Waikiki Surf and Land

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BY J. ARTHUR RATH III- When Hawaii visitors say “I’ve been to Waikiki” often they’re asked “Did you go surfing.” Many who say “Yes, and I stood on waves” learned from instructors across from the Zoo.

Anyone who can swim and stand on the ground can be standing on a short board riding a waves during a two-hour surfing session at Hedemann Surf Shop, on Kalakaua Avenue.  After seeing, I attest to that.


On a yoga mat, neophytes are taught the “ready position” of surfing and a three-step process to “getting up.” Instructors spend about 20 minutes encouraging neophytes. After learning to carry a board, off they go for fundamentals of surfing and water safety.  On the beach, while waves ripple in, they learn about currents, winds, tides, and surf etiquette.

They’re taught proper paddling techniques in the water, along with turning, and maneuvering. Then off for the surf school’s guarantee: “You will be standing up and riding waves!”

One student said, “I caught every single wave beginning with my first one! My instructor helped me start on my knees, then pushed me out. Then, by the end of the class I was able to paddle and rise by myself!”

Such easy assimilation reminds me when10 kids, once part of my extended family, learned to ski in Central New York on drumlins (glacial hills).  I invested in a learn-to-ski school doing there what Hedemann does here—making you move. Beginning skiers’ ruddy cheeks after down hill runs weren’t  from the chill, but were a result of excitement from standing upright while gliding on snow.  This is their prelude to challenging thrills once ready for steeper hills.  Just as for Handemann’s surfers.

Pictures here show you why Waikiki is a favorite surfing place. Waves are generally gentle—but not always.

The Hawaiian name Waikiki means “spouting water.” Rides are 50 yards on an average day, 300 yards being considered a good ride.

Waikiki’s most famous modern-day surfboard ride resulted from huge spouts resulting from a 1917 Japan Earthquake.  Duke Kahanamoku and “Dad” Center, two friends of my father, James Arthur Rath Jr. participated.  He told me the story:

“It was about 8:30 in the morning, the ocean was like glass except for swells about thirty feet high.  Both Duke and Dad had 16-foot long, semi-hollow wooden boards, each weighing 115 pounds.  They paddled so far beyond Castle Point that they recognized the captain on the bridge of a passing steamer.

“Big swells called ‘Blue Birds’ loomed.  Deciding to chance it, Dad took the first step one just as it was curling on top.  With one stroke Duke caught the next, sliding hard for the break, standing up he rode the wave over a half mile.”

Some storytellers extend Duke’s ride to as much as a mile, making a tall tale out of a big wave.  It’s the kind of thing that impresses tourists.

This drawing include with this article by Paul Forney shows his secret place on the other side of the island from Waikiki.   Here surfing, boogey boarding, and body should be attempted only by experts.  The water really spouts:  It’s known as “Bone Yard Reef” because failed surfers’ bones lie at its bottom.

Some surfing places can be dangerous.  A friend told me  where he went after Mother Nature’s recent capriciousness.  I raised my arms in protest.   Nodding, he said:  “I know. ‘Don’t surf in murky water after a storm.  Sharks cruise in to eat floating garbage.’”

Waikiki is regarded as “shark free.”  A recent storm was momentary and its pleasant weather is back being appealing.  Overlooking the sea are miles of inset-stone walkway.  Sitting on a bench, I watched persons of all ages, complexions, and orientations walking hand-in-hand, enjoying their personal sense of Paradise.  Looking at the skin of some and seeing what’s on it I remembered how having a tattoo meant you’d been around the Horn.  Don’t think that applies any more. It’s a modern rite of passage, along with having ears and nose pierced.

One flight up from Hedemann’s Waikiki was offering Happy Hour experiences for all:  “Lulu’s” (youths), “Tiki’s” (mature and families), and “Hula’s” heralded as “The most beautiful Gay Bar in the World.”

Know this: If someone says “I got hammered by ‘Longboards’ at Waikiki,” he was pounded by a local brand of beer.  Big board days are out, short ones are in. The brand evokes nostalgia and encourages “Okole maluna!—bottoms up.”






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