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Wavelengths

Protected by locals, dense brush and a massive bull, Pakala was the perfect break

Bull

This isn't the bull that stood between surfers and the Pakalas break in Hawaii, but you get the idea.

It was probably the best left of my career, the most fun wave ever. Tucked away on the south shore of one of the outer Hawaiian Islands, the break hit all the right notes.

It was never crowded because it was out of the way and hard to find. Locals would not talk about it or provide accurate directions. Its existence first became known to me through the book “Surfing Hawaii” by Bank Wright, published in 1971. The “break book” details every major spot in the Hawaiian Islands, and it mentioned this location, called Infinity but known to the locals as Pakala beach on the extreme southwest side of Kauai.

Directions were involved and a bit fuzzy. Then, since the water could not be seen from the road, finding the correct bridge was a challenge. Part of the path from the road to the water was through dense, Hawaiian vegetation requiring shoes and protective clothing. It was also on private property, which is given full respect in the islands.

However, there was one more surprise the locals never mentioned and another reason it was uncrowded: The Bull.

As I hiked my way to the spot, standing guard in the first field was a full-on, massive bull. Imagine my astonishment when I encountered the beast on my first go-out at Pakala. I had never seen a live bull, let alone been near one. Do you turn around? Do you run through the field and risk getting chased? Do you sneak around the perimeter hoping not to rile the creature? I chose the slow and steady method that first day with little reaction from the animal.

The reward was a wave that was pure fun. Due to the spot’s remoteness and the bull, few found the break; many sessions were entirely solo. There was no place to do a surf check. There were a few scattered houses in the area, but they were private property. The only other surfers I encountered were friendly kids, probably from the local houses, who sometimes came out in the afternoon. Occasionally there was another alien surfer who challenged the bull, but mostly there was no fighting the crowds for waves; they were all there for you.

There was a huge paddling channel. Launching from the beach next to the A’akukui stream, it was a clear, calm, deepwater paddle to the takeoff spot. Dry head. No energy was wasted getting out.

Many surfers would concentrate their efforts on the north shore of the islands in the winter for the big waves and the classic spots. However, the south shore continues to break in the winter. With the mobs in the north of Kauai on Hanalei Bay and other breaks, the south shore was frequently empty.

The wave itself was perfection. It was a long unfolding left, perfect for this goofy foot. It varied from waist-high to just overhead, and occasionally higher. When small it was a 20- to 30-yard ride. When big it approached 50 yards of flawlessness. There was little of the fear factor seen and felt on other or larger Hawaiian waves, and there were no sections or bowls, just a long, wonderfully smooth face. After a ride it was an easy paddle back to the lineup. Not too big and not too small, the wave had power and enough juice to accommodate any style of surfing: cutbacks, nose riding, fast and slow, hot dogging and classic roller coaster.

Winds were usually offshore, especially in the early mornings, and even in the afternoon the wind was either slack or offshore. Sometimes the wind blew straight into the left barrel. Occasionally Kona winds (from the south) would blow, trashing the wave, but in the winter they were infrequent and short-lived.

On one session I noticed a large house adjacent to the beach and the A’akukui stream. Inquiring from the local realtors, I found out that it was called the Weir Estate, and that it could be rented.

For my third trip to Kauai and the seventh trip to Hawaii, I rented the house for two weeks in February. Transporting my wife, surfboard, and two toddlers from New Jersey through Houston and Honolulu to Kauai was a chore. However, we landed safely in Lihue and drove to the estate. Arriving in the late afternoon, there was just time enough to score an evening session.

The two weeks passed quickly. Being in a house was so much better for the family than crowding into a hotel room. There was a full kitchen, a living room, and bedrooms for the kids, and lots of room around the estate for them to play. My older daughter especially liked the A’akukui Stream. She dubbed it the “mud machine.” She figured out that if you put dirt into the stream it turned into mud, and this provided her endless entertainment.

This was paradise: walking in lush grass to the edge of the water and paddling out every single day to your own perfect private wave.

The following year we returned and had a vastly different experience. The wave was the same, perfect and empty, but bad juju surrounded the estate and the entire two-week trip.

For the long flight in, we had scored the exit row so the kids had room to play. However, taxiing to the runway we were told we had to move our 2-year-old, Joanna. She and my wife, Joanne, were put back in steerage. Joanna screamed for the entire nine-hour flight. Nobody was happy on that plane; it was payback, but hard on my wife.

It should have been a warning of what was to come.

During the first week our older daughter had high fever with all the attendant problems in a toddler. Then she swallowed a penny, which prompted a visit to the hospital emergency room. Afterward we had to strain all her stool until the coin reappeared. The fever (pediatricians always call it a virus) was transmitted to our younger daughter. She was sick for the rest of the stay and the entire flight home, and suffered a febrile seizure in her car seat just 200 yards from home.

My family was finally safe, but we never went back to Pakala or the Weir Estate.

The wave had lost its luster.

Fred Weber is a goofyfoot who lives in Ocean City. For suggestions or to comment email wavelengths.fw@gmail.com.

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