My name is Gary Warner and I am a hodad.
For those who aren't familiar with archaic surfer slanger, a hodad originally was the kind of Southern California guy who greased his hair and wore white T-shirts and cared more about working on his hotrods than hanging 10 at the beach.
That's not me. I grew up in the blow-dry era and drove a yellow Ford Pinto in high school.
But over the years, "hodad" has morphed into a term used to describe people like me who can talk surf, wear surfwear, hang out with surfers — but never get up on a board.
My road to hodad-ness began 20 years ago last month when, as the
's military writer, I was sent to Oahu for the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Five thousands survivors, including 50 from Orange County, marched down Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki. Afterward, I was assigned by the paper's sports editor to go up to the North Shore to check out a hot young Orange County surfer named Andino competing at the Banzai Pipeline.
Two decades later last month, I was rolled out of mothballs as the ex-military writer to go to Pearl Harbor for the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. A few hundred survivors marched or were wheeled into the ceremonies near the USS Arizona Memorial, including about five from Orange County. Afterward, as the travel editor, I assigned myself to head up to the North Shore to check out a hot young Orange County surfer named Andino compete at Pipeline.
Kolohe Andino, the son of the guy I went to see the first time, Dino Andino.
In 1991, Dino Andino was part of a hard-charging, high-octane group of young surfers who were bringing edge and attitude to the often laid-back sport. Along with his tattooed buddy Matt Archbold, Andino had a reputation of being, well, a jerk when it came to talking to the media.
When I walked up to him at Pipeline, he couldn't have been nicer — maybe it was just the surprise that the hometown paper had come all that way to write him up.
"Compared to the North Shore, the surf back home is Pee-Wee League," Andino told me.
I hung out to watch some great surfing — the Australian
snapped a turn on a barrel at Pipeline that is still legendary today — I have to admit I saw it, but it didn't register as a great moment at the time. I do remember the guys all wore helmets and tighter trunks — looking a little like Tour de France riders out in the waves. A network television crew filmed the whole thing, and the Hard Rock Cafe was one of the sponsors — I wore out that T-shirt with "PRESS" on the sleeve.
The lure of it all hit pretty hard. Banzai Pipeline (Hodad note: The "in" name has shifted from Pipeline to Pipe and back to Banzai Pipeline over the years) is the most famous wave in the world for a reason. When it is working — at about 10 to 12 feet — it forms an aquamarine tube that's unlike anywhere else in the world. And it's close — you can stand on the beach and see the look of fun or fear on the surfers' faces as they shoot out the end of the tube or get pummeled into the coral.
Since then, I've made surf contests part of my travel itinerary. I've gone to
twice for surf contests. I went all the way to Tahiti just to see the famous Teahupoo break only to find out I had missed a big swell by two days. Closer to home, I've volunteered to cover contests at Trestles and Huntington Beach.
Most of all, I've been back to the North Shore so many times it's hard to remember exactly — eight? Ten? I've seen all the major contests and twice was lucky enough to catch the rarest north shore event — the Eddie Aikau big wave surf contest that only goes off at Waimea Bay when the waves are over 20 feet. The second time, in 2009, Greg Long of San Clemente, Calif., snatched victory away from
, who is sort of the
A lot has changed over the years. No more helmets. No more network television. There's a bypass around Haleiwa so you don't have to make the crawl across the ancient two-lane bridge at the harbor. There are more homes and a
at the Foodland supermarket. The Chart House long ago became Haleiwa Joe's.
One of the weirdest is the absence of women's events — no pro surfing contest in Hawaii this December despite Carissa Moore of Hawaii leading the women's top tour and Courtney Conlogue of Santa Ana, Calif., topping the total points board. But no showdown at Moore's home turf. What a boneheaded loss for pro surfing.
This year at Pipeline there was a live video feed, Wi-Fi for reporters, and gourmet food trucks. Like nearly all the contests these days, the sponsor was a surf wear manufacturer — Billabong, out of Australia. But a lot was familiar — the sloping sand, the girls in bikinis, the surfers always surprisingly short — the better to crouch in the tube. There seemed to be more of a family scene — moms and dads with babies, older tourists who drape towels under their baseball caps to cover their necks like something out of the French Foreign Legion.
But it was all familiar too. And 20 years later, I was looking for an Andino.
"Kolohe" in Hawaiian means a mischievous prankster. But the younger Andino, 17, has a reputation as a nice kid who has been schooled by his dad not only on what to do right, but how wrong it can all go if you make bad personal choices. He's nicknamed "Brother" by Dino, now 43, for Kohole's place in the family. But everybody uses the nickname — from friends to the surf media to the contest announcers. Part of it is people trip over saying his real name, but it also fits — at 17, he's like the kid brother everybody wishes they had.
Kolohe was a wild card invite to Pipeline — he won't officially be on surfing's top pro tour until next year. He surfed well in what the announcers said were the largest contested waves in the history of the contest, but lost in Round 3. Kolohe earned big applause because on a day when Pipeline was snapping boards, dislocating shoulders and hammering surfers who hesitated on the long drop, the youngest competitor fearlessly charged every wave.
I met him at the water's edge like I did his dad 20 years before. In a flashback for me, he seemed genuinely pleased that his hometown paper (and now website, mobile app and
platform) had made the trip to Hawaii to see him surf.
"It was wild out there," Andino said. "It's not like back home. But I got a lot of experience for next year."
Two decades have passed. Sons have replaced fathers. What hasn't change are the waves. The ones then-Surfer magazine editor Steve Hawk said in 1991 demanded surfers "be at your best or they'll punish you." What Jon Coen of
in 2011 called "surfing's ultimate humbler."
That's what will bring this hodad back.
IF YOU GO:
Pipe Masters: The North Shore surf season runs from about October to March. In summer, the waves are flat. The Vans
of Surfing will be held Nov. 14 to Dec. 20, 2012. It includes three events, culminating with the Billabong Pipe Masters Dec. 8-20. Check out vanstriplecrownofsurfing.com.
"The Eddie": The waiting period for the 2011
in Memory of Eddie Aikau officially comes to a close at the end of February 2012. The waiting period for the 2012 event will be Dec. 1, 2012 to Feb. 28, 2013. The event is only held if waves reach 20-feet at Waimea Bay in clean conditions. Check it out at quiksilverlive.com/eddieaikau/2012
February surf event: If you can't wait for the Pipeline Masters in December, check out the
Pipe Pro 2012, held Jan. 23 to Feb. 4. Register surfing blogger Laylan Connelly reports Orange County surfers who will compete include Kolohe Andino, fellow San Clemente surfers Tanner Gudauskas, Chris Ward, and Nate Yeomans, Ian Crane, Richie Collins, Brad Ettinger, Timmy Reyes, and Taylor Thorne. Go to volcompipepro.com
Getting there: The Banzai Pipeline is located just off Ehukai Beach Park, on Kamehameha Highway east of Waimea Bay and west of Sunset Beach. It takes about an hour to cover the 40 miles from Waikiki when traffic cooperates, which is not often. Give yourself 90 minutes. There's limited parking at the lot — you can usually find it on non-contest periods, but for Pipeline Masters, be prepared for a long walk after parking somewhere along "Kam" Highway. There's a nice shady walk along the old bike path. Make sure not to park over the bike path when it runs along the road — or you'll get a ticket. Likewise, if you park in the elementary school across the street.
Where is Pipeline? From the grass area of the Ehukai Beach Park, Pipeline is down to your left about 100 yards. There are two surf breaks at the location. Pipeline is the left break that moves from left to right when seen from the shore. The right break that moves from right to left is called "Backdoor" or sometimes "Backdoor Pipeline." When the waves are very large, a second tube is created further out, called "Outside Pipeline."
The basics: There are bathrooms, showers and water fountains at Ehukai Beach Park. During contests, food trucks sometimes stop by. But at other times there is no food sold at the site. Bring your own food — my favorite spot is Ted's Bakery, 59-024 Kamehameha Hwy., near Sunset Beach. They're online at tedsbakery.com or you can phone 808-638-8207. They open at 7 a.m. Surfers get up early, so get there early before the best pastries sell out. Ted's also serves plate lunches in the afternoon.
What things are called: Just about everything on the North Shore has a Haleiwa mailing address, but the town is only at the far west end of the surfing area. The
Resort (turtlebayresort.com) is considered the far east end. It's the only hotel on the North Shore. If you are looking for spots other than Waimea Bay, it's best to get a map available at most surf shops and in Waikiki at