Sunsets, Surfers and Swells – A Week on Oahu’s North Shore

“When I sit here by the sea and listen to the sound of waves, I feel free from all obligations and people of this world.”

-Henry Thoreau-


I.Love.Oahu.  I love the diversity that ranges from high end luxury suites and shops to trucker hats, surf boards and flips flops. I love the way of life, the family values, the relaxed perspectives, and the Shaka symbolizing ‘everything is alright’.  I love that if the waves are rough or the wind is up, you can travel and discover a completely new world just around the corner.

Oahu’s North Shore is a place of legend, a surfing mecca for the experienced and the professional elite, proud host of 3 annual competitions that make up the prestigious Van’s Triple Crown.  It’s a place known for powerful winter waves and a laid back lifestyle.  A place where bare feet pad thru the grocery store, food trucks rein supreme, turtles find sanctuary and whales hurtle themselves in the air, their massive bodies crashing into the horizon.  There is something about this area that will have you yearning for a simpler life, one that doesn’t conform to society’s idea of materialism and hectic pace, and for that, I cannot help but have a complete appreciation (and envy) for those who fully embrace it.


We arrived in a shroud of darkness, but the sound of the waves, lit slightly by the moonlight, completely erased the weariness of travel across the Pacific Ocean.  I knew from the moment I booked the ‘Beach House’ that we were in for an amazing week, and waking up to such a spectacular view, coffee in hand, surfers out in full force was something out of a dream.  We spent hours taking in this view from the lanais, watching whales breach or a turtle poke his head up from a wave, bearing witness to the salvage effort for the two US Marine helicopters that crashed off the north shore a month earlier.  As the swells began pounding the shore, we took in the views through the picture windows.  We simply could not get enough of watching Mother Nature in all her glory.

This was our first experience booking a property on VRBO.  As a group of 11, spanning 4 generations and traveling to celebrate my Grandfather’s 80th birthday, I knew picking the right place was vital.  Finding those perfect gems is something I take pride in, and my North Shore choice did not disappoint. The home had 5 bedrooms, 2 complete kitchens, living rooms, bathrooms and lanais, as well as an outdoor shower, perfect for washing off sand.  Not only did we have breathtaking views, the well known ‘Alligator Rock’ provided safe swimming and snorkeling…at least until the record setting swells hit!  Kevin, the neighbor’s resident parrot, also gets an honorable mention.  He has an amputated wing and is blind in one eye, and the kids loved him.  This is a close knit family community, and the neighbors were incredibly friendly and helpful.  The home owners, Jordan and Beth, were unbelievably helpful and kind.  It was sheer fortune to find a place like this to host our week.  If you are interested in reading more about the Beach House, you can find the info here.


Sometimes travel and the elements collide.  Weather can truly make or break a trip, and it’s often your outlook and attitude that dictate the outcome.  When we got the news that the North Shore was about to be hit by some of the biggest swells in decades, we were nervous about what that meant for our perfectly planned family celebration.  By Feb 22nd, the 12 mile stretch between Haleiwa and the prestigious Turtle Bay Resort had been closed to tourists due to roads being washed over, and lifeguards reported more than 150 rescues on the east side of the island alone.  We were instructed to move all furniture away from the windows, and as it was supposed to roll in under the cover of darkness, no one slept very well.

What we got was not only crashing masses of water, but a once in a lifetime opportunity. 

Waves reaching as high as 70 feet roared in, thunderous beasts curling over themselves and ravaging everything in their path, including the poor unfortunate house a few doors down that lost it’s retaining wall, and nearly the house itself.  We were in complete awe, taking in the sheer force and power of the sea.  The swells then settled for a day, but as they were to roll back in the following evening, the only thing folks could talk about was the possibility of the highly coveted, and rare event known as “The Eddie“, named in honor of former lifeguard, Eddie Aikau.  We found ourselves buying ‘Eddie Would Go’ tshirts, and crossing our fingers like everyone else.  The call would be made on the beach of Waimea Bay the morning of Feb 25th.  The highly anticipated and respected event calls for very specific conditions and for the most elite names in surfing to be flown in last minute.  It had only been held 8 times since it’s inaugural run in 1986, the last being in 2009.  Would it be our lucky day or called off last minute?


Not only were we ecstatic to hear that The Eddie was officially ON, we were fortunate enough to be staying in a house that was a 10 minute walk away!  We arrived early, along with thousands of others.  In fact, many had camped out overnight to secure the perfect spot for watching the surf idols sail down 50 foot faces of water.  The air was electric with excitement, and we found ourselves soaked and deliriously happy on the sand of the bay.  I managed to get a selfie shot with Kelly Slater passing by, a shot of the winner John John Florence and in the parking lot we met the extremely humble and gracious Tom Carroll, who was equally impressed with our well timed arrival from Canada.  What had come to us as a completely unplanned and unexpected fortune of events turned out to be our favorite day of the entire trip!

I have no video or shots that do the day justice, but you can get a good feel for what we witnessed on the Quiksilver YouTube video HERE


Haleiwa, pronounced ‘Hah-lay-EE-wah’ means “house if the frigate bird”.  With architecture built to resemble it’s proud roots in the 1900’s sugar industry, Haleiwa is one of those small places that completely embodies the laid back, ocean side lifestyle.  Roughly an hour from Waikiki, and 5 minutes from the Beach House, this little town is a gathering spot for locals, surfers and tourists.  With a market grocer, food trucks, restaurants, surf shops and boutiques, it’s simply a really cool place to hang out.  The “8 Mile Miracle” reaching along the northern coast from Haleiwa is home to some of the world’s most famous surf territory, including the Banzai PipelineSunset Beach and Waimea Bay (where the Eddie is held).  Haleiwa also houses a beach, and a marina, which is where we embarked on our shark diving experience on our last trip.  You can read about that Here.

Don’t Miss Out:

NORTH SHORE SURF SHOP:  We absolutely loved the service at North Shore Surf.  Not only are the hats awesome (I’m donning mine in the photos at The Eddie!) the shirts are super comfortable and fit well.  Each logo it matched to a specific color, everything is designed by the owner and they are printed on the North Shore.

A PIE FROM TED’S:  Ted’s Bakery on Sunset Beach is famous for it’s desserts.  When we asked the locals where to get a cake for my Grampa’s 80th, the answer was Ted’s.  I called them directly and asked what was popular.  Hands down, the Chocolate Haupia Cream Pie and the Pineapple Cheesecake.  They also sell them in the grocery stores, and you must try one.


GIOVANNI’S SHRIMP TRUCK:  Another recommendation by locals is Giovanni’s, and the plate of 12 finger licking shrimp with rice is worth every penny.  There is one located in Historic Haleiwa, as well as at the other end, closer to Turtle Bay resort.  After devouring the plates of Shrimp Scampi (their most popular dish), we signed the iconic white truck.

SHAVED ICE:  The shaved ice dishes on Oahu are the size of a small child’s head. They are a delicious treat, so make sure to try one!  A popular place is Matsumoto in Haleiwa, and we enjoyed them after our shrimp lunch at Giovanni’s.


A perfect way to spend a few hours away from the North Shore waves is a stop across the road from the Bay at Waimea Falls.  The Valley tour does charge an entrance Fee, but is not for profit, and admission goes towards upkeep of this slice of paradise.  This a family friendly activity that is great for all ages, offering a botanical paradise along the 3/4 mile walk to the falls.  The main path is wide and paved, and a golf cart offers a ride for those who require it (additional fee).  At the end of the path is the falls (more substantial after a good fall of rain), where you can swim.  Note that ALL swimmers MUST wear a life jacket that is provided for free by lifeguards.  While the rocks are slippery and the water was cold, it was a great experience to float around beneath the falls!

** Bring your swimsuits and a towel.  There are change rooms, showers and washrooms nearby.  There is also a stand at the falls that serves drinks, shaved ice and various goodies (cash only).  The main entrance has a boutique and the Proud Peacock restaurant.

This is just a small taste of our amazing week on Oahu, and I’ll be covering more in upcoming blogs, such as finding the perfect family photographer, discovering beaches, Pearl Harbor, the Dole Plantation and a day in Waikiki.  Aloha my friends, until next time.




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54 thoughts on “Sunsets, Surfers and Swells – A Week on Oahu’s North Shore

  1. Amy, this was truly a wonderful family celebration of Grampa’s 80th birthday. You did a fantastic job of facilitating the entire trip. Reading your blog was almost as good as being there. Thank you, Gramma.

  2. We’ve never been to Hawaii. Any of us. We need to go and seeing pics with kids having such an awesome time and not just relaxing on the beach is really inspiring.

    1. My favorite part of Oahu is that in the two times being there we’ve covered adventures like catamarans, snorkeling, shark diving, surfing, boogie boarding, and major tourist highlights and still not even come close to experiencing it all! It’s a perfect mix of every gear of life from relaxation to full throttle adventure.

  3. Aim, once again you planned an incredible vacation. Celebrating Grandpa’s 80th birthday where we did and with all we got to see and do has made more wonderful memories. Just like when it came to rescues “Eddie would go” when it comes to travel AMY WILL GO. love you

  4. What an incredible vacation, I loved reading about it! Hawaii is really far for us and distance and cost have meant we haven’t gone yet: but I got my husband to agree to going there for our 10th anniversary and i am saving this in my anniversary folder for reference!

  5. What an amazing family trip and how cool seeing Kelly Slater! Looks perfect and when time and $ permit we too will head there one day! Thanks for such a detailed informative post. Bron

  6. What an amazing trip! And what incredible timing! I’m loving reading this post and look forward to your future ones, because although hubster and I have been to Hawaii a couple of times, we’re yet to take the kids. Your photos are just beautiful.

  7. Holy crap! What an epic trip, and a truly fun read! I’ve only been surfing once, when I was in Israel – and it was a blast. Nothing quite like 50 ft waves though…!

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my post! And ‘epic’ is almost an understatement. Getting to see The Eddie was so freaking awesome I can’t put it into words! And I’m envious of your own surfing adventure, I’ve always wanted to visit Israel!!!

  8. Thank you Amy for the great review of your stay at “The Beach House” on Oahu. I have been looking at a couple of different options on Oahu to house 11 of us on a family vacation and your comments make it easy to envision. The grand-kids will be in heaven with the ocean right there, as well as the adults! I was hoping to get a place with a pool too, but maybe the oceanfront will suffice . . . Mahalo
    Anne Danieri

    1. Hi Annie! Thanks for reading! I have another blog on multi generational travel that covers more in depth the ups and downs of the beach house. And yes, having a pool would be perfect, but I can’t say I’d trade the view for anything! Hope you find the perfect home for your adventure. Cheers!

  9. Living in Hawaii in my teens to early 20’s my favorite place was the North Shore. Loved watching the big waves hit and holding my breath as the surfers came flying down from the peak. Don’t think there was a 70 foot swell while I was there so you were lucky to be at the right place at the right time!

    1. A little!!! But once we heard The Eddy was a possibility, it replaced any fear with absolute excitement!! It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I wouldn’t trade a second of it for calm!!

  10. Hawaii looks beautiful! I tried surfing when I was in Sri Lanka but I couldn’t get the hang of it- maybe one day I’ll try again in Oahu! 🙂

  11. What a beautiful part of the world! Looks like so much fun too. Thanks for sharing and happy travels 🙂

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