Spot Check: Haleiwa

Swells rolling in at Haleiwa beach parkThe wave at Ali’i Beach Park, known as Haleiwa, has a special place in the surfing world. Part of the former Triple Crown of Surfing, Haleiwa is a one-of-a-kind break considered by many to be one of the best high-performance big wave spots in the world, handling swells up to twelve feet. While many near-shore spots get washed out during large swells, Haleiwa seems to get better as it gets bigger. Across generations, many of surfing’s legendary watermen and women have grown up surfing and have showcased Hawaiian power surfing there, including Eddie Aikau, Sunny Garcia, Kekoa Bacalso, and Bettylou Johnson

Haleiwa Town, where the wave is located and derives its name, is often referred to as the gateway to the north shore due to its geographical location. Similarly, the wave is a gateway to surfing the north shore, as its mellow inside reform section is perfect for kids on small to medium sized swells. Many north shore groms begin surfing there and eventually work their way up the coast to waves like Sunset, Rocky Point, Pipeline, and Waimea. In Hawaiian, the name “Haleiwa” means “house of the frigate bird” or Iwa. Originally a sugar plantation town in the late 1800s, today, the quaint seaside town is known for its charming atmosphere, art galleries, and delicious treats like shave ice and açaí bowls. 

Bella Ebrez rides the waves of Haleiwa

Haleiwa breaks mainly to the right but can offer up some lefts on smaller days. The main peak breaks about 300 yards off-shore over a rough v-shaped reef until it meets a shallow closeout section known as the Toilet Bowl. Haleiwa breaks during fall, winter, and spring months, and a west-northwest swell is ideal for optimal conditions. Swells too far out of the west are blocked by the nearby reef at Avalanches, and swells too far out of the north get blocked by the reef at neighboring Pua’ena Point. Haleiwa’s close proximity to these reefs means, at times, the waves will be smaller there than at most spots on the north shore; however, during big swells, when most breaks are overwhelmed and washing out, Haleiwa can be the best spot. 

Like much of the north shore, Haleiwa’s shoreline faces northwest; therefore, the tradewinds blow mostly offshore year-round. On windier days, the trades vere more easterly, causing some side shore texture. The ideal wind setup is light winds from the southeast, although Kona winds from the west tend to follow, making for messy conditions. 

Another well-known characteristic of Haleiwa is the current, which only gets stronger as the waves get bigger. During large swells, the place turns into a relentless treadmill, ripping surfers towards the jetty and boat channel. The reason for this is the nearby break at Avalanche will pull in massive amounts of water and send it over the inside reef to the west of Haleiwa. That water, needing to go somewhere, escapes across the lineup at Haleiwa and towards the deeper channel outside the Harbor. At times, the current is so strong you’ll find yourself being sucked into the impact zone no matter how hard you paddle. Know your limits, and when in doubt, don’t go out. 

Hawaiian Pro at Ali'i Beach Park in Haleiwa

The crowd at Haleiwa is similar to most places on the north shore and heavily dependent on the swell. During early and late season swells on the smaller side, you’ll find an easygoing and playful group of ocean lovers on various types of watercraft with a bunch of groms scattered throughout the inside. When the swells are solid during the months of November through January and into February, you may find a hungry pack of professional surfers practicing for an upcoming contest. As always, be mindful of locals and others. 

Billy Kemper in his element at HaleiwaDue to the heavy current during larger swells, surfers tend toward boards with a little extra paddle power, typically, a couple of inches bigger than their standard shortboard. For swells two to four feet, Glenn Pang recommends the Flux Model. Its single to double concave with a slight vee going off the tailboard will glide you through the smaller waves and will turn on a dime in the solid surf. When the surf jumps up a notch, Glenn recommends the CSU Model, a step-up version of the Flux Model with a somewhat relaxed rocker, clean outline, also a single to double concave bottom contour with a slight vee going off the tail to give you float through the mushy sections as well as generate tons of speed on rail. For the bigger swells, Glenn recommends the W4 Model. Its increased rocker for steep drops and extra vee off the tail is designed to handle power and speed and still turn tight in the pocket. 

Our Haleiwa store is conveniently located just a couple minutes down the road from Ali’i Beach Park in the new Haleiwa Store Lots open-air retail centerIf you’re in the neighborhood and need some wax, a leash, a reusable water bottle, or to do all of your Christmas shopping, cruise on by! We’re open every day, 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

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