Surfing in Hawaii's in an Extremely Weird Place Right Now

Matt Rode

by on

Updated 31d ago

It has been a weird summer in Hawaii. After an historic April, in which the local contingent scored five swells while the rest of the world was locked in their homes, the ocean went flat and the COVID-19 infection rate on Oahu started skyrocketing. At the end of May there were only around 400 total confirmed cases in Hawaii. By August 13, there were nearly that many new cases in a single day.

Hawaii has gone from one of the best coronavirus track records in the US to one of the worst, and a few weeks ago Oahu went back into full lockdown mode. Non-essential businesses were closed, state park access was restricted—no hiking trails, no hanging out on the beach, no walking your dog in the park. And of course, the mandatory 14-day quarantine on all arriving passengers that has effectively stopped tourism for the past six months was still in effect.

Forecast: Pipeline

Imagine, for a moment, the restriction, the struggle, the red tape with getting into Hawaii right now - compared to late season super swells.

From a surfer’s perspective, it was the quarantine that was the most concerning. If you were already in Hawaii and all you wanted to do was surf, your life hadn’t changed that much. You could still paddle out anytime you wanted—you just had to be creative with parking, and you couldn’t hang out on the sand afterwards. But for those looking to chase a swell to Hawaii—well, that was pretty much impossible.

The quarantine situation had similar ramifications for numerous stakeholders in the surf community. Tourists couldn’t come to Hawaii without wasting two weeks in quarantine, which meant local surfers who depended on the tourism sector would remain unemployed. Some of the usual suspects weren’t interested in going on the record—evidence of the unique and sensitive situation at the moment

Professional athletes and media crew couldn’t chase swells, so they either had to post up for the whole season or write Hawaii off completely. And what about the Triple Crown and the Pipe Masters, which the WSL had promised would kick off the world tour’s return from coronavirus sabbatical? Not only would the logistics of running events be a mess and competitors have to arrive on island at least two weeks before the waiting period, but any world tour surfers from countries that weren’t allowing travelling—or who weren’t allowed into the US—would effectively be barred.

Fortunately, the situation changed somewhat last Wednesday, when Governor Ige announced that Hawaii would tentatively be implementing a pre-testing alternative to the quarantine on October 15. While the details are still being hammered out, it appears that, in an effort to restart Hawaii’s tourism sector and economy as a whole, visitors who have a negative COVID-19 test confirmed within 72 hours of their flight and no visible symptoms upon arrival, will be allowed into the state without quarantine.

Those with test results pending upon arrival will be placed into quarantine until their results are confirmed negative. And those who show up without a test—or whose test results turn out to be positive—will be subject to the 14-day quarantine, per usual.

The GOAT's been enjoying some time in Indo recently. It'll be a shame to not see him compete at surfing's most gruelling gauntlet this season.

The GOAT's been enjoying some time in Indo recently. It'll be a shame to not see him compete at surfing's most gruelling gauntlet this season.

© 2020 - Sloane.

In addition, United Airlines recently announced that it will begin offering rapid COVID-19 tests to passengers, with the San Francisco-Honolulu being one of the first routes to provide this service on October 15. The airline sees this as a way to facilitate travel to areas that have quarantine restrictions that are avoidable with a negative test (starting with Hawaii), and hope that these readily available tests will motivate more travellers to begin flying again.

Assuming this all goes into effect as planned, Hawaii should reopen for business just as the North Pacific season kicks into gear. But will the pros flock to the epicentre of surfing as they have in the past, or will COVID-19 scare them away until next season? We got an epic run of swell in April, with no work and nothing to do but surf. It was like being a kid. I lost 10lbs and was doing airs again The Eddie has already been cancelled for the 2020/21 season—will the WSL follow suit and cancel the Pipe Masters, delaying the start of their newfangled world tour schedule? Will the season be a locals-only repeat of April’s miracle run, or will the Aloha State be overrun by desperate surfers who have been wave-starved all summer and aren’t welcome in any of the typical surf-rich countries they normally visit? And what exactly is the vibe in Hawaii at the moment, anyway?

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To get a better feel for the situation, we reached out to a number of interested parties to get their take on the whole thing. Some of the usual suspects weren’t interested in going on the record—evidence of the unique and sensitive situation at the moment. Others were more than happy to share their thoughts and experiences under lockdown and quarantine.

Sarah Lee (intrepid adventurer/mid-length stylist/arguably the most accomplished female surf photographer on the planet)

Sarah Lee knows how to capture intrepid moments that are rarely witnessed.

Sarah Lee knows how to capture intrepid moments that are rarely witnessed.

© 2020 - Sarah Lee.

“I’m spending a lot less money because of this lockdown, and it’s made me more mindful about where I go and what I do. Less eating out, less shopping, deliberate grocery runs aimed toward locally grown food and products. It feels very draconian for them to shut down the trails and parks, but at least we have the sunshine and plenty of things to do in the ocean. And with the quarantine lifting soon, things should become a lot easier in terms of traveling, since we will be able to return home after trips without getting stuck indoors for two weeks.”

Alika (accomplished performance longboarder/chaser of snow/advocate of the “do no evil diet”/holder of strong opinions)
“There is a deadly virus spreading across our country, and it’s called Communism. Someone please tell Governor Ige and Major Crook Caldwell that this is not a fascist state.”

Emi Erickson (big-wave goddess/lover of Sunset Beach/North Shore legacy/unofficial Queen of the Bay)

Emi's a regular when Jaws goes to heart-in-throat size.

Emi's a regular when Jaws goes to heart-in-throat size.

© 2020 - Heff/WSL.

“The only thing keeping me sane right now is swimming the Bay every day. Winter can’t come soon enough.

Daniel Jones (former professional surfer/passionate shaper/Rocky Point staple)
“At first the lockdown was kinda fun. When the first one happened, we had to find ways to stay positive. We got an epic run of swell in April, with no work and nothing to do but surf. It was like being a kid. I lost 10lbs and was doing airs again [laughs]! Unfortunately, now it’s not only dragging on, but actually getting worse. Numbers are rising, and we are back under lockdown again.

“The silver lining is that the surfboard building industry has been its busiest in years, at least from what I have experienced here on the North Shore. With talks of another round of stimulus checks and the possible lifting of the quarantine, it’s possible we could see this surfboard trend continue all the way through Christmas, which would be nice, at least as far as business goes.”

Jamie Sterling (former big wave world champion/popular surf instructor/purveyor of fine CBD products/nicest guy on the North Shore)

Good lawd, Jamie Sterling flexing at Cloudbreak.

“Life is all about going with the flow, and my family and I decided that the best option for us was to temporarily relocate to the West Coast until the quarantine lifts. The pandemic has forced me to grow and learn new ways to make a living. I spent three months up in Oregon, farming on a recreational marijuana farm, and learned all about the recreational cannabis industry.

I have been really enjoying more time with the family and taking long road trips from the San Juan Islands all the way down the coast to San Diego. All along the way we were able to stay with family and friends. That’s the special thing about the surf community. Home is always where you hang your hat at the end of the day. Thank you to all the people who have opened up their homes during this pandemic.”

Cliff Kapono (cultural ambassador, PhD chemist, respected environmentalist, shredder of all surf craft)
"The scariest thing about this pandemic is how much it divided our community. Whether it was man made, is the worst thing since Black Plague or something in-between, I think figuring out how to better manage community health is the best way forward. I hope the intention behind lifting the quarantine here is more to get our community back and running rather than trying to get a few bucks from tourism."

Cover shot of surfing's favourite post card, Pipeline, by Billy Watts.