Corky Tries the North Shore
by Corky Carroll
In order to avoid having to talk about the virus, as I am not an expert nor do I have any valid opinion on that subject, I have started a little series on “Surf Safaris” that I have taken over the years, starting with the early ones. Today I am going to talk about my first trip to the infamous “North Shore,” on the island of Oahu.
The first time I had gone to Hawaii was actually the summer before this, the year was 1963 and I was a 15-year-old loud mouthed up and comer. A couple of months surfing at Ala Moana, on the “South Shore,” went a long way towards shutting me up and teaching me some respect. I was pretty good, but not nearly as good as I had thought I was when I got there. By December I was ready to just keep my mouth shut and go and see what it was like to ride the big stuff on the North Shore and if I had the guts to do it or not.
I was lucky to get to go over with a crew of great surfers and proven big wave riders. Mike Doyle, Mickey Munoz, Joey Cabell and Chuck Linnen. We all met up at Mike’s moms house, about a half a mile from Los Angeles International Airport late one winter afternoon and got ready for our flight to Honolulu. In those days you just checked your board in as baggage, no board bags or any protection. Most of the time they came out with dings and broken off fins, but that was just the way it was. I took one board with me, a 10-foot speed board Phil Edwards had made me. I was lucky to only have some scratches on it when it got there. I had an 11-foot big wave board already there at the Hobie shop waiting for me. It was red and made it into a famous big wave photo of a bunch of guys taking off at Waimea Bay and a big red board going up the face with a foot sticking out of the water just behind it. It was my foot. I was paddling out and jumped off going up the face before I got sucked over the falls by this big monster wave.
I hung with Mike Doyle on that trip and was glad I did. Mike was without a doubt one of the best big wave riders of all time, and he was pretty good at looking out after me. We wound up staying with a huge crew from the mainland that had rented an old Quonset hut out by a place called “Velzyland.” There were 15 guys, 2 girls and a dog.
On our first day there we caught Sunset Beach about fifteen feet. I was scared but managed to catch a good-sized wave right off the bat. A really good California surfer named Kemp Aaberg was in front of me and I just watched where he was going and followed as closely as I could. We both made the wave and I was totally wide eyed and blown away. Kemp smiled at me and said, “So, you like this big stuff huh?” After that the fear factor turned down a notch and I was able to get a bunch of rides.
The very next day the swell jumped up in size and Waimea Bay was going off. This was the premier big wave spot on the planet at that time. I had survived the first day at Sunset Beach so when Mike grabbed his board to paddle out I grabbed mine too. He looked at me and said, “Are you sure?” I didn’t answer, I just went. And no, I was not sure at all. This turned out to be a whole nother deal all together. I was in shock as to just how big those waves were when you actually got out there in the middle of all that power. They were not only tall, but as thick as a shopping mall and moving really fast. The sheer energy and sound made me feel very insignificant. When I was sitting in the lineup debating about if I was going to try to take one or not I saw the great big wave surfer George Downing looking at me. He asked me if I was afraid. I wanted to say no, that I was fine and this was totally cool. But a tiny “yes” is what came out. He smiled and said, “Good, then you will be o.k.” This made me feel better. I got three rides that day and was lucky to not have fallen off on any of them. I remember on the first one when I stood up at the top of this monster wall of water. I was thinking, “Twenty feet? Hell no, this thing is more like three hundred feet…. I’m gonna diiiiiiieeeeee.”
The highlight of that first trip to the North Shore was getting to surf the “Pipeline” for the first time. This is the spot that I really fell in love with. Being right foot forward, “Goofy-foot”, this was perfect for me. A big powerful left. I loved that spot and had some of my best surfing days there. The last time I rode it was on my 50th birthday. It was so crowded by then that I couldn’t get a wave without at least two guys dropping in on me. But back during that first winter for me there would only be a few people out there at a time and it was just surf dog heaven for me. I was lucky to spend a lot of time in Hawaii over the years and got a ton of super good surf. But that first winter always stood out as a special, and totally eye opening, experience for me.