Into the Country: Hawai’i, the North Shore and the Human Experience

It goes by many names. “The Seven Mile Miracle.” “The Country.” But what the North Shore of Oahu really is is an experiment in experience. 

When Polynesian navigators first settled Hawai’i, it was no coincidence. It was a literal alignment of the stars; years of technical seafaring innovation and celestial navigation compounded with the unwavering curiosity and sense of adventure of the human condition. Similarly, the ancient tradition of surfing combines technical skill, natural intuition and a desire to go further.

For better or worse, the regal legacy of Hawaiian surfing was greeted with greed from the mainland. When Hawai’i became officially part of the United States following the ouster of Queen Liliuokalani by Dole Fruit Company conspirators, things changed rapidly. A lot of Hawaiian culture was co-opted and misinterpreted, including surfing. As with any colonial situation, disenfranchisement ensued. Eventually, surfing was more or less taken, and it grew in popularity in California.

In the beginning, the development of surfing was an expression of appreciation of the mana or spiritual energy of the ocean, and one of joy of playing in and on waves. With technological innovations in California and elsewhere on the mainland and the world, it changed rapidly. This created faster, lighter, more turnable boards and wham. We are in 2016 with carbon fiber, featherlight glassing, and people like the North Shore’s John Florence are literally flying on waves. It’s remarkable. And despite its rapid and exponential growth, people are still heeding those early intentions, especially on the North Shore where for a lot of folks, it is a way of life.

North Shore

Waimea Bay is known as the first big wave surf spot in the world. It is also home to the legendary Eddie Aikau tournament which was last held four years ago.

It should be no surprise then that when surfing “returned” to Hawai’i in the form of lots of haoles from the US and Australia, folks settled down here as a proving ground amidst some of the heaviest, most technical waves in the world. It’s also where Hawaiian surfing had its renaissance during the 1970s. Being a proving ground, surfers have always been attempting to go bigger at Waimea, stay in the barrel at Pipeline longer and explore the limits of nature and human abilities.

A lot of people call the North Shore “the Country.” It is not uncommon to see bumper stickers that say “Keep the Country Country” amongst the more popular, “Eddie Would Go,” referring to original Hawaiian big wave surfer Eddie Aikau. It really has country vibes. Amidst the houses that line the North Shore, fertile land is dotted with farms and streams leading down from steep, tropical and dense mountains. The communities are small and people cherish their lifestyles. Needless to say, it’s a pretty special place and importantly, the sense of place there has shaped the evolution of surfing in a profound way.

Despite holding claim to some of the Earth’s most elite surf spots, the North Shore is a reminder that we are all explorers. Earth, as John Florence alludes to in his new surf film View from a Blue Moon, is really just that, a “blue moon” in our solar system and galaxy. The sensory experiences offered by the awe of our environment we find ourselves in have led to invention and the exploration of the possibilities of wave riding, climbing, running and a re-defining of what it means to be a modern explorer on our little Earth-ship. It is also a friendly reminder to honor those who have set off into the unknown before us and set the stage we find ourselves on now.

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Read: The Wayfinders by Wade Davis, National Geographic Explorer in Residence and chief anthropologist.

In The Wayfinders, Davis highlights the profound importance of recognizing the “Ocean Continent” that is Polynesia as a testament to and recognition of ancient knowledge and technology. Coupled with other cultures outside of Hawai’i, it is an incredible read and will leave you in awe of not only what we have achieved as well as at how dynamic our Earth and its cultures really are.

Overthrow by Stephen Kinzer, former New York Times correspondent

While this book chronicles the toppling of governments both overtly and covertly throughout U.S. history, it starts with a fascinating unpacking of the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani by the emerging American fruit lobby.

Watch: Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau directed by Sam George for ESPN’S 30 for 30

What does it take to go from a mere mortal to legend? This 30 for 30 documentary unpacks the rise of Eddie Aikau and his continuing legacy on surfing and Hawaiian identity.

View from a Blue Moon directed by Blake Vincent Kueny

John John has now become John. John Florence can fly. With technical filming and extremely technical surfing on the North Shore and elsewhere in the world, this is a must watch.


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