The bay of plenty (except when it comes to parking)
Waimea Bay. You've probably heard of it. If you're a surfer or an avid television watcher, then you've definitely heard of it. "The Bay", as it's affectionately known by locals, is home to the world's most famous big wave break. It's also a filming location for the television series Lost.
You are sure to pass Waimea Bay if you drive around Oahu, but really it's well worth a day trip of its own.
Waimea Bay will remind you how placid (or how powerful) the ocean is, depending on when you visit
The Bay and its surrounds are stunning. The Pacific Ocean presents an entrance of deep blue, and Waimea Valley provides a breathtaking back drop of forest green. Separating the brilliant blues and greens (who says "blue and green should never be seen?") is a long, wide stretch of fat-grained, camel-coloured sand.
In winter, broken waves often cloak Waimea Bay in a blanket of white
After heavy rain, the beach is divided by the Kamananui Stream, a fresh-water stream that winds down the Waimea Valley from the Ko'olau Range. At the western end of The Bay, there is a large lava rock, which happens to be one of the best bouldering (a style of rock climbing) locations on Oahu. The rock, referred to by some as "Da Big Rock" or "Jump Rock", is a popular place from which to jump (from heights of up to 30 feet) into the ocean. This is not advisable.
The fresh-water Kamananui Stream winds down Waimea Valley and sometimes reaches the ocean
The Waimea region is culturally and historically significant to the Hawaiian people. For more than 700 years, Waimea Valley and The Bay were ruled by Hawaiian high priests. Accordingly, there are many historical sites close by, including the Pu'u o Mahuka Heiau State Monument, which is just above The Bay, off Pupukea Road.
In 1779, the first known contact between Hawaiians and white foreigners on Oahu took place at Waimea Bay, shortly after Captain Cook was killed on Hawaii, the Big Island. Cook's ships, under the command of Captain Charles Clerke, anchored off The Bay to pot water from the fresh-water stream. It's reported the encounter was friendly, and it can be assumed there wasn't a massive winter swell running at the time. It is unlikely the crew would have made it ashore alive if there had been, The Bay's shore break can be vicious and lethal.
Waimea Bay's shore break can be downright scary, even for big wave surfers
Water sports are what Waimea Bay is about. You've got big wave surfing in the winter; and you've got swimming, snorkeling, diving, and paddling in the summer. Unless you're an advanced surfer, you'll only be a participant in the summer. In the winter, spectating is sufficient an adrenaline rush for most people.
From November through February, huge waves pound The Bay. It was in the 1950s that surfers first began to ride these waves, which can be up to 40 feet high. Since then, thousands of big wave surfers from around the world have made a pilgrimage to Waimea Bay to test their skills and to be humbled.
Spectators position themselves on the Kamehameha Highway to watch the surfers
The Bay is home to the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau Surf Competition, an invitational big wave contest that honours the legendary Hawaiian water-man Eddie Aikau. This prestigious contest is unusual in that it's only held when "The Bay calls the day", that is when open-ocean swells reach a minimum of 20 feet (translating to 30-foot waves at Waimea Bay). Each year from December through February, twenty-eight of the world's best big wave surfers wait and pray for the Pacific Ocean to satisfy the 20-foot precondition. Since its beginnings in 1985, the contest has been "called" only eight times.
The Bay calms in the summer. It is hard to believe it's the same place. Swimmers, divers, snorkelers, and paddlers, it's your turn. There's great snorkeling for beginners around the volcanic boulders at depths of three to nine meters, and also very good scuba diving for all levels at Waimea Walls–this dive site is accessible by shore (a 200 meter swim) or by boat; there are pretty corals to be seen at depths of eight to 18 meters, and white-tip reef sharks and turtles frequent the area.
Waimea Bay Beach Park has the following facilities:
Note: parking spaces are limited and it is difficult (impossible) to find a space on weekends, holidays, and around noon on any sunny day. The church up the street from the eastern end of The Bay sometimes offers parking for $5.