In the surfing world, the North Shore is it.
It's Yankee Stadium, it's
There may be bigger and better waves elsewhere in the world, but nothing can match what's called the "7-mile Miracle" along the North Shore of Oahu in Hawaii.
Several surf spots in the area are home to contests that regularly host the best surfers in the world, from the Banzai Pipeline, to Sunset, to Waimea Bay. Other legendary spots there include Log Cabins, Rockpile, Off the Wall, Backdoor, Rocky Point, Velzyland and Turtle Bay.
To borrow a line, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.
That's why surfers flock to the North Shore, whether it's for a week or indefinitely.
Driving along Kamehameha Highway you'll see tents pitched in the bushes and trees near the beach. At first I mused there must be a homeless problem, but a local told me that surfers from all over the world scrape up just enough money for a round-trip plane ticket and food for a week or so, and camp out, avoiding the cost of an expensive hotel or rental.
So imagine the good fortune of a trio of Huntington Beach groms — Luke Guinaldo (12), Cade Haakenson (14) and Jace McNerney (13) — who got to live the North Shore dream for a week.
The HB groms, along with Brandon Bacani (11) of La Jolla, took part in the North Shore Surf Clinic. They lived in the house of North Shore legend Kahea Hart, who is a former pro surfer and now is a personal trainer and surf coach.
Hart coaches, trains, mentors and feeds the kids, providing video feedback as well as the kind of knowledge that can be gained only through hands-on instruction. Hart will either shoot video of the groms from the beach or paddle out with them at places like Pipeline, Sunset and Pupukea, like a mother duck leading her ducklings.
When the waves are especially big, like they were at Sunset recently, Hart demands the groms listen to him and absolutely do what he says to do — for their own safety.
"The goals at camp are to get the kids to learn proper surf and body mechanics and how surfboards actually won't work when you apply force and physics to the rocker and fins, as well as get them comfortable with the surf in Hawaii and teach them the lineup and how the reefs and current work so they are not getting smashed," Hart, 45, said. "What I want to see out of the kids is them learning to apply good body mechanics and learn how to make their boards work properly, and overall use of the rail."
Hart usually coaches Hawaiian kids, but the HB kids impressed him.
"The HB groms really surprised me, they charged hard," Hart said. "They just need more time in the lineups to be more comfortable. I think the biggest difference between the HB groms and the Hawaii kids is the kids from HB need to learn to use their rail because once you get into real waves you've got to be able to use your rail a lot more."
Hart knows a thing or two about the "real waves." Hart grew up on Oahu's east side in Waimanalo and then went to school on the south side. But he knew at age 12 he wanted to make surfing a career.
He first moved to the North Shore at age 18 after his parents had kicked him out of the house because he dropped out of community college. He lived out of his car for a while until he could afford a place of his own, then embarked on his surfing career.
Early on, he was a "photo guy," going on surf trips to be photographed for surfing magazines. But his life direction changed when he was in his mid-20s when he blew out his right knee, tearing his ACL.
The road to recovery also ultimately put him on a different path in the surfing industry.
"I found trainer Rob Garcia who was training Sonny Garcia and I invested money in myself with Rob, and two years later I won $25,000 in an event and I paid attention. It made me surf better," said Hart, who then signed on with Hurley.
After surfing a few years for Hurley, they asked him to be the team manager and coach for the Hawaiian junior team. But in 2009 after 10 years with Hurley, they let him go.
Jobless, Hart decided to study for his personal trainer certification. He certainly knew the value of a strong physical body, and what was required to get it back after an injury, considering the long list of injuries Hart has endured surfing the North Shore's big and powerful waves over the years.
There was the right ACL reconstruction, a couple of left MCL sprains, 18 staples in his head, a labrum tear, a left hip injury, and a broken fibula from tow surfing Teahupo'o in Tahiti.
"And most recently in 2015 I separated a left rib which caused me to tear my groin," he said. "Which actually turned into a sports hernia (groin tendon and ab muscle tear at each other). Then that caused me to overuse my right side and that led to a bad labrum tear. I just had it repaired September 2016."
Now Hart not only coaches the groms, he also trains the pros, like Tatiana Weston-Webb, among others. And he'll still surf in big wave contests — he's an alternate in the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational.
He said he'd love to surf on the World Surf League's Big Wave Tour, but traveling the world costs a lot of money. Hart, though, does get help with his training, working with Wade Tokoro Surfboards, Progenex and Carveboard USA.
And then there are the perks of surfing one of the world's best waves, like when Hart and the groms were greeted in the water at Sunset by 11-time world champion Kelly Slater.
"I told Kahea that I'd give $20 to the grom who gets the best barrel," Slater said with a chuckle. "I'm still waiting to hear back from Kahea."