A visual journey through Oahu’s colorful North Shore culture

No wonder everyone loves the North Shore, with its abundance of eclectic eateries, boutiques, shave ice stands and surfing shops.

On winter days when swells born hundreds of miles away in the tempestuous North Pacific finally make landfall on the world-famous surf breaks of Oahu’s North Shore, they provide a spectacle not to be missed.

Scores of professional surfers from Hawaii and around the world take to the churning ocean with hopes of snagging perfect rides that impress surf-contest judges. Thousands of resident and visitor spectators line the white-sand beaches and two-lane blacktop of Kamehameha Highway for the best up-close views of surf competitions.

Then there’s the 13-mile coast’s most remarkable sight: The North Shore’s legendary big surf itself—massive, vertical wave faces cresting at heights of up to 40- to 50-feet before slamming with earth-shaking power onto the shoreline. An uncontrollable force of nature on unforgettable display.

But big winter surf months, between November and February, are hardly the only reason and season to make the drive out to Oahu’s scenic North Shore from the island’s more populous south side.

One of the best times to visit the North Shore, in our opinion, is summer. With pro contests like the Triple Crown of Surfing long completed, the coast’s famous stretches of sand—Haleiwa Beach, Waimea Bay, Ehukai Beach, Sunset Beach, among them—offer more acreage for stretching out and taking in the ocean view. Waters are far calmer, allowing you to easily wade in for a swim or snorkel. And there also seems to be more time for comfortably exploring all that the North Shore’s two main towns have to offer.

north shore
Though a section of Kamehameha Highway now bypasses Haleiwa, you won’t miss the turnoff into town, thanks to colorful
signage like this.

Haleiwa, with its abundance of eclectic eateries, homespun boutiques and markets, ever-busy shave ice stands, ocean activity businesses and, of course, surf-gear shops, is always a popular stop with visitors. But save a few hours to check out its neighbor down the coast, Waialua, a former sugar-mill town now home base for a growing community of entrepreneurs and artisans producing everything from world-class surfboards and silk-screen fashions to handmade soaps, chocolates and soda pop.

A popular North Shore credo, scribbled on yard signs and stamped on car bumper stickers, asks all who visit to “Keep the Country COUNTRY.” The North Shore has only one major hotel—the 400-room Turtle Bay Resort, originally constructed in 1972—and no high-rise buildings, shopping malls or suburban sprawl to speak of. And it isn’t just North Shore and Oahu residents who are largely in favor of keeping things this way for years to come.

“I can’t imagine this area any other way. I really can’t,” says Gil Stross, slipping on a pair of fins and gazing at currently calm waters off Ehukai Beach—when surf is up, home to the famed Banzai Pipeline surf break. A self-proclaimed “Midwest soul surfer,” Stross has been returning to the North Shore for winter waves almost annually since 1976.

“Some days I pick up a sandwich and smoothie from Waialua Bakery (66-200 Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa, (808) 341-2838, waialuabakery.com) and just come here and sit, maybe take a dip. Days like today,” says Stross. “The mountains behind me. The ocean in front of me. I don’t need waves, man. I’m blessed with just this.”

It’s good to know we can all be as fortunate on the North Shore, just as easily.


Haleiwa Harbor, with the town’s iconic “Rainbow Bridge” in the background. The single-lane bridge was built in 1921
over navigable Anahulu Stream, which empties into the small boat harbor. 


waimea rock
Posted signs clearly warn of the dangers of leaping off of Waimea Bay’s lava monolith, affectionately dubbed “Jump Rock,” into
the shorebreak edging the luxuriously wide white-sand beach. Dozens of beachgoers each day ignore the warnings and jump
off the 30-foot rock anyway. 


A pro competitor celebrates the conclusion of a great ride—and successful barrel exit—at the
Billabong Pipe Masters in Memory of Andy Irons surf contest,held December 2011, at
Ehukai Beach Park’s Banzai Pipeline surf break.


clark little
Photographer-surfer Clark Little rests for a bit before heading back into morning surf on the North Shore.
Little captures his acclaimed “inside-out” wave photos by wading in the receding sands of shore-breaking surf.
“When the waves are big, there are stressful situations where you get caught, can’t breathe and there’s wave after wave
coming in. That part of shooting can be very scary,” says the longtime North Shore resident. Clark Little Gallery
66-111 Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa (808) 626-5319, clarklittle.com


The three “jewel” competitions of the Triple Crown of Surfing contest annually draw a lineup of the world’s top professional
surfers and thousands of spectators to North Shore surf breaks.


A young fan walks past a large mural for the Triple Crown’s Billabong Pipe Masters contest.


eric arakawa
Long regarded as one of the most skilled board shapers on the planet,
North Shore resident Eric Arakawa has crafted the rides of
multiple world champion surfers in a career spanning three decades.
Eric Arakawa Designs, 67-106 Kealohanui St., Waialua
(808) 637-0068, ericarakawasurfboards.com


The product-filled interiors of Haleiwa Surf ‘N’ Sea, the area’s oldest wave-and-water gear store and ground zero for
setting up North Shore ocean activities. 62-595 Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa, (800) 899-7873, surfnsea.com


Oahu resident Ariel Regan exits the waters off Laniakea Beach after a late afternoon dive.


A skilled woodworker for four decades, Joe Green began crafting the timeless-looking instruments of his Haleiwa Ukuleles
brand only three years ago. Taught by a North Shore crafter, Green meticulously handcrafts each ukulele in a small workshop
in his Waialua home. “It’s very calming,” says Green. “I get in this room and before I know it it’s 2 a.m. and my wife has to
call me to come to bed.” Haleiwa Ukuleles (at Surf N Sea), (808) 223-0102, joegreenukulele.com


The colorful, mod-cool artwork out of Woolley Brothers graces
everything from surfboards to T-shirts, and ball caps to canvases.
The design company is a true family affair, with Woolley brothers
Nat, Sean, Ehukai and sister Ciara running both retail and production
out of a century-old bank building in their Waialua hometown.
Before Woolley Brothers, the structure was home to a rowdy
neighborhood bar. 67-069 Kealohanui St., Waialua
(808) 637-7468, woolleybrothershawaii.com


north shore
Breanna Tidball, Taniya Sifton and Vanessa Yard (l-r) work the morning swarm of surf season
customers at Cafe Haleiwa with friendly smiles and tasty breakfasts. 66-456 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, (808) 637-5516, 


Waialua Soda Works owners Karen and Jason Campbell craft their tasty artisinal sodas using Hawaii grown sugar, vanilla,
honey, lilikoi and, when in season, fresh mango. They even personally deliver cases of soda to their North Shore retail customers.
Sold at various retailers, waialuasodaworks.com


island x
The largest gathering of shave ice fans in Haleiwa is typically found at Matsumoto Shave Ice. Owner Stanley Matsumoto has
worked at the family business, which opened in 1951 as a grocery store, since his childhood. Shave ice, added to the
retail mix in 1956, is now the store’s main business. “It wasn’t as busy back then as it is now,” says Matsumoto.
“Then local people started bringing guests from the Mainland. After that, it was all word of mouth.” 
66-087 Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa, (808) 637-4827, matsumotoshaveice.com


island x
The toothsome, real mango, pineapple, strawberry and coffee natural syrups blanketing shave ice at Island X Hawaii
in Waialua are so thick—there’s even bits of visible fruit pulp in them—staff prefer calling them “sauces.” 
Island X Hawaii, 67-106 Kealohanui St., Waialua, (808) 637-2624, islandxhawaii.com
Monica Swanson and her sons (l-r) Josiah, Luke and Jonah
stop by Waialua Bakery for lunch at least once a week.
“They have the best sandwiches and smoothies,” says Monica,
of proprietor Anna Swim’s popular bakery and cafe, actually
located in Haleiwa. Swim procures as much of the menu’s produce
as possible—mangoes, papaya, avocados, bananas, lettuces,
tomatoes and more—from her family farm in nearby Mokuleia.
All bakery items are made fresh in-house each day,
including the bread for sandwiches. During our visit,
we were happy to find out we weren’t the only ones
who had a tough time deciding on a sandwich and
smoothie combo. Says Josiah, “There’s so much variety here.”


beet box
The Beet Box Burrito, at Haleiwa vegetarian eatery The Beet Box Cafe, is packed with scrambled eggs, brown rice, Brazilian
black beans, avocado, mango salsa and spinach. 66-437 Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa, (808) 637-3000, thebeetboxcafe.com


While shopping at North Shore Soap Factory’s Waialua retail
store, you can watch soapmaker Jonathan Isenberg mix, shape
and cut colorful, fragrant soaps. 
67-106 Kealohanui St., Waialua, (808) 637-8400, 


Malama Na Honu (“Protect the Turtles”) volunteer Mike Roundtree
takes on a four-hour shift each week watching over the Hawaiian
green sea turtles that swim up daily onto Laniakea Beach to catch
some sun. “The hotter the day is, the better the chance they’ll be
here,” says Roundtree, of the state-protected honu.


Megan West and her 3-year-old son Milo have spent many an
afternoon exploring the shoreline at Haleiwa Beach Park.
On this particular trip, Milo was looking forward to finding
honu sunning on the white sands. “There’s no better way to
spend a day off than here,” says Megan.


Bicycles await the return of their owners near Sunset Beach. 
Body art on Sunset Beach.


Waialua’s welcome sign is a relic of its sugar plantation history. The town’s sugar mill was shuttered in 1996 after a
century of production.



surf n sea
The “dive stuff” department at Haleiwa Surf N Sea is always well stocked. 


Fresh-picked coffee cherries await washing and shelling at Waialua Estate Coffee’s production facility in Waialua.
The company produces coffee on 155 acres in the hills above Haleiwa. 67 Kupahu St., Waialua (800) 637-0201,


Categories: Oʻahu