One of the oldest rivalries in surfing is rooted deeply on the island of Oahu: Town vs. Country. Generally speaking, “town” refers to the developed South Shore, and “country” known as the seven-mile miracle of the North Shore. For all the focus centered on the North Shore’s world-class perfection of Pipeline, Sunset, Waimea, et. al, one can tend to forget that there’s highly sought after surf on the opposite end of the island.
The South Shore’s prominent break is Ala Moana Bowls (Hawaiian for “ocean street”) — which has played host to numerous Hawaiian State Surfing Championships and the 1976, ’92, and ’96 editions of the U.S. Surfing Championships. With the Sponsor Me WQS Hawaii Pro-Am set to kick off this weekend in the height of South Shore season, we caught up with last year’s event winner Flynn Novak to get the lowdown on Bowls. And be sure to watch the contest LIVE on transworldsurf.com starting Saturday, August 15th. -Ryan Brower
What’s the preferred swell direction for Bowls?
Flynn Novak: Southwest because that’s what makes it barrel. It’s coming out of the channel if it’s like that. If it’s south or southeast it just rolls along the reef—it’s still really rippable, but as far as being hollow, southwest is the best direction.
Does it ever close out on a big swell?
Yeah. If it were coming out of the channel and it were big (solid 8- to- 10-foot Hawaiian), it can close out. It doesn’t do that very often. I remember that swell that Larid got that huge wave in Tahiti. I think I was 13 or 14, and we had the Hawaii State Championships out there and it was huge and closing out. I don’t remember it being like that for a long time.
Bowls isn’t necessarily a natural wave though, is it?
They dredged the channel for the Ala Wai Harbor back in the 50s and Kewalo Basin down a ways was blasted, creating a wave because it made a channel. They dredged all sorts of sand and made that channel a lot deeper. It was a wave, but it wasn’t a good wave before they started dredging it in the 50s. Since then it’s way better.
Describe the wave for us from takeoff to finish.
The whole setup is pretty much like a perfect reef. If you saw it from those reef maps, it’s straight and then it has a perfect bend to it. It’s not that shallow (4 to 6 feet deep the whole way). The wave just comes from deep water and rolls across the reef. There are sections that are shallower than others that allow a little barrel or you can race through it. It’s a really high performance wave. Bowls is the wave all other spots in town are compared to. It’s like the Pipeline of town.
What’s an infamous pole set?
There are these poles that are like channel markers. They’re out from where you’re sitting, and if it’s big you’ll see the pole that you’re lining up with on the main bowl disappear. It’s kind of similar to surfing Halewia and you’re watching the big red buoy a mile out and when a big set is coming it disappears. But the pole is really close to you at Bowls, so you have little reaction time. You don’t really get pole sets until it’s really big.
How long is the drive from the North Shore to Bowls?
It’s about an hour. I never surf Bowls though, ever. Unless it’s 6 feet or bigger. The crowd there just sucks. I know a lot of people out there, but there’s the Bowls regulars that don’t surf anywhere besides Bowls, and there’s a big crew of them.
I’ve surfed it twice this summer, and this summer was probably the best Bowls ever got for about two months straight. One session was at 5 a.m. with no one out and by 6:30 I had to bail because there were so many people out. The other session my friend coaxed me into because I was just over it once I saw the pack. But I actually ended up getting this photo shot by Zak Noyle that day.
How come it’s so hard to get a wave there?
It’s hard for me to catch waves out there because I’m haole and have the white f-king blonde hair. Even if you’re dropping in at the perfect spot behind the peak about to get barreled, it’s such a wide take-off zone that you’ll always be getting dropped in on—or at least I will because they see blonde hair and just roast you. The wave is mental and perfect, probably the best wave in town, but the crowd is by far the worst that I’ve had to deal with. It’s more torture than anything. It’s a perfect wave but it’s just really hard to get one. It’s a huge tease.
Who are the standouts at Bowls?
The guys who rule it out there are Randall Paulson, Mike Akima, Kainoa McGee, and Davey Gonsalves, among others. But those are pretty much the top guys and the only guys I can pretty much get a wave off of. All the older crew that are strictly townies that don’t surf anywhere else aren’t as nice.