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

Snake’s Measured Hot Take On The Surf Ranch Imbroglio

'Cop it on the chin and move on'.

Jun 4, 2023

How John John Lost To A Surfer From Germany

The underdogs are barking: here's what's happened at the 2023 ISA World Games thus far.

Jun 3, 2023

SEOTY: This German-Born, Spanish-Speaking Ubermensch’s Clip Is For The Every-mensch

Watch Leon Glatzer make the ocean his Autobahn in "Águila".

Jun 3, 2023

Made Lana’s Special Relationship

Sunset at The Edge with Uluwatu's favourite son.

Jun 1, 2023


“We Woke Up And A Bear Had Chewed A Wetsuit To Bits”

Didn't know there were so many slabs in Canada, eh?

May 31, 2023

Britt Merrick Becomes Winningest SITD Shaper

Here's how he did it.

May 31, 2023

2023 ISA World Games Preview: Olympic Ballyhoo With 4 New Countries Competing

And why El Salvador’s President says that surfing is “one of the pillars” of the…

May 31, 2023

WSL CEO Erik Logan Responds To ‘Unfair Judging’ Claims In Open Letter

“It is a breach of league policy, for surfers to choose not to engage with…

May 30, 2023


‘Vertentes’ Is 16-Minutes Of Seamless Surfing And Self-Animated Artisanship

Time off tour has done nothing but good for Tomas Hermes.

May 30, 2023

The Man Who Tortures Surfboards For Science

Here's what Dr. Luca Oggiano and Donald Brink think surfboard manufacturers are getting wrong.

May 30, 2023

Gabriel Medina Gives Scathing Review Of WSL Judging After Controversial Surf Ranch Final

‘The surf community has been mesmerized by the poor clarity and consistency of judging for…

May 29, 2023

Griffin Colapinto And Carissa Moore Lift Lumber At Groundhog Day Rodeo

"There's so much in your control that you almost overthink things."

May 29, 2023

Surfing’s Decadent And Depraved Kentucky Derby: Day One

'It's still a wavepool comp'

May 28, 2023

Stab In The Dark With Italo Ferreira, Episode 4

And the shaper behind 2023’s best high-performance shortboard is…

May 28, 2023

Your Loss, Tahiti’s Win

Betonline.AG are donating 100% of their earnings (your losses) from Lemoore towards Tahitian flood victims.

May 26, 2023

The Surf Ranch Pro Preview: 2% Wildcards, Sudden-Death Duels, And Game Theory

Same swamp, (slightly) different rodeo.

May 26, 2023

Exclusive: Stab Speaks With El Niño 

"I’m just focusing on staying potent, moist and warm. I’m not really thinking that far…

May 25, 2023


Watch: Gabriel Medina Ping Pongs Off Brazil’s Most Exclusive Pool Coping Before Lemoore

'The waves at Boa Vista Village are so extravagant, they come with their own personal…

May 24, 2023