Last week, Teahupoo sent the global surf community into total meltdown. The long-awaited prodigal son, aka Code Red 2, finally happened. And when a swell is that big, it doesn’t just stop. No way. That same swell continued its journey onwards and, over the weekend, unleashed a stupendous couple of days that lit up South Shore spots on Oahu and Maui, setting off a couple of spots like we’ve not seen them before for around 20 years. To be clear, that means this swell has already set off a once-in-a-decade swell in Tahiti and now another once-in-20-years session in Hawaii.
On the North Shore, it is widely agreed that down south, the swells are smaller, the waves are softer, the lulls are longer, and the crowds are bigger — all to the point of being intolerable. Even in the midst of a summer flat spell, it is rare to find more than a handful of people who are willing to make the hour-long drive into Town to surf.
It was all time, ten out of ten. Most perfect waves I’ve ever surfed. Like Kelly’s wave pool but 8-10ft.
But this weekend was different. This weekend, North Shore residents were literally renting rooms in Waikiki so that they could be closer to the action. And why not? By all accounts, this was an historic weekend.
Of course, whenever we talk about “historic” swells, the conversation invariably turns to quantifiable statistics—which, in this instance, can be summed up by the fact that Barbers Point buoy hit 8.5 feet at 20 seconds at 6:30am.
After many hours of pouring over historical charts, I believe that may be one of the biggest buoy readings for Oahu’s South Shore since 1995 — so yeah, arguably historic. But while numbers are the realm of surf nerds, actual observed and surfed conditions are what really count to most wave riders.
Fortunately, real-time observations appear to confirm the science. Right about the time the Barbers Point buoy was peaking, a set that many agree was solid 15-foot Hawaiian was unloading on an outer reef located a stone’s throw from Honolulu. And we aren’t talking soft, mushy, Waikiki-style 15 feet (if that even exists). This was a stacked, seven-wave set of legit, North Shore-style 15-foot reef drainers.
If that sounds implausible to you — as it should, if you have any experience surfing the South Shore — consider the fact that the set was observed by a veritable who’s who of Oahu’s big wave elite. Jamie Sterling, Jamie Mitchell, Trevor Carlson, Emi Erickson, Raquel Heckert, Clark Abbey, and a handful of the North Shore’s hardest charging underground heroes were all there, suiting up and waxing 9- to 10-foot guns — on the South Shore! If that’s not historic, I don’t know what is.
A few minutes before that set hit, Chris Bertish was also making history as he wing-foiled his way into the safety of Oahu’s harbour system, completing a solo, unsupported, months-long journey from the West Coast to Hawaii. The only thing that could have made this already unfathomable feat any crazier was finishing the trip during the biggest south swell in decades — but knowing Chris, he was never going to settle for anything less.
Meanwhile, other types of history were being made all over the state of Hawaii. On the Big Island, waves were breaking over two-story beach homes. Here on Oahu, barrels were being ridden all over Waikiki and certain Westside spots were breaking “as big as they can handle.” And over on Maui, Maalaea was stealing the show with two of the biggest, best days at Freight Trains we’ve ever seen.
“It was all time, ten out of ten. Most perfect waves I’ve ever surfed. Like Kelly’s wave pool but 8-10ft,” said Kai Lenny, who had been waiting his whole life for Freight Trains to pump at this scale.
The funny thing about historic south swells in Hawaii, of course, is that only a small percentage of the people here truly understands what is going on. The news reports a high surf advisory and families on the beach are aware that there’s some sort of spectacle happening in front of them, but unless they actually surf, they can’t really comprehend why these waves are anything special. After all, the North Shore gets this big all the time.
And don’t even get us started on the hapless tourists wandering Waikiki. Today, bona fide big wave heroes were toting big wave guns down to Castles, and while doing so they were literally passing surf schoolers riding ankle-high dribblers lapping up on shore at inside Canoes, blissfully unaware of what was happening a mile off shore.
Maybe that’s what was so special — not that the buoys hit a certain height that hasn’t been seen in decades, or even that the world’s fastest righthander was actually makeable for once, but the fact that for possibly the first time ever, every surfer on the South Shore, from the rankest beginner to the most respected watermen and women, was absolutely amazed by the experience of being in the ocean.
In the course of two hours, I watched rednecks from Kansas chatting happily as they dragged rental boards across crosswalks and big-wave legends laughing giddily at the fact that they were riding rhino chasers in Town. And really, you can’t ask for any more than that.
MSW’s Tony Butt breaks this swell down, and offers up where it's going next: "“The swell was created thanks to a giant storm off New Zealand. The storm reached its peak intensity around Sunday July 10. As the swell started spreading out into the open South Pacific, a large amount of it headed NNE and to the north.
“The north-travelling part of the swell hit Tahiti on Wednesday July 13 [this is the Code Red day last week] and continued onto Hawaii, arriving on Saturday 16 and continuing through Sunday. Wave heights at southerly beaches were well over six feet at some spots, and the swell direction meant that rare spots like Ma’alaea went off. Just to add to the mix, the remains of Hurricane Derby was just passing to the south, which helped to keep local winds from an east or northeast direction.
“Meanwhile the NNE-travelling arm of swell headed straight for Mexico and Central America. Some very long period forerunners (well over 20 secs) arrived during the weekend, and the swell is currently filling in as we speak. Wave heights at Puerto Escondido, for example, will be at least six feet over the next few days... but more on this very soon.”
So where’s this thing off to next? “The swell hits Southern California almost at the same time, with wave heights at southerly exposures filling in today (Monday) and pumping for the next two or three days,” says Tony. “It then carries on going, hitting southwest exposures in Central California and on towards Canada, Alaska and the Aleutian Islands over the next few days. A small amount of swell will also spread out towards the NNW and reaching parts of Russia including the Kamchatka Peninsula and further north.
“One of the last places the swell reaches is Yakutat in Alaska, about 13,000 km away from where the swell was first generated. Here, the super long period forerunners are arriving today, Monday, and the swell is expected to gradually fill in, peaking on Wednesday at around five feet at 18 secs, before tapering down gradually, lasting until around next weekend.
“As a swell like this one spreads further away from the storm centre, wave heights go down because the energy is ‘stretched out’ over a progressively wider area. But the long periods contained in the swell don’t go away. Importantly, the radial expansion (spreading out in the same direction as the swell is propagating) means that the swell lasts longer the further away you are from the storm centre.”