Honolua Perspective – Chapter I
Tucked under Maui’s rugged northwest shoulder, Honolua Bay has a near mystical aura of perfection and allure for surfers. Here, where the coastline plunges into deep Pacific cobalt in a cascading series of false points that culminate in the scoop of the bay, indicator reefs lure swells from the north and pull them steadily inward, spoking with increasing perfection into the shelter of the cove where ruler-edged, warm-water curls are feathered by offshore afternoon breezes.
All swell and surf are fleeting, but this extraordinary wave is the rarest of birds. What other surf spot makes such exacting demands on the machinery of storm and swell? Storms can spin past and barely pitch to Honolua Bay. Shielded from North Pacific storms by the island of Molokai, Honolua Bay is a surf spot measured by swell windows and defined by its great sessions.
Thus, on any given day, this remote coast appears pristine and placid, the ocean gently surging with windswell, the black-lava’d and bouldered shoreline pocketed with glassy tide pools (fresh, salt, and brackish) and blanketed green with algae, moss, grass, pineapple, and palm. Idyllic, bucolic, sweetly brooding and, yes, alluring. Alluring in a big way because of the very transitory nature of its world-class right-hand wave.
No other spot is so defined by its historic cinematic sessions: Herbie Fletcher and Bill Fury finding the place deserted in the autumn of 1966 (for MacGillivray-Freeman’s Free and Easy), Bob McTavish and Nat Young test-tracking their vee-bottoms in December of 1967 (for Paul Witzig’s Hot Generation), Jock Sutherland and Jeff Hakman streaking classic Bay waves during the epic swells of December 1969 (for John Severson’s Pacific Vibrations).
Honolua Bay is a chimera among surf spots – an eidolon or phantasm that owes much of its magnetism to its very unpredictability, to its occasional and spectacular perfection. On the best of days, with a north swell volleying lines down the throat of the Molokai Channel to wrap into the belly of West Maui, the sight is majestic indeed: dark lines welting and hollowing into backlit green and turquoise walls, tapering into the deepwater serenity of the cove.
It’s been like this always, or so it seems. Certainly for hundreds of years. Roadless and inaccessible until the mid-1900s, local surfer Don Uchimura was probably the first to ride a wave here, back in the 1930s. Uchimura founded the Ho’okipa Surfing Club; he brought pioneer mainland surfer Woody Brown to Honolua in the late 1940s, when the two became Maui’s first big-wave surf explorers.
As word of Honolua Bay’s perfect waves and pristine setting began to spread via the coconut wireless, more surfers came to Maui in the 1950s: Bob Shepherd, Bill Coleman, Fred Van Dyke, Ted Gugalyk. Finally, in the late 1960s, the convergence of the psychedelic era, its back-to-the earth movement, and new interest in surf travel brought a flood of waveriders to the island and blew the veil of secrecy off the spot, leading to the epic sessions of the 1960s, ’70s, and beyond – think Les Potts, Herbie Torrens, Barry Kanaiaupuni, Tom Galia, Ben Aipa, and so on – great surfers who watched the spot, knew what it took to bring her to life and were there at magic time.
Even today, Honolua’s aura of mystery endures … in large measure because the wave seems so capricious and unpredictable. But as many famous and not so famous catches prove, the Bay is vortex of tranquil potential, waiting quietly and patiently for the arrival of those magical pulses of energy that surfers live to ride. You never know for sure when the Bay is going to light up, but it does!
by Drew Kampion