Star-Bulletin Features

Tuesday, February 16, 1999

By P.F. Bentley, Special to the Star-Bulletin
Tim Ryan, left, and Steve Casar re-enact the famous
Greg Noll pose at Egusa's on Molokai's West Shore.

Surfing solitaire

Wave enthusiasts head to
camp to escape the crowds
and 'rider rage'

By Tim Ryan


Surfers searching for the perfect wave haven't left a shoreline unexplored anywhere, traveling regularly to private surf camps in the Indian Ocean, Indonesia, Fiji, Costa Rica and Baja.

For about $100 a day, surfers get accommodations, meals, transportation and security, but most importantly, quality waves with a minimal number of other surfers vying for the same swell.

What surfers are seeking is an escape from the madding crowds, and rider rage that occurs at overcrowded quality surf spots. Hawaii has some 1,600 surfing sites spread over 750 miles of shoreline on six islands, according to the state's 1997 Data Book.

Out There Oahu has 594 sites in 112 miles of coastline, followed by Kauai's 330 sites (90 miles of coastline); Maui's 212 (120 miles); Big Island's 185 (266); Molokai's 180 (88); and Lanai's 99 (47).

Where there's a decent swell running there's likely to be a few thousand riders out, and a hundred or more at famous spots like Laniakea, Pipeline and Sunset Beach on the North Shore; and Number Threes, Populars, Ala Moana Bowls and Tennis Courts on the south shore.

"Some surfers are site blind," said surf photographer Pete Hodgson, editor of the new North Shore Advisory surf magazine. "Some surfers will only go to a certain spot no matter what the conditions are so that spot is always crowded."

While there may not be truly undiscovered surf spots in Hawaii, there are quality uncrowded sites because of difficult access, private property such as Egusa's on Molokai's west shore, or lack of road visibility, said John Clark, author of separete books on the beaches of Oahu, Maui County, Kauai, and the Big Island published by University of Hawaii Press. Clark has watched the sport for 25 years and says surfers seem to be going to greater lengths -- and distances -- to catch a wave.

By P.F. Bentley, Special to the Star-Bulletin
Steve Casar does a cutback at Egusa's.

Take Rabbit Island off Makapuu. Clark said the "primary attraction" of the place is "a great right slide" off the Kailua end. When waves are breaking there surfers' boats are anchored just outside the waves, he said.

A half-mile off Lanikai at the Mokulua islands, east swells strike the main island on one side and wrap around the other, allowing surfers, who have paddled or used a boat to walk back across the island to return to the takeoff spot, said a local who requested anonymity.

Clark is stoked on the right break off Kapapa Island in the middle of Kaneohe Bay, half way between Kualoa and Mokapu.

"If a north swell is breaking 15 to 20 feet on the north shore, Kapapa will be 3-5 feet and very, very good," Clark said.

There also are two spots inside Hickam Harbor -- "Firsts" and "Seconds" -- but a military pass is required to reach them, he said.

But the most difficult access to a quality wave may be the waves along the southwest side of Niihau, an area open to swells from several directions and where tradewinds blow offshore.

"Nonopapa is the main surf spot on the island and holds up to 8 feet," Clark said. "It's a very good wave."

"I would rather not comment about surf on Niihau," Hodgson said.

There's good surf along Kauai's vertical Na Pali coast at Milolii Beach -- boat access only -- four miles from the west end of the public beach at Polihale.

The left break "peels off" into the boat channel, said Clark who's surfed the spot.

"It's a fun wave good up to 6 feet," he said.

"There's a lot of beautiful empty beaches and surf spots around," Clark said. "You just have to be willing to search a little and maybe paddle, walk or boat to them."

By P.F. Bentley, Special to the Star-Bulletin
Steve Casar , left, and Tim Ryan leave their Molokai
Ranch "tentalow" for an afternoon surf session at Egusa's.

Molokai a place of
peace, quiet and surf

By Tim Ryan


IT'S the west side of Molokai from near Kaluakoi to Hale Olono Harbor that has some of the best, uncrowded waves in the state since it's exposed to swells from three directions, often blessed by offshore winds, and has a low surfing population, according to surfer and author John Clark.

Molokai Ranch with its miles of private, pristine coastline features some quality surf spots, now available to guests at its Great Molokai Ranch Trail resort.

Fred Hemmings, former state legislator and world surfing champion, goes to Molokai to get the best uncrowded waves. He won't name his favorite spot.

Out There "All I'll say is that you need a boat to get there and it takes a northwest swell," Hemmings said.

Molokai Ranch doesn't promote its waves, nor provide surfboards to guests. But guests are welcome to bring their own equipment and if they ask will be driven to spots accessible by vehicle.

"Egusa's is a first-class wave," Clark said. "It's very good, but can get too large."

During a December trip to Molokai Ranch with two friends -- Steve Casar of Honolulu and P.F. Bentley of the Big Island -- we hoped to get good Ranch waves out of reach of Christmas crowds. When we arrived at Kaupoa Camp, the west side was being attacked by a clean, very consistent 6-10 foot swell. Waves swept across the miles-long Kamakaipo Beach, turning much of the northern end of the bay where Egusa's sits at Kahaiawa Point into churning white water and rip tides.

The next day Egusa's had dropped in size so Casar and I ventured out., wary but excited. The rocky shoreline and lack of a discernible channel discouraged Bentley since he's strapped into his wave ski. But Mother Ocean played a trick on us as set after set of overhead waves marched into the bay battering us.

"If I live through this I'm going to kill you!" Casar yelled at me before duck diving under 6-feet of white water.

Seven waves later I was laughing hysterically, eerily gleeful, even in this maelstrom, that I was out with a friend at a beautiful spot without crowds. On shore Bentley, a Time magazine photographer, photographed our ordeal.

When we finally paddled ashore Casar and I were spent and humbled. That night, with a blazing sunset lighting our table and with a Kaupoa Camp buffet of steak and fish and wine, we laughed about our adventure. Bentley joked that what he had captured on film should be "very special." I was embarrassed for riding a few waves on my stomach.

The next day we went to the southwest side where miles of deserted beaches lead to rugged Laau Point. In between, there are three surf spots breaking several hundred yards offshore, and on this morning they were half the size of Egusa's.

A mile and a half trek along a rutted dirt road and deep sand and we reached a headland at Kanakulaha Beach. Offshore, 4-foot waves broke with decent shape over a broad reef. The sandy shoreline allowed easy access for Bentley in his surf ski, and an "escape hatch" channel to avoid breaking waves.

In surf that would have had dozens of surfers on Oahu scrambling to catch waves, we were alone, riding wave after wave after wave. Three hours later we paddled ashore and called for our ride to Kaupoa.

The waves weren't like Bali or G-Land or Tavarua. We hadn't any real memorable rides. But that was OK because we had rediscovered that isolated beauty, wide-open beaches and decent waves were still in Hawaii.

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