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Dos & Don’ts of Paddling Out on the North Shore of Oahu

by Tucker Ballister

Picture yourself on a relaxing getaway to the island of Oahu. At night, the soft island wind dances on the palm tree leaves. During the day, you’re graced by the warm presence of the sun, broken only by occasional warm tropical rains.

You’re staying at one of the infamous oceanfront resorts in Waikiki, or maybe you found more secluded beachfront vacation rental in Oahu. You spent all afternoon yesterday surfing the small, friendly waves at Waikiki Beach and, at dinner, your waitress overheard you talking about how much you enjoyed surfing that day. “If you enjoyed the surf here, you should take a drive to the North Shore tomorrow to see the breaks up that way,” she says.

Following her suggestion, you get up early and head that way in the morning. If you’ve never been to the North Shore before, the surf can be intimidating, but with the right preparation and mindset, you’ll find a break that’s perfect for you. If you’re thinking of paddling out on the North Shore of Oahu, though, there are a few things you should consider.

DO: Check the Surf Report

The surf on the North Shore can get big fast. You could paddle out in surf that’s just overhead and find yourself in 10-12 foot sets in just over an hour. If the waves get bigger than your experience level and riding ability can handle, you might be in trouble.

Make sure to check the surf report before you go. This will also help you make a good choice of which beach to go to. There are many breaks on the North Shore. Checking the surf report will help you choose one that will be best for you.

DO: Spend Time Surveying The Surf

Even if you checked the surf report before heading to the beach, nothing gives you a better feel than an on-site eye test. A general rule of thumb is to watch the surf for at least twenty minutes before making a decision whether or not to paddle out.

In a stretch of five minutes you could see a number of relatively small sets roll in, giving you the confidence to head out. However, once you actually get down to the beach, you might be looking at much more menacing surf. Take time to feel the surf out and identify swift-moving currents to know where you’ll be pulled when you paddle out.

DON’T: Paddle Out If You Feel Uncomfortable

So you’ve parked at the beach and you’re standing on the road looking out at the swell. You feel a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. It’s one of the biggest days that the North Shore has seen this year, and you feel like reconsidering your plan for the day.

Your buddy is amped and still wants to paddle out. Maybe he or she is more experienced than you. Don’t feel like you’ve got something to prove and wind up placing yourself in a compromising situation. Know your own limitations and be true to them.

DON’T: Panic If You Start To Feel In Danger

If you’ve paddled into a situation you’re not comfortable with, it’s important that you don’t get overly worked up. This will cause your breathing to speed up and your muscles to tighten. Panic and stress can cloud your judgment. Take a deep breath and assess your situation. You can always paddle back to the shore.

DON’T: Battle A Riptide

If you don’t know how to identify a riptide, learn from someone who can point out what they look like from the shore. A riptide will pull you away from shore, often quite rapidly. If you find yourself farther out than you’d like, the best way back to the shore is to catch the nearest wave. Even if it’s whitewash, it’ll take you where you need to go. Don’t try to swim against a riptide, as they are powerful and you will tire quickly.

There are many amazing surf breaks to see on the North Shore of Oahu. Our goal is not to discourage you from enjoying the amazing surf the island has to offer, but to help you stay safe while enjoying yourself to the fullest during your stay. Mahalo for reading!

About the Author

My name is Tucker Ballister. I grew up in beautiful Lake Tahoe, California area and have found a renewed passion for writing over the course of the last year or so. I recent completed the Master’s of Tourism Management program at Colorado State University and now reside on the magical island of Maui, writing and work trading on a developing sustainable homestead. I enjoy writing on a wide variety of topics, including, but not limited to, destination management, sustainable development, tourism policy, visitor motivations, and entrepreneurial development. I hope you enjoyed my writing and I can’t thank you enough for reading! Mahalo!

Categories: Hawaii

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