Hawaiians know that riding the ocean requires the rare combination of calm, confidence, and utter respect for the power of the sea. That's how the best surfers in the world ride down the face of waves that, every now and then, reach 40 feet (12 meters) at the mother of big-wave breaks: Waimea Bay (pictured) on the North Shore of Oahu. It's warmer and more predictable than other breaks of its size, which makes it a favorite among pro surfers. But it also forms a perfect stadium for aspirants looking for a glimpse of some of the world's biggest rides.
Surfing was born on these shores, and many of its biggest competitions, like the Triple Crown, still feature here, which is why Oahu is perhaps the one place where surfers of all levels pilgrimage. It has breaks of every shape and size and offshore winds that create perfectly shaped and unusually long rides. Local surfer Bryan Suratt, whose family has ridden these swells for four generations, coaches such greats as Andy Irons but also offers lessons for all levels. Suratt's laid-back aloha vibe helps even first timers feel the high that every surfer, at one point, feels: a humble gratitude for the timeless power of the ocean.
Sunset Suratt Surf School offers surf lessons on many of Oahu's North Shore breaks ($100 for two hours, including equipment; www.sunsetsurattsurfschool.com).