In stark contrast to the concrete blocks, and infestation of brand name stores in Waikiki, the north shore of Oahu remains genuinely Hawaiian. This is no accident; it is the direct impact of locals constantly striving to “keep country, country”. From Laie to Haleiwa, the ocean breezes still flow inland — unobstructed, undulating through sleepy surfer hair, and sliding up lush volcanic cliffs. In the mornings they blow off-shore, smoothing giant wave faces into iridescent aqua glass. This fabled stretch of coastline is the birth place of modern surfing, hosting some of the most famous surf breaks in the world, like Pipeline, Waimea, and Sunset Beach. Yet, it still offers the solitary experience of forming the first footprints on a perfect beach every morning, which is what most tourists come to Hawaii seeking.
However, most that make it to the north shore only do so for the day, looking to sample the serenity along with crowds of other tourists. As mid-morning approaches, so do the tour buses, bringing important business, but also piercing the solitude sought. They come, they look, they lay, and they leave. Traffic picks up again in the afternoon on the small ring road as travellers head back to honeymoon hotels in Honolulu. Just before sunset, the beaches turn again into private playgrounds backlit by mango champagne skies. It just seems so ironic that the experience which most come seeking only emerges once they leave.
The majority of those who manage to enjoy the ambiance for more than a day, stay at the only large hotel, The Turtle Bay Resort. This is a controversial development on this stretch of paradise – a blemish to the natural beauty. Its golf course runs along the length of the ring road, making it obvious that it is not for those interested in the island ecosystems, but in company vacations and all-inclusive packages. The physical structure of the building resembles a multi-level parking garage, and it has been waging a controversial battle against an entrenched local community for years to try to expand its footprint even further. Currently, plans have been drastically scaled back but still do include 1,375 new units, 625 of which would be hotel rooms. Further, the Envision Laie project plans to allow Marriott to put in 222 more rooms next to the Polynesian Cultural Center.
This entrenched battle between developers seeking profits, and locals seeking to keep the solitude sacred which will no doubt be eternal, and is only unique in that for the most part, the developers have been rebuffed. It is a confused conflict since the objective of neither side is conservation in its purest form or complete destruction, but differing definitions of what a sustainable symbiosis with society should be. Residents need cars, because the public bus system is so burdensome, but are then hampered by traffic. Some fight hotels, while others offer their houses as vacation rentals, and cater to tourists in Haleiwa. The infamous North Shore watermen serve as protectors of the waves, yet Da Hui is now more recognized as a corporate surf brand than the black shorts and flattened knuckles of legend. The Wolf Pak is the more modern day regulator but many members surf for corporate brands with outlets in Waikiki, and are not from Oahu or even Hawaii.
For now, the balance is palatable. The winter brings thunderous deep sea swells roaring through the reefs, shaking the very shore to its core. Watching the ocean pound jagged reef, one easily appreciates how the extreme environment breeds the fierce fighters living there. Yet, the summers are sweetly scented with plumeria, and the aloha spirit is still extended to travellers with a hula dancer’s grace. As the sunset melts across the horizon, food trucks start to emerge out of wild ginger and passion fruit vines, offering acai berries from Brazil, Thai food, gourmet pizza, and freshly caught fish. It is obvious why this land is so aggressively protected, and why it welcomes all with such grace.
It really does not seem appropriate to scar its essence with concrete and rebar. However, it is home to many low income locals that want and need to work, and a destination for many more that want to experience it, even if just for a fleeting moment. Its protectors will have to find a suitable steady state between preservation and positive progress.