Ewa Beach, HI

A First Look at Oahu’s New Artificial Surf Park: The LineUp at Wai Kai

The Inertia

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Just behind the wave is a lagoon for paddling other types of watercraft.Photo byPhotos by Steve Andrews

Yes, a surf park on Oahu.

At first, it may seem counterintuitive to build a 4o-million-dollar artificial wave on an island that, mile for mile, provides some of the most reliable surf on the planet. But after having seen what they've done out there in Ewa Beach, especially after giving the wave a try, I'm actually on board with it.

Ocean surfing as a sport has its limitations.  Even the best surf breaks in the world only work during certain times of the year. Even then, you need an ideal combination of swell direction, period, size, wind, and tide to make it work just right. Then, when it does finally work, chances are high you'll be battling it out with other surfers vying for the same peak. The better the wave, the bigger, and better, the competition will be. And when you do finally get in the right place at the right time, you better not blow it – thus negating all the time and effort to catch that single wave you were after.

Not so at The LineUp at Wai Kai. Utilizing Citywave's standing wave model, catching another one simply means waiting in line. In the span of an hour I easily got 20 rides and felt enough confidence to practice maneuvers that I was too timid to try out in the ocean. Here, falling just spits you out the back and you walk to the side where everyone cycles through as though taking turns skating a mini ramp. But instead, it's a 100-foot wide sweet spot of a wave that will outlast anyone, as no human can last forever (yet) if really pushing themselves down the line and making use of the ability to carve as often as one would like.

Let's get a few things out of the way, first. It's not a "real" ocean wave in the classical sense. It's a standing wave, like you'd find on a river. Yes, Slater's Surf Ranch is likely the closest thing we currently have to recreating an ocean wave. But said wave is in the middle of farm country with a concrete bottom, and each wave costs roughly $500 when you break it down. This wave costs about $40 for an hour, has a soft bottom, and is right next to the sea.

There's no doubt that some people reading this do so with a murmur under their breath — a guffaw even, perhaps, how something like this isn't surfing. To them, I'd start to name drop the few who were there with me – Carissa Moore, Kai Lenny, and Mr. Gerry Lopez. All of them had to say good things about what they encountered.

"Wave pools like this are a big part of the future of surfing," said Gerry. "This is a great place to introduce surfing to people who have never done it. And you can see when the good surfers come, they're having a blast too. This is very soon going to become a very legitimate part of the whole surfing culture. You know, there's a lot of people who...naysayers, pooh-poohers that go 'no, that's not surfing'... but surfing is what you make of it. Surf is where you find it. And you can find it right here, every day."

Kai Lenny took advantage to try out things that are more difficult to master in the ocean.  "I had the best time visiting The Lineup," he remarked. "I went there with the intention to improve my surfing abilities and work out different tricks. It is the perfect environment for that because it's a never-ending ride. I can't wait to go back."

Kai's main focus for the day seemed to be riding switch – note that it seemed like he already knew how to do that well given his kite and windsurfing background. But within a few turns on the wave here, he nailed it. A few days later, he posted a video of himself riding goofy at Jaws. Coincidence? Maybe not.

As someone who has spent more time last year changing diapers than changing into boardshorts, I found the experience a much easier reintroduction to surfing than those frustrating first few days in the water. I had those too while on the island, both on the south and north shores where waves are always a commodity. Here, it would always be my turn sooner or later, but never longer than a couple minutes as people cycled through every 30-45 seconds on average. The other bonus was having a coach (none other than former CT surfer Shane Beschen giving pointers) each time I was on deck. He could coach a group of 10, all at different levels, and each person could focus on something different when their turn came up.

I likened it to what ski resorts did to skiing. None of us were alive when the first chairlifts came upon the scene but I'm willing to bet many purists called blasphemy there, too. Now it's hard not to picture skiing without the idea of a "ski resort." Sure, many out might ski under their own power in the backcountry. But an overwhelming majority of so-called skiers spend their days gaining vert by sitting on a chair, sliding down runs manicured by a snowcat, and having a meal at the lodge before stepping in the hot tub.

So, too, will people spend a day here at The Lineup. And it won't be only surfing, either. The adjacent 52-acre lagoon will be chock-full of water toys from kayaks to paddleboards and one-man outriggers that can be swapped out to enjoy time on the water, whether or not people call themselves a surfer. Add in a beautiful bar overlooking the action, spotlights and speakers, a restaurant with a Michelin-star chef next door, and the combo is a pretty memorable day out with friends or family.

Very soon, Oahu's West Side will have a facility that can grow young talent and be a place where over 200 people work without having to drive into town. It will be a community asset and yet also a destination for both tourists and people elsewhere on the island. I'll be interested to see the vibe when the sun goes down and the windows at the bar open up to showcase people surfing with a crowd around them – fueled by the energy that spectator sports offer, but with a venue that showcases surfing up close and personal.

You can create a wave, but you can't create the stoke that comes from riding a wave. Every grin and shaka from the day was genuine. Seeing the legitimate happiness in people's eyes was enough to certify this place as fun. So before you knock it, try it first. Maybe more than once. It takes a few times before muscle memory kicks in. But when it does, it's well worth the price of admission.

Editor's Note: This piece is an independent review of The Lineup at Wai Kai.

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