Waimea Bay – North Shore, Oahu
Waimea Bay is one of the first recognized and most famous of all big wave surf spots in the world. When the North Shore is closing out, Waimea Bay starts to come alive. Waimea is a right point break that holds swells up to 50 feet. There is a left that can be surfed, but generally is not; it takes you right toward the rocks and into a very dangerous area. Local big wave rider Mark Healey is one of the few known to take the lefts at Waimea Bay. It is very rare to see the waves get big enough for the whole bay to close out, but it has happened a few times in recent history. When it is not quite big enough to work, another right called “Pinballs” can be surfed on the inside close to the rocks. Unlike places like Pipe and Sunset, Waimea truly is for big wave surfing only. Don’t go to Waimea if you are looking to get barreled or pull off some hard turns. At Waimea, you paddle like your life depends on it, drop in, and ride straight and slightly to the right till the wave dissipates underneath you. If you’ve never been to the Bay before, check out the Surfing Waimea Bay for the First Time post on The Surfing Blog for some useful information.
Waimea Bay is easy to find if you’re up on the North Shore of Oahu. Driving on the Kamehameha Highway, you can’t help but notice when you stop driving in a straight line and go around a huge bay. Right at the base of Waimea Valley, in the middle of the bay, there is a sign that says “Waimea Bay Beach Park” right at the entrance to a parking lot. You are now at Waimea Bay.
Swell & Weather Conditions
Waimea Bay only breaks on the biggest north and northwest swells. It really takes a lot of swell to get the Bay to start showing some signs of life. The shorebreak, however, can be big even if the main break isn’t working yet. East and southeast winds are best for Waimea Bay, but because Waimea is a unique wave, it almost doesn’t matter what the conditions or winds are like. If the waves are big enough for it to break, you can count on a group of guys being out there to catch them.
Waimea Bay calls for big wave guns only. The smallest boards you’ll see out there are usually in the nine-foot range, and guys will have anything up to around 12 feet long when Waimea’s working.
Waimea Bay was once feared by surfers for a few reasons, one of them being the Heiau, an ancient temple and burial ground up on the hill in Pupukea overlooking the Bay. Surfers believed that human sacrifices were once performed at this site and that the Bay was cursed because of it. Then, to make matters worse, when Woody Brown and Dickie Cross got caught in a fast-rising swell in 1943 at Sunset Beach and decided the safest way in was the large open beach at Waimea Bay, Woody Brown barely made it in alive and Dickie Cross was never seen again. Greg Noll silenced all the fears in the surfing world when he decided to lead a group of surfers out into the Bay in 1957. Since then, Waimea Bay has stolen the attention from other spots like Makaha and remained one of the main big wave surfing spots in the world. Many surfers and lifeguards, such as Eddie Aikau, became legends at the Bay for their incredible big wave surfing abilities and courage to save lives in the most dangerous of conditions.
Waimea Bay is the site of the only ASP-sanctioned big wave contest, the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau. This contest runs only when the waves reach a height of 20 feet (Hawaiian Scale, which is equivalent to 30-foot-plus wave faces). The event rarely happens because the conditions have to be just right; it has only run seven times in the last 23 years.
Bruce Iron’s perfect 10 at the Eddie in 2004:
Brief Travel Info
The same things apply here as when traveling to surf anywhere on the North Shore of Oahu. From the airport in Honolulu, you just have to make your way up to the North Shore and find some accommodations. The only hotel in the region is the Turtle Bay Resort, located on the north end of the North Shore. It’s pretty easy to find other places to rent, such as rooms, houses, and hostels, but make sure you have all of that figured out in advance. There are plenty of good places to eat and fun things to do on the North Shore and in nearby Haleiwa. For a few ideas of what to do when the surf goes flat, check out the flat spell activities for Oahu post on The Surfing Blog. For a more detailed travel guide about the North Shore and Haleiwa, check out the Travel Guide found on The Surfing Site.