Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
The lagoons at Ko 'Olina are among the beach attractions on the Leeward shore of O'ahu.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on June 2, 2000

Beach guide

Favorite beaches of O'ahu

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

Michelle Cournoyer has such a romantic connection to her favorite beach on the North Shore that she set her wedding date there.

"The sun went down and we had fallen asleep on the blankets and just melted into each other," said the 32-year-old, describing an unforgettable night at Velzyland. "We decided to get married that same night next year."

What Hawaii is known for can’t be denied. Hawaii’s beaches have always been the exotic draw for tourists. The active underwater reef at Hanauma Bay, the glitter-fine sands of Kailua Beach, the peaceful seclusion of Yokohama Bay - these are the images postcards are made of.

Hawaii’s beaches have been featured in movies, TV shows, commercials, music videos, travel magazines and calendars. Stephen Leatherman, known as Dr. Beach, regularly honors our beaches in his annual rating of America’s Best Beaches. This year, six made his Top 20, with five in the Top 10.

But when choosing "our beach," other characteristics besides obvious beauty factor in, some spiritual and some practical - location, parking, proximity to a lunchwagon.

"It really depends on what you want," said Cournoyer, a marketing assistant by day, beach bum by late afternoon. "If you want action, go to Sandy’s. If you want the mellow family thing, go to the Windward side. For me, though, I just completely avoid Waikiki as much as possible."

An avid surfer and lounger, Cournoyer picks her beaches by waves and reputation. She’s willing to drive halfway around the island for great surf - parking optional.

"My favorite beach is Velzy’s," said Cournoyer, who hits the surf three to four times a week. "It’s secluded. Nobody really knows it’s there."

Velzyland is a hidden treasure on the North Shore. Behind the University of Hawaii’s Waialae Livestock Research Farm (between Shallow Reef and Backyards), Velzy’s is in the shadow of the North Shore’s trademark beaches, Sunset and Pipeline.

"The sunset there is so gorgeous, it’s worth (the drive)," Cournoyer said.

She was used to driving two hours to the nearest beach in Boston, sitting in Saturday traffic on the way home, sunburned and tired.

"It sort of defeated the purpose of trying to get away from it all," she said, laughing.

So ever since she arrived in Hawaii nine years ago, she has taken advantage of the fact that no matter where you are on Oahu, you’re never very far from a beach.

But even on an island, beaches are discovered and sometimes created. The four Ko olina lagoons, for example, were constructed along the shore near Barbers Point. They’ve become a popular addition for Leeward residents especially.

Some of these beaches don’t have the history critical to nostalgia. But being off the beaten track can make the experience all the more special - and memorable.

Beaches can cast this magic spell on romantics who love nothing more than sun-painted skies and the ocean’s lull.

"Queen’s Surf is very important to me," said 77-year-old Judy Rantala. "It’s a huge chunk of my life. I went there almost every afternoon to swim. The Barefoot Bar was still there. Those were the good ol’ days."

It was at this Waikiki beach that, 30 years ago, she met her late husband, John. She was 47 and unmarried; he was 50 and getting a divorce. They met in January and by mid-March were engaged.

"It was totally unexpected," said the Massachusetts native who moved to Oahu in 1961. "I had long since given up on marriage."

Four days after they were married, they moved to Asia, living overseas for what she called "five fascinating years."

They were married for 19 years - to the day. Queen’s Surf will always hold a special place in Rantala’s heart: "I get very nostalgic about that. . . . (John and I) didn’t clash, we meshed. I could’ve gone to another beach and not had met him. Knowing what I know now, I can’t imagine what that would have been like."

But for some, function is still more important than fondness.

"First of all, you’ve gotta have surf or some sort of entertainment, a.k.a. beautiful women," said Paul Nichols, surf specialist at Hawaiian Island Creations at Ala Moana Shopping Center. "Then you’ve gotta have bathrooms and showers. You don’t want to be salty when you get into the car."

For this 20-year-old surfer from the Big Island, the Oahu favorites include Sandy’s, Rock Piles, Pipeline and Ala Moana Bowls.

"I totally avoid Waikiki," he added. "It’s just way too crowded. And there’s no parking."

Convenience is critical for his co-worker, Alex Pula, a student at Kapiolani Community College.

"It’s a major factor - unless you surf, ’cause then you’ll go wherever the waves are," said the 22-year-old bodyboarder, who frequents Rocky Right (between Ehukai and Sunset), Kewalo’s and Kaiser Bowls. "I need clear water, sun and not a lot of wind. Like Waimea Bay, but minus the tourists and the hot walk down."

And for others still, you can’t have the practical without the perfect panorama.

"You can enjoy a quiet afternoon watching the waves and swimming in fairly safe waters," said Diane Padilla, who now lives in San Francisco, about her favorite beach, the Cove near Sandy’s.

The Cove was convenient for the former resident of nearby Kuliouou. Situated below a lookout along Kalanianaole Highway just past Hanauma Bay, the Cove is shielded from traffic and all its unpleasantries. And, more importantly to Padilla, the hike down is too cumbersome for the everyday tourist.

"The water isn’t rough, so I could go in, get wet and play," said the 35-year-old, who misses Hawaii, especially its beaches.

"It just nourishes my soul, I swear. That’s what it does. The waves, the sun, the quiet - I think you need this to de-stress and appreciate the world around you."

Beyond the beach, there's a world of activity

By Tino Ramirez
Advertiser Staff Writer

A surfer catches a wave at Sandy Beach, a.k.a. Sandy's. It's a beach usually packed with locals board surfing, body surfing (despite a wicked shorebreak) and people-watching.

Deborah Booker - The Honolulu Advertiser

Along with some of the world’s finest beaches, Oahu also offers great ocean conditions for surfing, sailboarding, kiteboarding, swimming and other water sports: The water is always warm, usually clear, and the North Pacific location means the energy of wind and waves can be tapped more days than not.

When your passion lies beyond the beach, the strip of sand you cross to get out there becomes something more than a place to tan, relax and enjoy nature in a passive way. The beach is a launch pad, a forum for trading ideas and gossip, a cultural incubator, or just a place to shuffle your feet in the sand so you don’t slip on your board.

Having a sandy beach is nice for rubbing the oils and grime off your feet, but isn’t necessary for surfing, said Jerome Baba, a lifelong surfer who lives in Kahaluu and works in Honolulu. During the summer, he’s a regular at Ala Moana Bowls, the break out front of the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor.

"There’s some times I don’t even touch the sand," said Baba. "You walk out on the rocks, you jump off, you paddle out and surf, then come back in. It’s the actual part of riding the wave that’s the main thing."

The waves are the most important element of surfing, but the beach also has an important place in developing the sport’s culture and innovations, said Duncan Campbell. An artist and surfboard designer, he owns Cafe Haleiwa, one of the North Shore’s favorite gathering places for surfers.

Campbell began surfing in Southern California and moved to Hawaii about 18 years ago. The scenes on the beach at Malibu and San Onofre during the early ’60s helped set the tone for a lifestyle that’s spread all over the world, he said.

On Oahu, surfers gathered at beaches such as Waikiki and Makaha to hang out, talk about what happened in the water and how their boards might be improved.

"The beach is where the culture develops," said Campbell. "That’s where ideas and information get communicated. That’s where people tell stories and where the stories get embellished."

Baba disagreed. Surfers are supposed to have a certain attitude, a style of dressing and look, but it’s the act of riding waves that really defines a surfer, he said. He knows many surfers who are engineers or lawyers: They don’t look the part.

"You know, they’re real goofy looking, and when you see them on shore, they look like some dad driving his minivan to take his kids to soccer," said Baba. "Sure, they are dads, but the buggahs can charge. Surfing is what happens in the waves, in the water, not the show going down on the beach."

For sailboarders, the main thing also is getting into the water, said Desmond Walsh, but the beach is where you rig up, socialize when the wind slacks off and launch. It doesn’t have to be wide and pretty, but some space on land is needed for the sport.

A sailboarder since 1976, Walsh is an instructor at NAISH Hawaii in Kailua. What sailboarders look for in Hawaii are waves and how the wind crosses them.

Kailua is for beginners, he said, but there are other choices.

"Diamond Head is more of an expert spot," he said. "If you did break down there (with the sideshore wind), you’re not necessarily going to drift in. You’re going to have to paddle in, same like Backyards (near Sunset Beach)."

Since a place to launch is needed, an important aspect of sailboarding is beach access, said Lorenn Walker, one of Hawaii’s top women in the sport.

Walker said one reason why Mokuleia Beach Park (her usual spot), Diamond Head and Kailua are popular is easy beach access.

During the ’80s, access to several beaches in Mokuleia was blocked by landowners, forcing sailboarders to find other places to launch, she said. Windsurfing with others who understand who has the right-of-way in the water is a safety issue.

As in surfing, the person who catches a wave first or nearest the curl has the right-of-way. Right-of-way also belongs to the person riding a wave, not the one heading out.

"We’ve had accidents and people getting hurt because that’s not understood," said Walker. "That’s why I like to be at Mokuleia with my friends. We share waves and there’s camaraderie. I totally trust those guys in big surf."

For kiteboarders, the beach is a bit more important, said Walsh. With about 100 feet of line connecting them to their kites, boarders need a long stretch of sand to lay out their rigs at the right angle to the beach, he said.

"Kailua is super-good, and so are Mokuleia and Goat Island (in Laie)," he said. "Guys on the Big Island are trying it out, but they’re having a super-hard time because there are so many lava rocks."

For ocean swimmers, a beach is important, said Chris Moore. A member of the Waikiki Swim Club and ocean swim competitor, Moore devotes much energy to organizing competitions. He’s currently busy organizing this summer’s Eyecatcher North Shore Swim Series.

"A lot of good swimming routes start on a nice beach and end on a nice beach," said Moore. "Sometimes you’ll swim across a point or a bay or something like that. The Surf & Sea North Shore Challenge starts at Ehukai and goes to Waimea, and you pass nice sandy beaches, but then you go by (rocky) Shark’s Cove."

Swimmers competing in the series’ four races often come to the beach early to socialize, he said, and will stay for hours after for the awards ceremonies, refreshments and potluck. For the series, he said, organizers were looking for calm water that is safe for the average swimmer. The reefs along the coast are also beautiful, he said.

"When you get out by Shark’s Cove, the water is nice and blue and fish are all around," said Moore. "It’s just a really nice swim. You’re seeing a part of Hawaii you wouldn’t see otherwise."

Their sands of time

By Mary Kaye Ritz
TGIF Editor

Three generations of the Napoleons spend the day at the beach: That's grandparents Joseph "Nappy" Napoleon, back row, third from right (shirtless with baby), and Anona (blue shirt), far right.
Call it a "Napoleon’s holiday."

That’s what Anona Napoleon and her husband, Joseph "Nappy" Napoleon, take when it’s time to commune with the elements. They set a day aside to head oceanward with the surfboards and hibachi.

Anona’s surfing jones has been recorded for posterity in the 1999 film "Surfing for Life," but the endeavor is really a family affair.

Back when they had three sons at St. Patrick’s school, Nappy remembers, the nuns would know exactly why their sons had those absences marked on their report cards, and the family would hear about it during teacher conferences.

"Never get in trouble," the former beachboy recalled. "Tell ’em the truth, eh?"

For this family, Oahu’s ocean beaches have been a central part of life, though there have been shifting destinations and changing loyalties. As parents and children have passed through stages of life and phases of interest, the Napoleons have cycled through the island’s beaches, from the Leeward to the Windward to the North Shore coasts.

In the ’40s, Anona used to go with her parents to the very secluded Cromwell’s.

"That’s where I learned how to swim and fish with my father," said the former pro surfer - whose first name, if you haven’t noticed, is a palindrome. "Mom and I would put together breakfast, waiting for whatever fish we caught. That had special meaning for me."

There would be fish, which they cooked at the fire, and biscuits and poi. "Always had poi," she said.

There her father showed her more than how to put the little shrimp on the line. He taught her life’s lessons, filtered through the lens of fishing.

"It teaches patience, ’cause you have to wait," said Anona, who now is studying for her doctorate at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Later, Anona would turn her attention to the water world of surfing, and her beach became Waikiki, the North Shore - wherever the waves are. She and her husband-to-be met at Waikiki - he was friends with her older brother, but she would have no part of it. She had big plans: She wanted to travel, and wanted to train as a champion kayaker. Anona trained for the Olympics in 1960 and again in 1964, and made it to the trials, but not to the Games.

But Nappy was persistent in his wooing. They married, and when the children came along they’d throw them all in the back of the pickup and head to the ocean every chance they could.

Their youngest son, Jonah, remembers heading to the Walls with the cousins, boogie boards in hand. And when they got older, it would be trips to Waimanalo, to go diving with their uncle.

David, his older brother, remembers when the family would head to Magic Island, Sunset, Waikiki - "every place where they’d have surf meets," he said. All five sons would become avid surfers, much to the chagrin of girlfriends and later, wives.

These days, the family spends most of their days at Waikiki by the Elk’s Club, where Nappy is coach and president of Anuenue Canoe Club. Or by Ala Moana Bowls, where the family is into paddling.

But Anona hankers for the beach of her younger days now. Or else she hikes over to the tidepools by Makapuu.

"It’s cleansing," she said.

Give us all the comforts of modern life, even at the beach

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Editor

Christine Morgan’s ideal beach is one with clean water, a reef she can stroll on, and with food and drink options on shore. It helps if there’s parking or if the beach is on a bus route.

That’s why she heads to the Waikiki strip in front of the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel.

"No contest - it’s Kaimana Beach," she said. "I wade, swim, read, people-watch and visit with friends."

Life’s a beach - or is it?

Folks who know where to find fun in the sun also like a few extras beyond the white sand and the crimson sea. They might complain if there’s no parking, coral instead of sand, no shower to drip off the saltiness and sand, no shady retreat.

Lawrence Gries, consequently, likes Queen’s Surf beach, opposite the Honolulu Zoo.

"You can swim laps there without encountering too many rocks," he said. "And it’s easy to get to."

The Waikiki resident also said he feels comfortable with the mix of the crowd: "A lot of gays go there, but seniors like me, too."

For Barry M. Smith, a beach has to serve multiple purposes. Luckily, his favorite, Kalama Beach in Kailua, does.

"While the kids are enjoying some safe bodysurfing, I relax on the abundant clean white sand," he said.

Arlene Kaplan likes several destinations for different reasons: Makapuu Beach for sunsets; Pokai Bay for its park; Magic Island for night picnics, particularly on Fridays. "Fireworks displays," she said. (The Hilton Hawaiian Village’s Friday show attracts both visitors and locals.)

Amenities may be one thing, but location’s another, says Andrea Narayan, who likes the accessibility of Ala Moana Beach and its environs.

"It has just about everything," she said. "Jogging, biking trails, volleyball, tennis, rollerblading."

You also can watch boaters and paddlers off shore and it’s a natural people-watching spot.

"It’s a little slice of paradise," she said.

Amenities mean a lot

Call us spoiled, but we like our beaches with a lot of amenities, thank you.

OK, a beach outing could mean roughing it, sans normal creature comforts. Not! We like our surf and turf with conveniences:

• Clear water (no pollutants, pul-leeze).
• Showers (to wash the salt right outta your hair).
• Clean restrooms (not only to "go," but to change in).
• Lifeguards (just in case of an SOS).
• Shade trees (too much sun ain’t fun).
• Grassy areas (not everyone likes sand ’tween their toes).
• Picnic tables and barbecue areas (who doesn’t get hungry?).
• Drinking fountains, water faucets (for sipping and washing).
• Snack stand or lunch wagon (not everyone brings nourishment, or it runs out).
• Parking (the closer, the better - and best of all, free).
• Location along a bus route (some prefer public transportation, to avoid the parking hassle).
• Sports options (volleyball, rollerblading, softball, etc.).
• Camping opportunities (you need a permit).
• Surfboard racks (who wants a ding on the board?).