Stab Magazine | When The Biggest Swell Of The Year Hits The North Shore

When The Biggest Swell Of The Year Hits The North Shore

It’s for spectators…mostly. 

news // Jan 17, 2018
Words by stab
Reading Time: 3 minutes

There’s an eerie silence on the North Shore.

The road is busy. Traffic is stacking up along Kam Highway. At nearly every space with an opening to the ocean, people are side by side, iPhones in hands, long lens cameras on tripods, beach chairs on top of cars, sand, grass, and anywhere they can fit. People are prevalent, but chatter is overcome by this stunning power – washed out by the roaring sea.

Time to sit and watch.

There’s a very large swell sweeping through the islands right now, which has caused many big wave maniacs to grab their 10-foot pintails and hop a plane to Pe’ahi. The Weedmaps Pipe House–the reason I’m currently on the North Shore–is quiet. Koa Rothman headed to Jaws. Nathan Fletcher headed to the Oahu’s outer reefs. The skate team is headed to a demo in Honolulu. The same morning, in town, they invited local veterans to get their medical marijuana recommendations free of charge. While it costs $150 to get your medical card in Hawaii, Weedmaps footed the bill for over 40 veterans.

At the moment, there are sandbags lining the home’s living room overlooking Pipeline – a request of the owner due to the swollen ocean.

“It’s washed out before,” they said. This has yet to happen.

This morning, I started a moped, and rode from Waimea to V-land and back again. Looking to get a feel for what the North Shore is like when the biggest swell of the year arrives.

Currently, the natural amphitheater of Waimea is littered with onlookers. Over 50 bright colored boards are bobbing in the ocean with four-to-six people taking off on each wave. Bedlam in the pit of Goliath.

Three jetskis serve as safety nets on the inside. The beach is lined with caution tape.

As I rode to join the spectator’s gala, Michael Ho (father to Mason) walked down the road. He’s 60 years old and still dominating the lineup on the biggest days. But, what else would you expect from a man who once won the Pipe Masters with a broken arm?


Heads accumulating above Waimea. Low res photo courtesy of my iPhone 6s. 

The lifeguards are forced to make constant public announcements through loudspeakers to the viewers on the sand.

“Attention beachgoers, stay behind the yellow caution tape.”

“The river mouth is not a safe place to sit, please move back.”

“There are still large waves coming through.”

They’re diligent. They have to be. Three days back, when the last swell hit and Sunset produced waves over 15 feet (on the face) a man pulled up in his rented Jeep with a rasta colored soft board with plastic fins strapped to the roof. He unstrapped the board, donned his rashguard and walked to the water’s edge. The lifeguard ran out of his tower and shut him down. The sheer audacity of someone with little experience to look at waves three times their size and think, “Yeah, I got this!” is terrifying.

No swimming signs are everywhere and being abided by. Beach entrances are blocked off. The break in the trees at Rockpiles washed out last night, the same spot where Kelly Slater helped rescue a mother and her baby two years prior. The road is caked with sand. The lifeguard is forced to spend a long day shoveling sand six-inches deep, rendering the road clean. My moped slid out while riding through the area at a whopping 10 miles per hour.

Today is hot. Its result: a consistent film of sweat on my forehead, beard and my shirt stuck to the indent in my chest; the back of my neck shading redder as the sun hits its midday peak.

Today is not for the average surfer.

Unless you’re carrying an upwards of 9-foot pintail and an undying lust for adrenaline, today, the North Shore is for spectators only.


Comments are a Stab Premium feature. Gotta join to talk shop.

Already a member? Sign In

Want to join? Sign Up


Most Recent

Yes And Welcome Back: The First Day Of Female CT Competition At Teahupo’o Since Melanie Redman-Carr Was Taking Scalps In ’06

Carissa Moore is now two heats away from her 6th World Title, btw.

Aug 17, 2022

“Airlines Hate Me:” Bad Boy RyRy’s Guide To Surf Travel

Want to get pampered at the pointy end of the plane for free?

Aug 17, 2022


What Happens When You Borrow A Pro’s Board?

Joyride: The Shrizz from PANDA surfboards.

Aug 16, 2022


Mick Fanning Samples California’s Finest Local Produce

Mayhem at Lowers.

Aug 16, 2022

Mountains Died So You Could Surf

The value of sand.

Aug 15, 2022


UPDATE: People Are Still Surfing ‘La Jetee’ in Reunion Island

Returning to the best & sharkiest air wave in the world, as seen in Mod…

Aug 14, 2022

These Are Your Favorite (Female) Surfers

What the Stab reader survey teaches us about taste.

Aug 14, 2022


Kelly and Local Gal to Win Teahupo’o?

Local insights and a firing forecast.

Aug 13, 2022

These Are Your Favorite (Male) Surfers

Insights from the 2022 Stab Reader survey.

Aug 13, 2022


Fear And Loathing in Mainland Mex

Parker Coffin, Harry Roach, and the Roark crew embark on an authentic Oaxacan (surf) trip.

Aug 13, 2022

Tahiti Preview: The End Of The Road For 72% Of The CT

And hello there, blob of swell.

Aug 12, 2022


While Everyone Flocked To Tahiti, Kelly Stayed in Jbay

...And proceeded to rip the hell out of it on a "borrowed" 5-finned Tomo.

Aug 11, 2022


Can A GQ Cover Boy Take Out Teahupo’o?

Kauli Vaast is your incredibly handsome Tahiti trials winner.

Aug 11, 2022

Watch: Ramble On With Caity Simmers 

An action-rich tour behind the scenes of her triumphant first voyage to Oz.

Aug 11, 2022

PSA: Surf Filmers Not Welcome In Nicaragua

Cameras and drones are being seized on arrival, Stab spoke with two recent visitors.

Aug 11, 2022

Inside The Alternative Surfboard Marketing Machine 

Two of the biz's best — Matt Parker and Blake Peters — spill many beans.

Aug 10, 2022

The Tragic Parallels Between The Murder Of Ricardo Dos Santos & 8x World Jiu Jitsu Champion Leandro Lo

Two Brazilian sporting icons killed brazenly by off-duty police officers.

Aug 9, 2022

The Pick-Up, Vans US Open: In The Belly Of The Beast

Finger flips, shaping with Zion Wright, slurpees, Hawaiian takeovers, and the king of Surfline rewinds.

Aug 8, 2022