waterworld", the recent Kevin Costner/Dennis
Hopper film that was released in 1995, and was filmed
entirely on the Big Island. Or should I say off the
Big Island. The futuristic thriller takes place entirely
on water, 500 years in the future, after the ozone layer
vanishes and Antarctica melts. Several Hawaiian surfers
played roles as extras and stunt men. Keaulana was there
to ensure the crew's safety. In between takes, the surf
crew could be found stalking the coastline for waves
and wound up, primarily, at Anaehoomalu Bay; a fast
breaking right. Suddenly, the locals who had such a
serene place to themselves for years, found out how
the other half lives. The crowd in the water had quickly
quadrupled. The aggressive tactics left a lot to be
desired. Everyone seemed to rejoice once the show finally
left town and the locals had the spot back to themselves.
In all honesty, Hawaii island is growing in popularity,
but at a very slow rate. Surfing here will undoubtedly
someday feel a bit of the onslaught. The massive configuration
of the island however, will keep the crowds at bay.
Few serious "outside" surfers take up residence
here. You have to want it bad. Unemployment on this
island is low. Even those who do move here, find that
you can live here for years, and still only know fifty
percent of the surf spots available. That's all part
of the mystery of the island. Yet, for those who seek,
they will find the hidden treasures that await.
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