Soaking up surf culture at Turtle Bay Resort on North Shore Oahu
Surfing: Not a sport. But a lifestyle…but technically, a sport. – wiktionary.org
The cerulean sea greets you as you ride over the crest of a wave. You know your set is out there. You dream of finding a curl with your name on it; riding through the tunnel and capturing the quintessential moment in every surfer’s life. This is what you have come for; this is what has brought you to the North Shore of Oahu. Not the cute girls in bikinis, and definitely not the shaved ice from Matsumoto. You want to experience the North Shore at its finest, but you are a bit intimidated by the stories you have heard about surfers on the North Shore.
It’s true. Oahu’s North Shore, a stretch of beach that boasts some of the best surfing in the world, can be a tricky place to make your mark. Locals have a hard enough time; let alone mainland surfers and international surfers who are coming to practice as they earn rank on the international surfing stage. This is where the Van Triple Crown takes place. Local surf enforcers are no joke. Just ask the kids staying at the Van or Volcon surf houses. If you have never surfed before and you don’t have a clue what to do, you may want to stay off Pipeline and try a few quieter beaches first. When the surf is good, there is no way the local boys will let you drop in. This is where Turtle Bay Resort comes in.
If you have the spare change (and then a few hundred on top of that) to stay at Turtle Bay Resort, do it. This resort has tapped into the local surfing life of the island. Surfer Magazine set up a bar in the resort lobby called, what else, Surfer [The Bar]. Oakley has a shop here and champion surfer Hans Hedeman has a surf school right at the resort. The beaches on the Turtle Bay property are perfect for beginners and even intermediates. Since the resort came under new management the gates have been brought down and locals are encouraged to surf the waves around Turtle Bay. You will see plenty of surfers of all skill levels in the water just to the left of the resort, outside of the cottages, surfing before and after work.
The surfers around Turtle Bay are a bit less aggressive and more willing to let the newbies drop in for a wave. I saw more than one massive wipe out during my stay at the resort to check out the new renovations they had just unveiled in the fall of 2014. It was entertaining to watch, but man did some of those wipeouts look like they hurt. Maybe this is why I am not a surfer. I prefer the mellower, calm water Stand Up Paddle boarding (SUPing). Then again, I did see a champion paddle boarder taking on some waves at the resort and I got seasick when I went SUPing during my visit. Maybe I need to rethink this whole board sport thing, or at least stick to the lakes.
One of my favorite parts of every day at the resort was sitting on the cliffs overlooking the ocean surrounding Turtle Bay and watching the surfers. I would do this from my balcony as I sipped coffee, at the pool as I enjoyed a cocktail at The Point (the pool bar), and even as I relaxed before my massage and scrub at the spa. Everywhere I went the ocean surrounded me.
While touring the property and the North Shore with some of the management guys, I got the chance to go to the Vulcan House and the Van House, two powerhouse sponsors in the surf scene. At the Van House we met the team leader. This guy was serious looking and did not mess around. He was a top enforcer on the beach, meaning he could tell which guys got the good waves and who were left with the pathetic little ones, or maybe never even got to drop in. He was also the guy making sure the next generation of surfers was learning how to take care of themselves and respect their fellow teammates and competitors. He knew that making it big in surfing didn’t happen to every kid that came through his house. These kids needed to know how to clean up after themselves, respect each other, stay out of fights and eat a decent meal every now and then. You can’t live on chips alone boys!
Unlike other parts of Oahu, you feel the instant disconnect from city life when you are on the North Shore. The ocean is the main attraction, not high-rise hotels, shopping or cartoon characters come to life. People come to this part of the island to escape the every day, unwind and relax. The rooms at Turtle Bay embody this feeling through plush white bedding, and blue and sandy accents that mimic the beach right outside your balcony door. The cottages and villas can give families more room to spread out and even take the grandparents along with them.
Grandparents aren’t a bad idea since there is no kids club at the resort. The staff feels that families are here to reconnect and enjoy time together. Yes, mom can run off to the spa and they can arrange a sitter for you if you would like a few hours to reconnect with your partner, but above all, it’s family that is important here. Ride horses together, take a surf or golf lesson, and enjoying the gentle roll of the waves on the east side of the resort, where the surf is calm and ready to welcome even the smallest guests. Surfers generally stick to the west side (left) of the resort outside of the cottages, which were recently renovated. I saw a few parents out there catching a few waves with their kids even.
Chefs at the resort have embraced the local flavors and a farm to table menu. In fact, the resort has bought up so much land (850 acres in fact) to give guests a quiet, uninterrupted stay that they eventually plan to expand their farm, which will be able to provide most of the produce for the property. There are even talks of offering cooking classes to visitors. The chef at the beach side restaurant (then called Ola’s) was cooking up fresh pork nachos, but in no way should you think these are the same nachos you are getting back home. These thin crisps were topped with perfectly seasoned Kalua Pork, a dollop of cream and avocado. I ate so many that I almost missed the fresh poke that was being served. However, just like dessert, there is always room for poke (similar to a ceviche) when in Hawaii.
Looking out at the waves as the sun sets, sipping a pina colada (cliché, but a must!) and watching the surfers try not to wipe out (but they will. They always will), your body begins to relax. You are settling into island time. And maybe, just maybe you will be ready to tackle the surf tomorrow. Or maybe you will just relax and take a spin down the pool slide instead. That’s the beauty of the North Shore. It’s all up to you, and Turtle Bay Resort will always try to help as much as they can.
Know before you go
- Turtle Bay Resort, 57-091 Kamehameha Hwy, Kahuku, HI 96731
- Stroller friendly: yes
- Kid’s Club? No.
- Pools: Yes, there is one main pool at the resort, but not life vests available at the time of my visit.
- Dining options: Surfer [The Bar], Kula Grille, Lobby Lounge, Pa’akai, The Point, Lei Lei’s, and Luaus.
- Activities: Horse trail rides, two championship golf courses, swim, surf lessons, helicopter tours, live music, shopping, eating, kayak, snorkel, hike, bike, outrigger kayaking, yoga, fitness classes and luaus.
- Classes and lessons: Golf, tennis, surfing, Stand Up Paddleboarding and Kayaking
- Shopping: Watershed (softest t-shirts ever plus a great staff!), Oakley, Spa Boutique, Lamonts and the Golf Shop.