The North Shore: Three Little Words

My plane landed in Honolulu on Sunday and I had a revelation. The “three little words” women really want to hear: Welcome to Hawaii.

I am on the North Shore of Oahu reporting a story on 15-year-old surfing phenom Carissa Moore. Carissa lives in Honolulu, on the other side of the island, and is competing in the Roxy Pro, the seventh of eight events on the Women’s world surf tour. Every year, the surf season culminates in two months of contests here in Hawaii. I’ve been covering this sport for five years and can’t believe this is my first time to the North Shore. It’s also my first time attending a non-mainland surf contest. Every surfer on the men’s and women’s tour is here in Oahu, along with the entire industry. There is so much energy, it’s hard to sleep. Although Hawaii doesn’t participate in Daylight Savings Time (I’m five hours behind NYC instead of six), the sun sets around 5:30 and the place gets dark quickly. (The sunset is spectacular. It takes about three minutes for that glowing ball to hit the horizon and … gone.) So by 10 pm, I’m asleep. By 6 am, I’m at the hotel gym.

This morning was the first round of the women’s contest. At 6 am, a contest official checks the waves, and the surf report, and makes a call. At 7 am, I got a text. “The contest is on.” Which means “get to Sunset Beach by 8”. On my way!

During the contest, the waves were nice, but inconsistent. I respect the patience these athletes have, but don’t think I would have had the patience to compete in this sport. I couldn’t handle not knowing when I was going to compete. Or sitting out in the water during a heat, knowing I was behind by 3 points, listening to the seconds tick down and waiting for a wave that never comes. It stresses me out just to watch.

The forecast is calling for another swell tomorrow, so the contest should start back up at 8 am. If not, these women could wait days for the next round to begin. When Sofia Mulanovich was going for her world title in 2004 (which she locked up at this contest), she waited 11 days for the final heats to begin. In between, everyone finds ways to pass the time.

This morning, the first heats determined who would receive the one wildcard spot into the contest. Eight of the best young girls competed for that spot. The final trials heat included CoCo Ho (daughter of Pipeline master Michael Ho), Carissa Moore (the girl I’m writing about), Leanne Curren (daughter of former world champ Tom Curren) and Bethany Hamilty (the local surfer who made headlines when she lost her left arm to a shark attack). What a lineup. Watching these girls surf Sunset Point was amazing. They’re little bulldogs in bikinis. Well, bulldog puppies. But they’re surfing the same waves as the women. The women’s tour is going to receive quite a surge of talent in a few years, when these girls turn 18.

CoCo won the heat, and entry into the contest. Bethany Hamilton took second. Watching her surf gave me goosebumps. Carissa took third place. In the main event, CoCo won her heat, beating Steph Gilmore, the tour leader. CoCo is the smallest of the girls competing here, but she sure doesn’t seem small when she’s working a wave.

One interesting Hawaii note: At around noon today, I headed back to my room to do some work. My desk faces the ocean (well, all rooms face the ocean. Turtle Bay is on a peninsula) and at about 12:30, it started pouring, and rained until this evening around 6. At 7:30, I met a bunch of friends who are staying in a house at Sunset, just a few miles down the beach, for dinner. It never rained there.

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