In 1952, dynamite blasted through coral and reef to forge what today is the Ala Moana harbor. The project rerouted the Ala Wai harbor from the nearby Kewalo Basin, creating a deepwater channel for boats and waves to pour into. For better or worse, this change created what is likely the first man-made wave, arguably the south shore’s best wave, Ala Moana Bowls.
Initially the wave wasn’t a popular surf spot. The longboards and single fins of the sixties couldn’t quite match the speed of the reeling left hander. But as the 1970’s and 80’s ushered in a revolution of surfboard design and development, Bowls became a world class high performance wave, showcased by progressive standouts like Hawaii’s Larry Bertlemann, Buttons Kaluhiokalani, and James "Booby" Jones, to name a few. And as history tends to repeat itself, the wave at Ala Moana is still training and entertaining during the summer months for the regular crew like Mike Akima, Ronnie Ongos aka "Ronnie Boy", and Derek Lyons-Wolf.
The name Bowls was meant to be plural, as there are two waves that break, the main peak, or “Middles,” which will break anywhere from one to six foot seas, and “Big Bowl", that tends to break only when the swell is above four or five feet, depending on the tide. Middles is the dominant peak, a long and fast peeling left with plenty of face, making it ideal for progressive surfing and surf contests. Big Bowl is a slow churning slabby left that gathers energy from the main peak, doubles up and unloads onto shallow reef. It’s tricky to ride and even trickier to catch, given the hungry crowd of locals. And rightly so, as it’s acclaimed by most to be hands down the best barrel on the south shore.
Like most places, the crowd can be a factor at Ala Moana. On smaller days you’ll find a cheerful local crowd of about 10-20 surfers and bodyboards on the outside, with a pack of 5-10 groms on the inside. On days like this, a smile and patience goes a long way. On the bigger days, caution is advised. When Bowls gets to the four foot and above range, it becomes expert only, and the deep well of Hawai’i’s die-hard Bowls locals tend to catch all the best waves.
The best conditions to catch Bowls would be three foot south to southwest swell, medium to high tide and light northeast trade winds. In the four foot or bigger range, the big bowl starts breaking. It’s best with six foot south to southwest swell, medium tide and light northeast trade winds.