How To Survive the North Shore

Jesse Merle-Jones, in rhythm with life on the North Shore. Photo: Noyle

Whether it’s the crowds, the waves, or the locals, there is no stretch of beach quite as notorious as Oahu’s North Shore. Despite being one of the most intimidating locales in the world, Hawaii is the destination de jour every November when surfers arrive with bloated board bags, uneasy stomaches, and the dream of scoring the best waves of their lives. To help bring your pipe dreams into fruition, we talked to Hawaii’s Jesse Merle-Jones about making the most out of your trip to the proving grounds.

Never Be Under Gunned:
“Most of us aren’t going to be able to paddle out to Pipe and sit under the ledge on a small board like Bruce, Jamie, or John John—that’s just not gonna happen. As a mere mortal, you’re gonna need some more board underneath you to surf those kinds of waves. If you’re coming out to the North Shore, you’re going to want a quiver that fits the waves. And the best way to do that is to get boards from a local shaper that knows the lineups. Tokoro, Schaper, Arakawa and Nat Woolley are all guys you should check out. Also, keep in mind that these guys get a lot of board orders in the winter, so the best time to order boards is in the summer. If you can’t afford a whole quiver, the North Shore is the best place in the world to buy a used board. You can also check Craigslist or just keep an eye out, but finding a good used board shouldn’t be too hard. I’ve actually had someone buy one of my old boards from a surf shop for around $400—they loved the board so much that they looked me up on Facebook to see if I would sell any other boards for cheaper and of course I did and we were both stoked.”

Get Off the Beaten Path:
“If you’re not coming out here to get famous, then to be honest, you’re better off not even bothering with Pipe and some of the other more star-studded waves on the North Shore. If you can get away from the main drag a little bit, you’ll find that there are a ton of waves nearby that are a lot less crowded. Check out Lanis, Jockos, and some of the other lineups. If you’re not trying to get your photo taken, I promise you won’t regret it.”

Respect Is Crucial:
“You’ll hear a lot of people talk about respect in Hawaii and I think some of them don’t truly understand the concept. It’s not all about respecting the tough guy in the lineup, but it’s about respecting everyone and everything over here. Of course you don’t want to be burning some nuts local, but you also want to be cool to the guy that’s just learning. You also need to respect the beaches. Pick up trash when you see it, help someone out when they looked lost. That’s the kind of respect we need out here. It’s more than just about doing the right thing because you’re afraid of getting slapped, it’s about doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.”

Where to Stay:
“Come wintertime, trying to find a place to post up is gonna be a bit difficult. With everyone from the surf industry over here for the winter, it’s not easy finding something right in the middle of the action. But I actually think that’s a good thing. If you can stay a little bit removed from the action, I think that’s actually better. It’s less of a scene, which I like. There are some cheaper rentals around V-Land that aren’t bad either, or you can always go the hostel route. It’s always a good idea to check out Craigslist as well.”

Beware of Incoming Swells:
“The most dangerous time to be in the water on the North Shore is during an incoming swell. I’ve seen more people get hurt in those conditions than in any other situation. It can go from 2 feet to 8 feet in an hour, so you need to keep your guard up and be aware of how the conditions may be changing around you.”

Take a Lay Day:
“I think this rings true to any surf trip, but it’s important to take some time to get out of the lineup and see what else is out there. Hawaii has such an amazing history and it’d almost be a crime to not take a downday and go learn some things. Go check out the Polynesian Culture Center, go walk through Haleiwa, go to Town and check out Iolani Palace. You won’t regret it.”

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