North Shore Swimwear sales clerks Renee Nobriga and Erica Gonzales help Dave Gohlich select a new bathing suit for his wife Heather. Thanks to the mainstreaming of surfing, the shop in the North Shore Marketplace has seen annual increases in business.

North Shore swell

The quite town has become
a tourist mecca that kicks into
high gear with winter surf

Anyta Miller remembers growing up on the North Shore, a sleepy stretch of beaches and farms with no cable TV, no paved sidewalks and no million-dollar mansions on the shoreline.


"There was nothing happening out here," she said fondly. "And as far as traffic, you could probably sleep in the middle of Kam Highway all night long, and you wouldn't have a problem."

But decades -- and several major motion pictures later -- the North Shore has transformed from a rural landscape of sugar cane fields and pig farms to a multimillion-dollar tourist attraction complete with trinket shops and Starbucks.

Its legendary winter waves are the biggest draw, with businesses and restaurants saying the months from November through January are their most profitable. And thanks to movies like "Blue Crush" and the WB reality show "Boarding House," the North Shore has become a destination, not just during the winter. That has residents frustrated with the influx of thousands of visitors to their back yard.

"If we want to preserve our country way of life, we're going to have to contain the growth," said Miller, who is active in the community. "Because if we get overrun, it won't be like that anymore."

THE WINTER CROWDS have already arrived, many for the Van's Triple Crown of Surfing, which begins tomorrow and will last six weeks. Its prestige in the Association of Surfing Professionals Tour brings dozens of pros to the North Shore -- and their entourage of families, surfing buddies, photographers, surf magazine writers, agents, sponsors and groupies.

The area's population swells to an estimated 40,000, which is more than double the number of people on the North Shore throughout the year.

The North Shore's energy level picks up during the months of November through January with the onset of competitions such as the Van's Triple Crown of Surfing which draws crowds of residents and visitors, above.

"It's amazing how the energy level, in a one-week period, goes from lazy, kick-back, local style to a really high buzz," said Randy Rarick, executive producer of the Triple Crown and Sunset resident for 30 years. "You really notice it. You can feel it. You see guys arriving with boards stacked on their cars; I can't believe winter is already here."

Guy Pere knows it's winter not from the crowds at Sunset Beach where he works as a lifeguard, but by the way the sun sets, the air feels, the ocean moves.

"There's this crispness in the air," said Pere, 32, who grew up surfing the North Shore. "You just know."

Like many local surfers, he looks forward to the winter swells. The crowds -- which can reach more than 400 people at Sunset Beach alone -- don't bother him at all.

"They come a long way to sit on the beach and see the waves," he said. "I know how that is."


Rob Burns heads to the North Shore at least twice a year. Ten years ago he moved from Florida to Lahaina, Maui, where he works as a bellman at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua. Since then he hasn't missed a winter yet.

"Yeah, there's more crowds but it's not that bad," said Burns, 33. "I like (the North Shore) because there's a variety of surf spots in such a small area."

He and his buddy Christian Lewis had just finished a surf session out at Backyards, a break off Sunset Point. The lineup was packed for a Friday afternoon. But the crowded breaks have become commonplace on the North Shore, especially in the winter months.

"It used to be different," said Lewis, 33, a commercial fisherman who moved to Sunset in 1989. "We'd all hang out, build big bonfires on the beach. Now the whole place is all Hollywood. It's sold out."

Sales associate Winter Perreira rings up a purchase for customer Peggy Murphy-Hazzard at the Silver Moon Emporium in Haleiwa. Store owner Lucie Talbot-Holu is at left.

SURFING IS A worldwide multibillion-dollar business. The sport has seen a surge in popularity in recent years, mostly due to media exposure, experts say.

What was once a subculture has infiltrated the mainstream, with the image of surfing used to sell music (Sheryl Crow's "Soak Up the Sun" music video) and SUVs (Honda's Element). Former surfing world champion Kelly Slater is now a mainstream celebrity, and stars such as Cameron Diaz have hit the surf, adding to the sport's high profile.

The increased interest in surfing has pumped money into the North Shore. The Triple Crown alone generates $7.3 million in the community, according to recent reports. But with the economic growth comes headaches for residents.

"There's gotta be a balance between our economic needs and the concerns of the residents," Miller said.

Traffic has been the biggest concern among people living along Kamehameha Highway. During the winter months, the one-lane highway becomes a parking lot as visitors flock to the North Shore to catch a glimpse of the spectacular waves.

"There's so much more traffic on the North Shore," said Jennifer Johnson, who lives on Ke Waena Road fronting the popular break Log Cabins. "Last year, they were filming all these movies out here. It was an absolute zoo."

The traffic may not be good for Johnson, but it's been great for her business. As manager of North Shore Swimwear in the North Shore Marketplace in Haleiwa, Johnson has seen an increase in customers and sales every year, due mostly to surfing's growing popularity.

"Surfing has gone so mainstream that it's even interesting to a person from the Midwest," she said. "They just have to see what they've seen on TV."

The shop, which specializes in custom-made, mix-and-match swimsuits, has seen its largest gains during the summer months, typically a slow season for North Shore businesses.

Store owners in Haleiwa said business was unusually good this summer, mostly because tourists want to see the North Shore itself, not just the winter waves. Some theorize that mainlanders prefer to travel within the United States after 9/11, choosing Hawaii because of its exotic feel.

"We did really good this summer, and we can't figure it out," said Winter Perreira, 47, salesclerk at Silver Moon Emporium, an upscale Haleiwa boutique. "The number of people we see during the week now was the number of people we'd only see on the weekends. It's changed so much."

LIKE JOHNSON, Perreira appreciates the boost for business but longs for the North Shore she remembers moving to 28 years ago.

"I miss the small-town feel," she said. "But progress is inevitable."

Like many first-time visitors, David and Sue Roberson, from New York City, spent their first day on the North Shore at the beach. They stumbled across a surf contest -- the 20th annual Xcel Pro at Sunset -- and ate dinner at Haleiwa Joe's.

"This is what we like," said Sue Roberson, 35, eating a taco salad from Cholo's Homestyle Mexican Restaurant in Haleiwa. "Something low key, relaxed, not so touristy."

David Roberson had expected the North Shore to be much more developed -- "though it's great that it's not," he said.

The couple, in town for a wedding, are dreading the final half of their week-long vacation: staying in Waikiki.

"It won't be fun for us," Sue Roberson said.

Julie Carr moved to Sunset from Seattle in August. Though she has never experienced the North Shore winter, the 25-year-old accountant is excited about it.

"I can't wait to see the big waves," she said, sitting on the beach watching the dozens of surfers at Sunset Point. "It's going to be exciting."

Resdients and business owners owners struggle to find a balance between quality of life and economic success. Property values have risen significantly over the last several decades, pushing out local people who can't afford to live there. But small businesses have been able to stay afloat due to the increased traffic.

"The North Shore has gone from this sleepy little beach community to a bustling town whose lifeblood is primarily tourists," Rarick said. "Generally speaking, if you took the tourists out of town, it would die. The struggle is to maintain its rural character while catering to the influx of interested persons."

But, residents fear, growth will come to the detriment of their way of life.

"The downside is that our little secret thrill of living out here is slowly being discovered by more people," Rarick said. "I consider us lucky to have seen it when it was undiscovered, but I don't have any qualms about sharing. I take pride in living on the North Shore. It's the best place in the world."

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