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North Shore: Day One

December 9, 2006

Dateline Kahuku: Day One

The Answer is Blowing in the Wind
Flight 3127 from San Francisco.
Honolulu International airport. The automatic doors open and the rush of humidity envelopes me. I’m back, again, headed for the North Shore.

Every year there are slight differences here. The shrimp truck near the Turtle Bay is gone, but a new one has appeared just south of Pipeline. You can’t get a towel at the pool at the Turtle Bay without a “towel card,” and development has started in earnest north of Sunset Beach.
“No Concrete” signs and “Save Rural Oahu,” bumper stickers dot the landscape as the outside world fights with locals over the future of this land.
It has been eight-years straight that I had made this pilgrimage to Oahu, to the North Shore and Banzai Pipeline surfing contest, the final contest of the year for the surfing professional.
The first few years were lazy years, somewhat static. The Turtle Bay had yet to be remodeled, had exposed rebar on the patios, colonial-style furniture and was rundown in all the right ways. The new Turtle Bay is much fancier, but lacks that old Hawaiian-charm, and is now filled with a younger, hipper clientele that has changed the overall feel.
In those first years there were no TV shows being filmed on the North Shore, not that I can remember, as we were post Magnum PI, but pre Lost, North Shore, etc.
These early days were intimate, and lacked that feeling of nervousness that accompanies development and “happening” events. As photographers we stood on the balcony of Brian Bielman’s house at Pipeline and shot the contest while sitting on his patio chairs. I was with Kodak, handing out the latest slide film and doing what I could to share my knowledge of film and photography.
Digital imaging and technology had yet to take over the industry, and the focus was more on pictures and not pixels. The old school snappers like Brewer, Divine and Hornbaker were still walking the sand, shooting the contest and attending the parties.
As a newbie, a spectator, everything was shiny, fantastic and evolving. I didn’t know it, but I was witnessing a change of grand proportion, a shifting of wind, talent and scale. I miss those days.

Today, returning for the eighth year, the feeling is very different. These places, this industry, have taken quantum leaps forward, ahead, backwards or whatever direction your eyes allow you to see. I haven’t seen Grambeau or Brewer in years, but a new breed has arrived, refreshed in my memory by last night’s chance meeting with Dustin Humphreys, a standout snapper of the new generation. (His new book is sitting in front of me, and it looks fantastic.)
The crowds, the traffic and the prize money are far beyond what those first years ever promised, and so is the media exposure and global knowledge of the surf industry.
Everything is bigger, faster and contains more, more of everything. The patio at Lei Lei’s is packed and you need a reservation. Pearl Jam and U2 are staying at the hotel. The purse for the contest is $280,000. There is talk that the remaining, natural spaces on the hotel property are all under possible development. As I sit here, helicopters buzz over the treetops outside my window.
But, with having said all this, on my morning run I head along the beach, past the golf course, and out on the furthest outcropping of rock. Beyond is just the sea. The stretch, the place hasn’t changed one bit. Nature always holds the upper hand.
The faces at the airport are the same, as are those at Foodland, and here at the Turtle Bay. “Hey, welcome back, “ we here from person after person, friends made over nearly ten years of being here.
A photographer I haven’t seen in year comes up last night and shakes my hand. “Welcome home,” he said.

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