Sandy Beach and the Pure Joy of Waveriding

Sandy Beach on the southeast tip of Oahu is arguably one of the world’s most unique waveriding locations. On any given day a group of committed individuals gather together to ride waves on the most diverse collection of tools used anywhere.

Visit Sandy during a south swell and you’ll find kids young and old expertly surfing the vicious shorebreak using bodyboards, soft-top surfboards, fiberglass surfboards, McDonald’s food trays, handmade wooden hand planers, swim paddles, and bodysurfing with swim fins and without.

This is the beach that President Obama famously bodysurfed during his first presidential campaign. When he stuck out his arm in the classic bodysurfin position, surfers all over the world recognized him as the real deal. Our President knows how to bodysurf. And whether it is 2 feet or 10 feet, the waves at Sandy are not easy. You have to want to be there.

South swells are wedged together to pound this 400-yard long beach with terrifying precision in about one foot of water. A local told me, “It doesn’t matter if it just 2 feet. You are guaranteed to get a barrel.” The waves are round and hollow.

The water at Sandy is crystal clear and warm which makes it an inviting place to get wet. But don’t be mistaken by the tranquil looking sea. Just getting in and out of the shorebreak requires negotiating the current, the shorepound and the steep beach.

Turn your back on the waves at Sandy and you’ll be sorry. The lifeguards continually monitor the crowd from two portable towers. They announce on loudspeakers, “Please be careful, the surf is up today. There is no other location in the U.S. where more people have their necks broken. So be cautious and careful.”

On our first visit there, a new south swell was building. With a strong tidal push in the middle of the afternoon, we could feel and see the surf increasing. Since the waves break onshore it was difficult to judge their height.

While out bodysurfing I observed one surfer scratch into a wave. Just before the lip destroyed him, I caught a glimpse of him at the very bottom. The wave was twice his height or about 11-12.’ But estimating the size of shorebreak is difficult. Let’s just say the waves were poundful.

On the east side of the beach are two reefs. Both offer up slabby gnarly A-frames, with the lefts beating out the rights. Waves on the inside reef wedge up and alllowed a couple of expert surfers to snag a few choice barrels. One surfer backdoored the rights all afternoon scoring deep barrels. Another surfed  the left, avoiding a large rock on the inside and connecting to the shorebreak where he was either decimated or barreled or both.

The most impressive performers were the surfers riding bodyboards. They had no fins or leashes and took off on the gnarliest set waves, stood up and ripped, hitting the lip, carving 360s and getting deep barrels.

Sandy is popular, crowded, sunny and perfect. And best of all, after you get tired of being pounded into the sand there is a Wahoo’s Fish Taco Truck standing by to provide up lots of bowls, burritos and tacos to help you get over the pain.

My sons and I surfed a lot of spots on Oahu. We had the most fun at Sandy’s.

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Sandy Beach: Waveriding Paradise and Obama’s Favorite Wave

Sandy Beach on the south shore of  Oahu has it all. Great sand, crystal clear water, big park, lifeguards, an incredible shorebreak and a few slabby reefs for surfing. And the beach scene is something out a reality show: South Shore Beach Scene–Glee meets Point Break meets North Shore.

The water at Sandy Beach is crystal clear.

President Obama at Sandy Beach. People love to criticize Obama as feckless. But let me tell you, pulling into a wave at Sandy requires cojones. And the Tea Party hacks wouldn't even be able to drag their pasty blubber past their knees before being knocked down by the whitewater.

This is where President Obama went to bodysurf during his campaign for President. And when surfers worldwide saw him put out his arm in the classic bodysurfing position, we knew we was the real deal. And let me tell you-Sandy Beach is legit brah!!!!! I can guarantee not on of those Tea Party goofballs would last a minute out there in a one on one with our Bodysurfing Prez!

My youngest son Daniel on left on the east side of the beach. Rocks everywhere just below the surface.

Sandy Beach is a bodysurfing haven. The key is to find something to use as a hand planer.Daniel and my oldest son Israel share a fun wave. When it gets big the risk of injury is high. According to the lifeguards, there is nowhere else where more necks are broken in the U.S. I believe it.

Daniel driving into the barrel.

The bodyboarders are amazing. Many are standing up and just surfing their bodyboarders. One told me that he was "a surfer surfing a boardyboard." These waves require committment to get over the hump and into the face.

This guy was ripping. These were not easy waves to make. The wave boils over the reef. The right off this wave is a crazy barrel. A guy was backdooring it all afternoon (no photos though).

DIY bodysurfing tools--a swim paddle, homemade hand planer, and a McDonald's food tray.

What seals the deal on President Obama's bodysurfing street cred is the fact that he can go left and right. The man knows what he is doing. Looks to me like he is a "goofyfoot" and favors going left (as I do).

Oh yeah, when you get hungry, you just stroll over to the Wahoo's fish taco truck--the only one in the world!

Surfing Kauai

My first paddle out on Kauai’s south shore reminds me of the difference between surfing coral reefs and the sand bottom beach breaks and points I have surfed most of my life.

At this coral reef, waves come of nowhere, bendover the reef and slam in front of me. I can’t quite figure out what is going on.

The wave is a classic A-frame breaking on a shallow reef a couple of hundred yards from shore. My sons, Israel and Daniel, are surfing a left down the beach. Another wave that is even hollower breaks just a bit west.

Surfers paddle around me as if I am not there. As a first timer to the reef, I am  just in the way.

I catch a few rights and remember the sound advice given to Israel by South Bay Union School District Trustee Dave Lopez before we departed.

“You have to really paddle over that hump to get into the wave. You have to be committed,” said Dave,who is an excellent surfer and lived in the islands for years.

My strategy at this particular spot is to sit inside the main crew, a tight group of older surfers (okay—my age—fortysomethings) who surf very well and have the lineup dialed. A younger core group of rippers sits inside and snap everything up the older guys can’t get into.

What I fail to realize is that the current sweeps across the reef. When a set comes I am smack in the middle of the impact zone.

Three surfers paddle for the first wave of the set. All three take off.

Normally I would have been okay. In any other location three surfers would not have dropped in on the same hollow wave breaking over a shallow reef.

The guy closest to the whitewater, who should have had priority, doesn’t see me inside of him. I hope he will decide to go left to avoid me.

No such luck. He is heading straight for me. At the last minute I bail my board and dive deep. He completely runs me over.

After bouncing around underwater I emerge and see his board but there is no surfer to be seen. After what seems like eternity, he emerges from the foam. Luckily we are both okay and our boards weren’t dinged.

And then two more set waves hammer me.

Welcome to Hawaii.

The boys and I surf with only a few other people each morning. The locals know there is no need to dawn patrol. The trade winds blow sideshore-offshore all day, everyday.

A couple of days later the surf picks up again. I notice a group of surfer girls paddle out at the left where Israel and Daniel  are out surfing.

One of the girls, a tall blonde, has an odd way of paddling. It is as if her arm is tucked below her board.

Photo by Noah Hamilton

Image via Wikipedia

It is Bethany Hamilton, a professional surfer and the subject of the film Soul Surfer. When she was 13 and in the waters of Kauai’s North Shore, she was bitten by a 14-foot tiger shark and lost her arm.

Bethany Hamilton

Image by Kanaka Menehune via Flickr

When I saw her she had just recovered from an injury she received while surfing in Indonesia.

By the way Bethany rips.

What most impressed me about our time on Kauai was the passion locals have for the ocean. The old guys are ripping on short boards. The young guys are shredding.

People are paddling into critical waves, paddling their outriggers outside the lineup and everyone seems to have a smile on their face.

One evening just before sunset, a local paddles out at the reef. He looks like a UFC fighter, ripped, arms covered in tattoos, with long bleached hair.

This is the local I’ve been dreading. The one who is going to look at me and tell me to leave.

But as he enters the lineup he is grinning and warmly greets his friends, and smiles as he paddle by me.

I smile back as the heavy local paddles hard for a wave but doesn’t quite make it. “There will be another one brah,” he says to me. “There will be another one.”

Blue Hawaii

Duke's board that he traveled with and surfed in Hawaii on. From the Bishop Museum, Honolulu.

I’m on a family trip to Kauai and Oahu in Hawaii. It has been a great opportunity to enjoy ocean recreation and culture. There is no place like Hawaii to experience real ocean culture and people who are so passionate about their relationship with the sea.  Historically, the people of Hawaii  had one of the world’s most advanced ocean cultures.

My son Daniel with a 19th century alaia surfboard from the Bishop Museum. These boards were thin and about five feet long. The original surfboard and required a native surfer to have an exceptionally high surfing ability.A shark hook and other fishing hooks from the Bishop Museum.

A traditional sailing canoe from the Polynesian Cultural Centeron Oahu.

Traditional shark and fishing hooks displayed at the Bishop Museum.

A replica transoceanic saling canoe built by the Hawaiian studies program at BYU. Students and their teachers take the canoe out to learn traditional sailing methods.

A sign at Poipu Beach on Kauai about protecting native Hawaiian monk seals. It is great to see Hawaiians take pride in protecting these nearly extinct seals. Hawaiian seems to cherish their ocean wildlife rather than fear them as in La Jolla where residents seem to relish assaulting seals and fear a wild ocean.

A sea turtle conservation sign at Poipu Beach. It has been great to see how sea turtles have become an icon of Hawaiian ocean culture. I have surfed and swam with some really big turtles here. Awseome!!

My eldest son Israel surfing a wave on Kauai's south shore. I am always reminded of the power of the oean in Hawaii and the complexities of surfing coral reefs. Very different than surfing the beaches and sand-bottom points I grew up with and am used to.

Just another day in Kauai. Blue Hawaii.

Haleiwa on the Oahu's North Shore is quite a scene--even in the summer. Packed with tourists and surfing is really sold. But it is still a cool place. Equivalent of a ski town in Colorado.

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