Long before I started surfing, just hearing the word “Hawaii” was magical to me. Conjuring up images of a tropical paradise thousands of miles away from a kid growing up in the Deep South. Now, as an adult who started surfing later in life, our annual trip to the North Shore of Oahu brings up a whole different range of emotions.
There is definitely a healthy amount of nerves involved for me. Winter on the North Shore is the proving ground for the best surfers in the world in waves of consequence. Words like respect really mean something there. Respect for the ocean, the locals, and a proud Hawaiian culture seeped in history.
But there is an overriding sense of joy in the build up to the trip. It’s that same feeling of anticipation I had growing up when the first warm days of spring brought summer vacation ever closer. The idea of spending time with good friends over waves, meals, beers, and laughs becomes a focal point for the end of the year.
In this I am very fortunate to have Pancho Sullivan and Abe Allouche as both friends and business partners. Pancho is a wealth of Hawaiian knowledge and knows the North Shore like the back of his hand, so any advice he gives me is priceless. Abe has been surfing in Hawaii for more than twenty years, and also taught me to surf, so he knows just how to push my limits. I always feel a bit calmer when they are both in the water with me.
When the three of us started Aulta the underlying value of the brand was the idea that you should never stop doing what you love, regardless of your age. Our annual pilgrimage to Hawaii is that time for us to reconnect while recharging our collective batteries. And this year was all the more exciting knowing that our advocates would be there to share the experience with us.
Abe and I land in Honolulu, grab the biggest rental van possible and hightail it north, any lingering fatigue washing away with the fresh shot of adrenaline. We pull up to smiles all around, and I am immediately reminded of what makes surfing culture so unique and special; the individuals you meet through surfing. New Jersey charger and model Clay Pollioni exudes a raw enthusiasm for life that just pours out of him. Kealii Mamala is a true waterman, big wave surfer, and the definition of Aloha. Steven Lippman is an incredibly talented photographer/director, and a lifelong athlete who inspires us with his creativity in and out of the water. Watching the sunset together later over beers feels surreal, like landing on a different planet where the present moment is the only thing that really matters.
Free surf phenom Nick Rozsa arrives the next day from California with photographers Chris Papaleo and Trevor Pikhart, just in time for the building swell. By this time the house is full of people and energy. Our friend and advocate Sean Davey joins us on the front deck and the language of photography spoken between Sean, Steven, Trevor and Chris is like Greek to me, a guy notorious for unintentionally blurry shots that I try to pass off as stylistic. The view out front is incredible, and watching these amazing surfers from the deck feels to me like seeing a great live band at a small venue.
Mike Coots arrives the following day from Kauai to complete the group. Hearing his story of losing his leg to a tiger shark at age eighteen only to become a leading advocate for the protection of sharks is beyond inspiring. After a fun day of surfing and hanging out together we finish off with a BBQ at the house with Abe as head chef, Pancho as sous chef, and me as grill man. Nothing tastes better than an amazing meal after a great day in the water.
The swell forecast is in our favor and Nick catches cover worthy waves at Pipeline and Backdoor with Trevor shooting from the water in critical conditions for any cameraman. The boys are charging, and I see Abe catch a great wave from second reef Pipeline. He stays out until a broken board finally forces him to come in. The energy is at a level 10 that night at the house, and we celebrate life with some liquid Aloha.
In a flash the week is up, and I find myself in the van laughing with boys on the way to the airport, back to chilly NYC for a business meeting. But as it usually does, the North Shore has left its mark. Reminding me that life is a gift meant to be savored, that the best memories are still in front of me, and that age is just a date on a driver’s license.
I’ll be back for more, soon.
Banner image: Trevor Pikhart.
Other photography: Steven Lippman (1–2, 10), Trevor Pikhart (3–6, 8–9).