Don’t expect to jump off a bus with your suntan lotion and fanny pack and get to truly experience the North Shore. This is the birthplace of modern surfing but it’s not open to the public. It’s an extremely tight-knit and intimate community. Outsiders need to be expressly invited in by an existing family member. Think of it like the Mafia – you need to be vouched for by someone.
During the month of December, nowhere else on the globe can you find such a concentrated group of professional surfers. There are approximately 20 houses situated on the hallowed stretch of beach from Rockpiles to Ehukai Beach Park. This distance is only the equivalent of a few city blocks long, but you will find practically the entire surf industry located here during the Triple Crown. Although a few teams choose to be either thrifty or incognito and post-up slightly farther down the beach, anywhere past V-Land to the east and Log Cabins to the west is essentially the boondocks. A company’s status is largely determined by their proximity to a small handful of breaks – Pipeline being the most important. In a brilliant marketing coup, Volcom has managed to anchor themselves at the fulcrum of the action with two team houses directly in front of Pipeline. This formula is largely prestige oriented, but it’s also grounded in some degree of practicality. Brand presence here is important, but not just for the exposure. After surfing an upsetting Pipeline heat, no rider wants to take a humiliating mile-long walk to their team house or hop on a bicycle. Forget it. Two hundred yards might as well be 2 miles. The Players don’t drive or bike to their heats. They walk.
The central focus of every house is its view of the ocean. When the waves are firing, anyone not surfing is sitting outside critiquing every wave ridden. The nearby reef breaks are the grand arena, and the team houses are the backstage area. The houses are all situated on sandy landscaped berms that are raised well above the beach. The surfers are sequestered on lawns, patios and balconies well above the public, like surfing gods on a stage. In order to see them from the sand, civilians have to crane their necks metaphorically towards the sky. You need to literally and figuratively gaze toward the heavens to observe them. But you wont find any locked gates or security guards posted in front of these houses. Those who belong there can walk freely from the beach, up the stairs and into these houses. Those who don’t belong know it and stay away.
It’s called the Country, but in many ways, winter on the North Shore is reminiscent of high school. It has lots of the same central characters. There are the superstar athletes, the groupies, the girlfriends and the sidekicks. There are the JV players, eager to advance themselves up the pecking order. There are the legendary and accomplished alumni that are universally revered….. and then there are the broken heros and also-rans who you find lingering about with beer bellies and tales of yore attempting to leverage their previous achievements. There are the bullies with robust physiques and fragile egos. There are house-parties and drunken blowouts replete with fist fights, trashed living rooms, and beer-induced mayhem. Don’t find yourself alone at the party when the beer runs out and the boys start taking their shirts off. Ten PM is the Hawaiian midnight, and nothing good happens after midnight
There is an unspoken hierarchy on the North Shore, and it’s actually rather democratic. Nobody cares what college you attended or who your father is. It’s singularly focused. Your place in the food chain revolves entirely around surfing. The proving grounds are just yards away from everyone’s doorstep. It all boils down to how well can you can handle yourself against the most storied, epic and dangerous waves in the world.
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