The art of “wave sliding” has been an expression of the Hawaiian people for centuries.
From October to March, the winter storms of the Pacific Ocean deliver large ocean swells (i.e., a series of ocean waves) to the north side of the Hawaiian Islands, perfect for surfing. The North Shore of Oahu is legendary for surfing.
About a two-hour drive north of Waikiki is Oahu’s North Shore Banzai Pipeline. It is also known as Ehukai Beach, and attracts the best surfers from around the world. Every December they host “the Super Bowl of Surfing” here, the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing competition.
One day last November we visited the Pipeline, strictly to observe, and I came away with a new respect and awe for this beautiful sport.
Many variables influence the ocean waves: winds, tides, storms, currents, underwater channels and reefs, sand, and freshwater runoff.
By looking at the map below, you see that the north shore of Oahu (in red) is wide open to the northern hemisphere. Winter storms move across the Pacific Ocean and hit the first land mass of the Hawaiian Islands.
The mixing of the arctic cold air with Hawaii’s warm tropic air forces the warm air to rise rapidly, affecting barometric pressure and increasing ocean surface wind. In essence, the northern hemisphere’s storm energy is transferred into the ocean by the wind. The result: the harder the winds blow, the larger the waves.
Bathymetry, or the study of the ocean floor, reveals that under the water at Pipeline is a flat tabletop reef that has several internal caverns. Air bubbles from the caverns, and the shallowness of the reef further contribute to the wave action.
Add to that the varying factors of wind, fetch (wind-generated waves), and swell period, and you have the complicated science of surfing.
“Mechanics of Pipeline” describes it well, demonstrating geology and the numerous reef wave patterns, and showing satellite images of this unique reef. It also has some of the best surfing photos you’ll ever see.
Click here for the link; then click on “Next” at the top of the page for an in-depth surfing lesson.
That day surfers were smoothly gliding atop the waves, from the wave-break all the way to the shoreline — steady, skilled, excellent. Those few who were not in the water, were walking on the beach, carrying their surf boards, strategizing their next wave dance.
The Polynesians were seen riding wood planks on ocean waves back in the late 1700s. Surf boards have changed, technology has advanced, and women join the men now; but here’s a Hawaiian marvel that continues, after centuries, to embrace the culture. Aloha!
Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified