School of surf

By | Category: Travel destinations

Hawaii – situated as it is slap bang in the middle of the Pacific – is a long flight from just about anywhere. However trust JAT when we say that the stunning rainforests, fine hotels and a cultural experience that will fulfil you from start to finish are worth hopping on a plane for.

And this year there are more reasons to head to Hawaii than ever: the island chain is celebrating the 100th birthday of two national parks (Haleakala National Park on Maui and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island) while simultaneously commemorating the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbour.

Yet while the National Parks and Pearl Harbour may be dominating the headlines in 2016, Hawaii’s biggest draw remains its insta-perfect beaches and waters – not for nothing is Hawaii known as the birthplace of surfing.


Make no mistake: Hawaii has a total obsession with surfing. While the rest of the world might consider surfing a sport, in Hawaii it’s about much more than merely catching and riding waves: surfing is considered a social activity and time honoured ritual (in ancient Hawaii, boards were carved from fallen trees and rode by ali aka chiefs).

All of which explains why, on arriving in Hawaii, I was asked the question: “Are you a surfer?”. In truth I hadn’t so much as stepped on a surfboard so I did what anyone would do in these circumstances, and fibbed. “Absolutely!” I said.

In reality my hobbies at home include socialising and sipping wine, but travel tends to bring out my “I will try anything because I might never get the chance again” side.  And, if I was looking to “hang ten” then Hawaii, is the clearly the place to do so. Especially the chief island O’ahu (which means ‘gathering place’) as it has more consistent surf breaks than anywhere else in the world.


The surfing mecca that is the north shore is a popular spot for professional surfers, boasting as it does some of Oahu’s biggest swells. Think epic waves as high as houses, that show even the Kelly Slaters and Pancho Sullivans of the world who is in charge…


But as a beginner I made a beeline for Kaisers surf break, partly because its slow breaking waves – making it an ideal playground for surfing novices like yours truly. And partly because Kaisers is without a doubt one of the world’s most iconic surfing destinations: this, after all, is where legendary waterman Duke Kahanamoku (the handsome Hawaiian who broke world swimming records and captured four Olympic medals before appearing in more than 15 Hollywood films and becoming the ‘ambassador of Aloha’ ) cultivated his surfing skills. And if it was good enough for the Duke…

Which is how I found myself  signing up for a surf lesson at Hawaii Hot Spot Surf School – the only surf school helping people catch waves at Kaisers.


It may sound like a cliche but there is no better way to learn to surf than from a local beach boy and Hawaii Hot Spot Surf School owner and O’ahu native, Errol Kane, has been surfing since he was a child –  having been taught to ride da waves by his Father

Errol’s enthusiasm for the ‘ sport of kings’  led him to open his own school back in 2004, so clearly he and his colleagues have been around long enough to know what they’re doing.

Errol promised to have me standing and surfing by the end of my first lesson and after hearing  his motivating pep talk, I felt fairly confident. I mean, I’ve watched Blue Crush (a staple of surf cinema). I’m reasonably fit. How tricky could it be?


I’m here to tell you that surfing is hard…. but it’s also utterly exhilarating. Errol started with a land lesson that covers the three basic rules of surfing. Step one: knees to hands. Step two: slide your right or left foot forward, keeping hands each side of surf board in case you’re not stable. Step three: when (or should that be if) you feel comfortable, twist  your front knee, pivot your foot and rise to standing keeping your arms shaped like an L.

After my lesson on beach practicing the aforementioned steps on Errol’s longboard (generally longboards which are approx 8-12 feet in length are easier for beginners, while shortboards are reserved for serious surfers carving turns on larger waves), it was time to hit the surf…


Much to my surprise my first attempt to stand was a success, earning me a shaka sign (the unmistakable pinky and thumb salute, that is the ultimate symbol of aloha in Hawaii) from Errol. A few failed attempts followed but Errol didn’t seem phased, advising me to “Butt or belly flop – never fall head or feet first”.

And sure enough, thanks to Errol’s shouts of encouragement – “Low and strong, Kaye! Always remember stay low if you want to go; stand tall if you want to fall” – I quickly made progress and was able to get up to that all important standing position.

As I rode turquoise wave after turquoise wave while watching the Waikiki sand sparkle in the Hawaiian sunshine, a huge smile crept over my face. I was on a roll, experiencing the adrenaline rush I craved – and had never felt more alive.

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Not that I needed to explain this to Errol who evidently loves sharing the ‘stoke’ of what it feels like to catch a wave and have it propel you through Waikiki’s azure waters. “It’s gratifying when people stand up and catch their first wave,” he reveals. “They (have) that big smile from ear to ear, (and) that’s what makes it all worth it as a teacher. You know, teaching surfing has to be one of the best jobs in the world. You have a chance to share aloha. Once I started [teaching], that was it for me.”

He says that the fairer sex often make the best students  – “girls have good balance and are prepared to listen while guys have a tendency, until they wipe out, to think they know it all” – but stresses that there are no barriers when it comes to surfing. Whether you’re a man or a woman, tall or short, fat or thin, eight or 80, there’s a wave out there for you…


There’s rarely a day when the Hawaiian Hotspots Surfing school team aren’t hanging ten and, after just one lesson, I can see why. I felt as if I’d given myself a gift: in an age where people rarely get to unplug, stepping away from technology and riding the Waikiki waves in the blazing sunshine feels like the ultimate indulgence.

Or as Andy Kealoha – a lifelong Waikiki entertainer and composer – famously phrased it:

“Waikiki at night when the shadows are falling, I hear your rolling surf calling; calling and calling to me.
Waikiki, ’tis for you that my heart is yearning, my thoughts are always returning, out there to you across the sea”

Are you ready to hang loose, brah?!


Where to catch your first wave
Learn to surf at Duke’s playground with Hawaii Hot Spots Surf School, affiliated with Hilton Hawaiian Village. Group lessons are priced at US$95 while private one-on-one classes  cost US$160. Lessons last two hours,  include board, leash and use of rash guard and can be reserved by calling 888 904 4088. Surfed before? Kane and co will set you up on the best waves available: boards can be rented for two hours (US$45), two days (US$85) or, if you’ve got the bug, infinitely longer.

Don’t miss
Duke’s OceanFest
In O’ahu this August? Don’t miss Duke’s OceanFest which is held each summer in Waikiki in honour of Hawaiian legend Duke Paoa Kahanamoku – aka the greatest waterman who ever lived and Hawaii’s ambassador of Aloha. The annual event – which celebrates Duke Kahanamoku’s life, his athletic contributions, and his spirit that still lives on – features a variety of ocean sports that were close to Duke’s heart, including surfing, paddleboard racing, swimming, tandem surfing, surf polo and volleyball.

Triple Crown of Surfing
The world’s premier surfing event, Triple Crown of Surfing sees the top pros compete for prizes – and pride. The first leg is held at Hale’iaw Ali’i Beach Park while the second leg is stated at Sunset Beach. The final leg is held at the start of December at Banzai Pipeline.

The Eddie Aikau Surfing Competition
The big wave contest is rare – the event has run only 10 times in its 31 year history –  but, when it happens, epic: organisers are looking swells of at least 35-40 feet high. The competition began in 1984, six years after Eddie Aikau died. The native Hawaiian surfer was famous for riding monster waves and saving hundreds of lives as Waimea Bay’s first official lifeguard. Ultimately Eddie was lost at sea in 1978 after paddling out into stormy waters to seek help for stranded crew aboard the Hawaiian ship Hokule’a. The surf competition, whose window is between 1 December  and the last day of February, was created in his memory and spawned the phrase “Eddie would go.”

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