Night Surfing with a Professional Wave Rider

In an effort to beat the crowds, a surfer paddles out at night for the swell of the season.

Text by
Cliff Kapono
Images by
John Hook

I’ve been waiting for these conditions for quite some time: a perfect tide, just the right swell direction, and offshore winds that promise to light up the coast with long-overdue surf. Sitting in front of my computer screen, my excitement slowly fades as I realize I’m not the only one who clued into such a favorable event. Hundreds, if not thousands, of like-minded surfers have also been digitally notified of the rapidly approaching swell through surf-report subscriptions, mobile devices, and push alerts.

I take a moment to digest the thought of the entire island finding out the swell of the season will be arriving early Friday morning and will last through the weekend. I frantically look at my calendar. Just as I feared, Friday is a holiday. Sinking into my chair, my excitement completely faded, I accept one of the most difficult realities of surfing on O‘ahu’s south shore: the crowds.

I lean back in my chair and begin to strategize how I might find a wave to myself. Maybe I’ll go at first light, I think. Perhaps lunchtime will be my window. If I wait for the end of the day, maybe everyone else will be too tired to paddle out. Multiple scenarios play out in my head, each thwarted by the reality that it’s inevitably going to be packed all day.

Suddenly, it dawns on me. It’s going to be packed from sunup to sundown, but what about sundown to sunup? I know what I have to do. I need to begin my session at dusk.

I open my internet browser to search the moon phase. It’s a full moon tonight. I check the tides. Perfect. I calculate the precise time necessary to enjoy the conditions. I set my alarm for 2 a.m. and try my best to get a few hours of sleep, but my excitement keeps me awake. Opting out of a quick nap, I begin packing my truck.

Driving to the beach, I watch the moon rise over Wa‘ahila Ridge. At the parking lot, I am welcomed by a plethora of open stalls and waste no time taking the one closest to the shower. Giggling with excitement, I pull out my board and run across the empty lot. I am alone, just as I had hoped.
Without waxing my board, I run to the water’s edge. It is surprisingly warm, much warmer than I expected. As I paddle out to the breakers, the current pulls me to the lineup. With each stroke, I watch as tiny fluorescent creatures get sucked into the whirlpools left in my wake. The moon is now directly overhead, and there’s not a cloud in sight.

It isn’t long before I reach the lineup and see a set approaching. Instinctually, I look around to see who may want the wave. There isn’t a soul in sight, but it doesn’t stop me from shouting with laughter, “I got it!” I push off the rails of my board, stand up, and begin a ride directed more by feeling than by sight. Unlike surfing during the day, when I’m typically focused only on the wave, I become hyper-fixated on everything around me. I see myself sliding across reflections of the city. I feel the gentle sting of the cool wind on my face. I take notice of the sound of the tumbling whitewater. It is as if my senses have been amplified by the night.

I make my way back to the lineup and take a moment between sets to think about all the people who would appreciate this experience as much as me. Strangely, I begin to feel alone. And in those fading moments of midnight bliss, I wish there were a few more people to share this moment.

I catch my last wave all the way to shore and slowly walk up the sand. Startled, a young couple ask if I was out in the sea. I pause a moment to think. “Night surfing is pretty amazing,” I tell them. “If you go, make sure to take a friend.”