Blue Crush: Surfing Oahu's North Shore

15 June 2016

Waikiki Beach is said to have the ideal conditions for surf novices, with gentle, rolling surf for a smooth, long-wave ride. So why am I learning to surf on Oahu’s famed North Shore – home of Hawaii’s big winter waves, the Banzai Pipeline and the domain of Vans Triple Crown pros?

 Getting to grips with the basics - on dry land! (Image: Cassandra Laffey)

Perhaps it was fate. After the first instructor mysteriously failed to materialise, I book a two-hour group surf lesson with Hans Hedemann Surf School the following day at Turtle Bay Resort. One of only two hotels on the North Shore (Courtyard by Marriott Oahu North Shore opened in mid-2015), the 5-star Turtle Bay Resort is stunning, located on a secluded tip of Oahu island, and offers a huge range of activities, from helicopter rides to oceanfront horse rides.

But my number-one ambition while in Hawaii was to learn to surf, which is why I found myself signing a waiver to declare I understood the risks of the sea: hidden reefs, rocks, and carnivorous and poisonous animals. Gulp. I’m also the only attendee for the 9am group lesson.

 "That wave, not that wave" Bruno schools me in the art of watching waves. (Image: Cassandra Laffey)

Once I’m suited and booted (those reefs really are sharp!), my instructor, Bruno, takes me through the basics on land. A 20-year surfing veteran originally from Brazil, Bruno has the sinewy strength and deep tan of a long-time boardrider, so I feel confident following him into the bay near the resort, just below the clifftop pools.


More Hawaii surfing stories:

The Duke of surf. Hawaii Surf Odyssey

Hit the water. Oahu - Surf, Segway & Swimming With Dolphins


Basics mastered, it’s time for me to apply these skills in the water on a longboard. After a safety rundown about the reef and rocks and how to safely fall/avoid the reef/rocks, we paddle to the sheltered waters near the rocks, the so-called ‘safe zone’, after the waves roll in. The sets are big on the day of my lesson, and another female surfer gives up after half an hour of relentless big waves. No other surfers were out that morning – just me and Bruno and the ocean. Was this another sign?

 Aannnd, I'm almost up? (Image: Cassandra Laffey)

In the safe zone, Bruno shows me how to read the waves and what to look for. It’s an important and intuitive skill, and I enjoy the stillness and mesmerising undulation of the ocean before I brace myself against the waves. Bruno tows me out further and positions me, ready to catch my first wave. I paddle, I arch, I kneel, I... almost stand up - the proximity to the sharp reef rocks and sharp teeth of unknown predators front of mind.

I repeat the sequence three, four, five times - each time feeling more confident but not quite transitioning to a standing position. Clearly I have trust issues. My arms start to fatigue but I continue to paddle out to the sheltered area near the rocks, position myself in readiness for a wave, and doggedly go through the motions on the board – and I stand up! The feeling is like a rush as I ride the waves all the way to the shore. A couple more waves and my time is up. But now I can say I’ve surfed the infamous North Shore.

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Cassandra Laffey

Consumed with unrequited wanderlust, I get my fix in 24/7 cities and hippie retreats. I'm still looking for the ultimate combo of secluded beach and major metropolis, and my happy place is a 5-star hotel room all to myself - sigh.