Swell timing


POSTED: Sunday, October 04, 2009

When an early swell came the last Friday of September, it was a good omen for North Shore businesses.

With the 15-foot waves come surfers and spectators and, in turn, waves of visitor traffic.

While the largest volume of visitors is expected to arrive beginning late this month up to November, when the annual Vans Triple Crown surf competitions begin, some merchants say they already are beginning to feel a bump in business.

An upbeat feeling of confidence is spreading throughout the small North Shore business community — from surf shops to gift shops, art galleries, restaurants, shave ice vendors and property managers.

“;We've had two decent swells so far,”; said Eric Basta, a manager of Surf n Sea. “;It brings people to see the surf. It's pretty impressive, especially if you're from Idaho or Montana. Once people have had their fill, they will stop in stores.”;

Once the surf pros arrive, the North Shore will get crowded, bringing spectators and a whole entourage of sponsors, race officials, media and photographers.

“;Normally, we say the circus is in town,”; Basta said.

But even before they start, Basta said local residents are coming in to gear up for the waves, with more wax, new leashes and boards. Surf n Sea has been stocking up for the winter season.

The North Shore of Oahu has weathered the downturn better than other parts of the isle, said Antya Miller, executive director of the North Shore Chamber of Commerce.

“;Islanders have cut back on off-island travel, and they're traveling up to the North Shore more,”; Miller said.

Both locals and tourists are attracted to the quaint town of Haleiwa, where plenty of mom-and-pop shops still exist and where they can enjoy activities on nearby beaches.

Coming off of Silver Week last month, when many Japanese take their vacations, Haleiwa retailers say busloads still swing by to shop. Even a few dentists in Honolulu for an annual convention this week stopped by.

On the North Shore there's a rule of thumb: When the swells come, customers come.

Swells will bring in business, although summer is the peak time for Matsumoto Shave Ice.

Usually, September is down about 30 percent, according to owner Stan Matsumoto, unless there are waves. Then he gets a surge in volume.

Aoki Shave ice just across the parking lot gets the same jump. The lines outside both shops tend to be about the same.





        » Surf New Network

» North Shore Chamber of Commerce


» Vans Triple Crown of Surfing




» Nov. 12-23: Reef Hawaiian Pro (men)/Vans Hawaiian Pro (women), Haleiwa Alii Beach Park.


» Nov. 24-Dec. 6: O'Neill World Cup of Surfing (men)/Gidget Pro (women), Sunset Beach.


» Dec. 8-20: Billabong Pipeline Masters (men), Banzai Pipeline.


» Dec.1-Feb. 28: Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau, Waimea Bay,


On the day of the large swell, Johnny Moore, owner of Grass Skirt Grill, which sells fresh fish and shrimp plate lunches, said the whole weekend was packed. Sales have also been strong at Strong Current, the longboard surf shop he owns next door.

“;We have to give a lot of credit,”; he said. “;When they pump the surf up in town, we do good!”;

Though there is a lull between summer and the pro surf competition in winter, Moore says there are signs the economy is turning around.

Layne Larsen opened Kai Ku Hale, a Hawaiian art, home decor and gift shop in Haleiwa, 15 months ago, just before the recession started.

The week before the big swell was really quiet, Larsen recalled. “;All of a sudden, the swell came and sales jumped,”; she said.

Larsen expects some slow times for a few more weeks, then crowds to arrive for Vans. A new art walk on the last Saturday of every month also has been helpful for her shop, which features local artists.

“;I think this Christmas is going to be really good,”; she said. “;People will look for more affordable items, but they are already buying for Christmas. Last year they were putting on the brakes. I think we've made it through the worst.”;

Randy Rarick, director of Vans Triple Crown, which brings in at least $9 million in direct spending, said this year's competition is shaping up to bring in a larger economic windfall.

Fewer people came last year, and the town felt the impacts of the recession.

Rarick says it's an El Nino year, meaning an active winter season, which will in turn produce active surf.

Vacation rentals for the rest of the year are already booked, he said, and he's reserved 15 homes for competition officials and staff already.

“;I think it's going to be better this year than last year,”; he said.

Turtle Bay Resort, a sponsor for Vans Triple Crown, did “;phenomenally well”; during the summer, said public relations manager Keoki Wallace.

For June, July, August and September, Wallace said occupancy at the resort was above 80 percent due to successful escape club programs for kamaaina and military members.

A healthy mix of visitors, lured by lower hotel rates, also has been booking rooms, he said. “;Based on current trends, we will do well for the rest of the year,”; he said. “;We've got good momentum.”;