Taking in the glory of Sunset

"OK, I'LL explain it to you once, and clearly," barks local Sunset Beach "enforcer" Ken Bradshaw at the terrified young Brazilian surfer, 300m out to sea.

Bradshaw, 60 - bronzed, mad dog-eyed, looming large - is the authority at Sunset and you don't mess with him.

He sits astride his surfboard berating the young guy who's swimming helplessly with no surfboard.

The guy's board was lost when a set of 4m waves ploughed through the break moments earlier.

And with more waves on the horizon, the guy is starting to panic.

Bradshaw is left to "advise" him.

"You swim straight through the impact zone to the beach," Bradshaw says.

"Don't go that way - through the channel - or you die.

"The current will rip you out to sea, and it's goodbye."

The young surfer turns and swims hard, away from Bradshaw, straight to the beach.

It's not unusual to see an unsuspecting surfer caught out at this time of the year in Hawaii, when surfers and tourists alike flock to the North Shore of Oahu for the huge waves.

As winter storms near Japan send "advisory warning" swells towards the island, surfers test their resolve and tourists crowd vantage points to witness wipeouts and breath-taking rides at Waimea Bay, Pipeline and Sunset.

The two-lane Kamehameha Highway, which winds across the North Shore below tropical mountains, gridlocks with pick-up trucks and rental cars.

Everyone wants a piece of the action.

The trip from a plush hotel in Waikiki Beach in the south to Sunset Beach, along highway H2 to the potholed suburban north, usually takes an hour.

Today it takes three.

Waimea Bay is the first stop.

Here is big-wave carnage and glory.

"The Bay" filters huge unrideable ocean swells down to a manageable height but the waves still look huge from the beach.

Surfers sit and wait 200 metres from the beach near a rocky outcrop as the ocean boils around them.

Onlookers line the arcing roadside around the bay. Pushbikes clutter the sidewalks, and bikinied and muscled bodies adorn the sand.

A huge set of waves approaches every five to 10 minutes.

The surfers scramble for the horizon and the crowd hoots in anticipation.

The lifeguards' loudspeaker booms out warnings.

"You, near the water's edge. There is a large set approaching," the lifeguard barks.

"You'll be sucked out to sea by the shorebreak and we will not be able to get to you. Get back."

Some surfers take huge drops and the crowd hoots some more.

Others endure tremendous wipeouts and the crowd gives collective gasps.

Three kilometres down the road is the so-called "gladiator pit" of Pipeline.

Spectators line the water's edge as surfers are spat from intense pipes of waves erupting 50m from shore.

The waves break over a solid lava reef, only one to two metres deep, and are double or triple the height of the rider.

Rundown mansions full of boisterous pro surfers line the foreshore. The beach is littered with tourists and fit young girls wearing cheeky bikinis (in more ways than one), aiming to score a professional surfer all of their own.

The hoots, hollers and gasps continue - all reserved for the surfers ... until a pretty young thing walks by.

The highway reaches Sunset Beach two kilometres further north.

Surfers sit on their boards far from shore as huge A-framed peaks explode around them.

When they do catch a wave, they are stick figures flying down a mountain with a jetstream in tow.

The beach is a little less treacherous than Waimea, but the lifeguards still scold swimmers naïve of strong shorebreak currents - much safer to watch from the bike path while eating an icecream or famed fish burrito.

If you're lucky, you'll see Bradshaw paddling for a wave four times bigger than his bear-like body.

And if you were out there with him, you'd hear him hooting and grunting as he paddles.

After all, it's hard work catching one of the behemoths, and he needs to claim ownership for his wave.

Don't paddle for it, or you'll be sent to the beach like the young Brazilian.

Or at the very least, you'll cop an earful.

Jon Coghill

MUST KNOW

Jetstar and Hawaiian Airlines fly direct to Honolulu from Brisbane from about $1250 return during the big surf season.

Visit jetstar.com and hawaiianairlines.com.au.

Waikiki Beach accommodation starts from a low $45 per night, but you'll pay more than $500 for a five-star such as Halekulani Hotel.

The five-star Moana Surfrider is an iconic Waikiki Beach hotel, featuring a façade of white colonial-style columns and a cocktail bar with grill under a huge banyan tree.

The North Shore of Oahu is an hour's drive north of Waikiki on a good day.

Overnight accommodation is scarce as the community aims to limit disruptive parties.

As a result, beach houses can only be hired for a minimum of 30 days.



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