Sandy Beach in Oahu is arguably one of the world’s most unique wave-riding locations. On any given day a group of committed individuals gather together to using a diverse collection of tools.
Visit Sandy during a south swell and you’ll find kids young and old expertly surfing the vicious shorebreak using bodyboards, soft-top surfboards, fiberglass surfboards, McDonald’s food trays, handmade wooden hand planers, swim paddles. They also bodysurf with swim fins and without.
This is the beach that President Obama famously bodysurfed during his first presidential campaign. When he stuck out his arm in the classic bodysurfing position, surfers all over the world recognized him as the real deal. Our President knows how to bodysurf. And the waves at Sandy are not easy. You have to want to be there.
South swells are wedged together to pound this 400-yard-long beach with terrifying precision in about one foot of water. A local told me, “It doesn’t matter if it is just 2 feet. You are guaranteed to get a barrel.” The waves are round and hollow.
The water at Sandy is crystal clear and warm which makes it an inviting place to get wet. But don’t be mistaken by the tranquil looking sea. Just getting in and out of the shorebreak requires negotiating the current, the shorepound and the steep beach.
On my first visit there with my sons Daniel and Israel, a new south swell was building. With a strong tidal push in the middle of the afternoon, we could feel and see the surf increasing. Since the waves break onshore it was difficult to judge their height.
Turn your back on the waves at Sandy and you’ll be sorry. The lifeguards continually monitor the crowd from two portable towers. They announce on loudspeakers, “Please be careful, the surf is up today. There is no other location in the U.S. where more people have their necks broken. So be cautious and careful.”
While out bodysurfing I observed one surfer scratch into a wave. Just before the lip destroyed him, I caught a glimpse of him at the very bottom. The wave was twice his height or about 11-12.’ But estimating the size of shorebreak is difficult. Let’s just say the waves were poundful.
On the east side of the beach are two reefs. Both offer up slabby gnarly A-frames, with the lefts beating out the rights. Waves on the inside reef wedge up and alllowed a couple of expert surfers to snag a few choice barrels. One surfer backdoored the rights all afternoon scoring deep barrels. Another surfed the left, avoiding a large rock on the inside and connecting to the shorebreak where he was either decimated or barreled or both.
The most impressive performers were the surfers riding bodyboards. They had no fins or leashes and took off on the gnarliest set waves, stood up and ripped, hitting the lip, carving 360s and getting deep barrels.
Sandy is popular, crowded, sunny and perfect. And best of all, after we got tired of being pounded into the sand there was a Wahoo’s Fish Taco truck standing by to provide lots of bowls, burritos and tacos to help us get over the pain.
My sons and I surfed a lot of spots on Oahu. We had the most fun at Sandy’s.
Serge Dedina is the Executive Director of WiLDCOAST and the author of Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias.