North Shore Survival Guide

Jamie O'Brien, early season entry.  Launch Gallery » Servais

So, you want to make your pilgrimage? You've never been to the North Shore of Oahu and you're ready to suck it up and give it a go. In his or her lifetime every surfer should make the trek at least once, if not to charge Pipe, at least to witness the spectacle firsthand. To help push you over the ledge and get the wheels in your feeble skull turning, here's a list of 10 things that you need to know before you zip up your board bag and get on the plane ... the rest is up to you.

1. The waves can be downright terrifying: Forget what they tell you about the beauty and majesty of Pipeline or Sunset, getting caught inside on a big day can make a grown man cry and a tough man squeal.

2. It's not that scary: OK, so maybe that first one was a bit dramatic. There are places to surf on the North Shore that won't kill you ... why else would hordes of Brazilian and Japanese tourists keep coming back year after year. That doesn't mean you should go clog up the lineup at Rocky Point, rather try for the lesser surfed spots down around Jocko's and Lani's. And there's always Kammieland and Monster Mush. Heck, there's even a fun little right up at Turtle Bay.

3. There are women on the North Shore in the 21st century: Old time surf dogs are stupefied by the amount of flesh on the beaches and bike paths. "Back in my day we'd just put lipstick on a pig," they'll tell you. Not anymore ... thank god. Today it kind of works like this: Chicks dig pro surfers, there are a plethora of pro surfers on the North Shore, therefore the female count has risen considerably.

4. Make sure you eat out occasionally: The spot to spot your favorite pro is Lei Lei's up at Turtle Bay. On the way to being seated you may pass Kelly snacking on spare ribs with the Channel Islands family, the Pipeline Posse might be wolfing down pupus, or maybe Occy's at the bar. Come at dinnertime and you're bound to run into somebody. If you want somewhere a little more quiet, try Haleiwa Joe's, or for tasty Thai try Haleiwa Eats Thai.

5. Shop local: The North Shore is a tight-knit community, and their survival depends on the circus coming to town every year. On the weekends there are great farmer's markets at both Sunset Beach and in Haleiwa, as well as another one up the road in Kahuku. Being the surfing Mecca that it is, there are also a host of locally owned galleries, boutiques, and of course, surf shops. They're all definitely worth supporting if you're in the spending mood.

6. Go to Waimea Bay: Even if it's not breaking, the place is downright sacred, some of surfing's most hallowed ground.

7. Don't miss the Triple Crown: I can agree with you that most surf contests are straight up boring. But watching the world's best surfers operate in the world's best waves, it's just amazing. It'll give you newfound respect for how good some of these guys really are.

8. Ask a lifeguard: The lifeguards on the North Shore have seen it all, so if you have even the slightest hint of anxiety before you paddle out don't be afraid to go chat one of the guards up. They'll happily—and professionally—tell you whether you should be out there or not. Just don't be heartbroken if they tell you to park it on the sand.

9. Be nice: Just remember, you're a visitor... no matter how long you stay or how many times you come back. So just be cool to the local folk and they'll love you for it.

10. Go to Waikiki: With all the big-wave stuff going down on the North Shore, take a deep breath and go to Town. Go rent a longboard at Queens, have cocktails at Duke's, and take a stroll through one of the most touristy places in the world. It's amazingly crazy.