Today Max, the Alpha Japanese Female (AJF) and I went to “Point Panic” on the eastern tip of Kaka’ako Waterfront Park, facing Diamond Head and Waikiki Beach across Mamala Bay.
Point Panic is where I took the banner photo at the top of this blog.
Point Panic got its name because surfers riding the left and right breaking waves have to carefully time their exit from the wave to avoid crashing against the boulders that make up the sea wall.
Depending on ocean conditions, the pucker factor can be significant. It’s game of aquatic chicken except the rock jetty never flinches.
Point Panic was memorialized in the Sufaris‘ 1963 eponymous tune. As with other Surfaris music, including the famous song “Wipeout,” this instrumental features an intro with maniacal laughter and a lead guitar with so much reverb it drips on the floor and stains your feet.
(If you didn’t click the Wipeout link above, by all means do so now and watch the whole video – it’s a throwback, sexist hoot full of bad surfing and worse dancing by the most homogeneous beach crowd ever assembled. A little goes a long way.)
Meanwhile, the video to the Point Panic song reminds us that we owe a debt of gratitude to MTV, VH-1, YouTube and others who advanced the art of videos.
Don’t let the first 10 seconds fool you into thinking that this video is interesting. It’s not.
The waves at Point Panic derive from an exposed reef break that has reasonably consistent surf. Point Panic usually offers small swells but on occasion will get bigger sets and, rarely, monsters.
As with most south shore/south swell breaks on Oahu, summer offers the best conditions for surfing.
Offshore winds blow from the northeast and if the trades are pumping the waves deteriorate in form but on a calm day the hollows and small barrels can be great fun and sometimes “epic” as the whippersnappers say. Now, get off my lawn.
Here’s a short video of body surfing Point Panic on a pretty good day. Forget the Surfaris and enjoy the nahenahe background music and check out the sweet ride of a guy with a hand board at the 1 minute 30 second mark:
Point Panic can be a challenge for beginners in bodysurfing. You need to have a good kick and strong stroke to accelerate in the water and out pace the hard core guys there. You also need excellent timing – it’s easy to miscalculate and get left behind. But the most important element (and most difficult to achieve) is to have the experience and relationships with fellow water folk to position yourself in the perfect spot.
Legally, Point Panic is for body surfers only but it’s not unusual to see a mix of body, paipo and board surfing across the area with the body surfers on the left break and board guys on the right.
The atmosphere tends to be mellower than at other congested surf spots perhaps because there are a lot of older guys among the regular crowd.
It’s always been a place for the “Uncles” to show their old school body surfing talents
Turtles are regularly spotted in the area and occasionally sharks but I don’t know of any recent problems with ocean life.
Point Panic is just one piece of Kaka’ako Waterfront Park, a local destination and attraction that is not typically on a visitor’s itinerary.
While close to Waikiki and Ala Moana Center, this park is not visible from the streets in the area and frankly suffers because of its reputation – justly – as a place with a high density of homeless folks.
Unlike it’s famous neighbor Ala Moana Beach Park, this is not the easiest place to love. It takes a little while to appreciate the charms of the area, and they are many, but it is a place where the park’s potential may out weigh its present offerings. Here’s how it all started:
In 1948, the City and County of Honolulu constructed a large landfill directly on the shoreline’s shallow reef in order to get rid of material that they couldn’t burn. The ocean side of the landfill was defined by large seawall that measured 10 feet high and 30 feet wide at its base.
The landfill added 29 new acres of land to the Kaka’ako shoreline. The landfill was in operation until the 1960s. In the early 1990s the area was recovered , cleared, and filled-in for public use as the Kaka’ako Waterfront Park.
The names of the surf breaks offshore from Kaka’ako Waterfront Park serve as reminders of the park’s history.
True to local tradition of honoring descriptive accuracy over high falutin’ marketing brands, one of the surf breaks is named “Incinerators” because of its proximity to the site of the former trash burning facility and the other is named “Flies,” for the obvious reason.
The shoreline here lacks a sandy beach. There is only the seawall along the water’s edge and large boulders.
Entry to the ocean is from the rocks or by way of a couple of stairways that descend from the promenade to the water.
Park activities include body surfing, paipo, board surfing, and shore fishing. It’s an interesting area for night SCUBA diving, too.
The park is adjacent to Kewalo Basin Harbor, a mixed-use harbor that provides berthing for charter, commercial fishing and recreational vessels. Watching the cruise, parasail, charter fishing, SCUBA and speed boats from the promenade at the harbor mouth is always enjoyable.
The adjacent grassy areas and pavilions accommodate family gatherings and picnics and there are observation areas, an amphitheater that hosts diverse music acts, and a children’s discovery center.
The park offers some spectacular views of Diamond Head and is popular among photographers seeking fabulous sunset pictures, too.
There are two memorials in the park: The Ehime Maru Memorial and the Victim Memorial.
The Ehime Maru was a Japanese fisheries training vessel that was sunk in a controversial accident with the U.S. Navy Submarine Greenville on February 9, 2001 about 9 miles south of Oahu.
The nuclear submarine was demonstrating a “breech maneuver” that starts with a rapid ascent and literally launches the front of the boat into the air.
Sadly, the sub came up directly below the Ehime Maru killing nine crewmembers and students. The Victim Memorial is dedicated to victims and survivors of drunken driving accidents and was sponsored by Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD).
The future of Kaka’ako Waterfront Park is currently a topic of hot debate.
In recent years, the University of Hawaii established a cancer research center and medical school in the vicinity.
Plans are afoot to make the park economically self sustaining by introducing a variety of cultural, civic and commercial activities.
Adjacent land areas have been marked for a possible Obama Presidential Center, cultural and commercial developments by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, sport and entertainment venues, community centers and maybe residential units.
The planning for this rare piece of ocean promenade and park lands draws lots of attention from those who would like the area left untouched, those who envision extensive development and everyone in-between. In a way, this debate and tussle over the future of Kaka’ako Waterfront Park is a reflection of what is happening across Oahu and the State as a whole. So much opportunity. So much responsibility.
Of course, Max doesn’t much care about environmental impact studies or petitions or planning charettes.
For the small white dog, Kaka’ako Waterfront Park is simply green grass and play areas and fascinating sniffs of seafood so fresh it’s walking along the seawall rocks and might pinch an unwary dog’s nose.
For the Pupsicle, this is just a wonderful place to spend a couple of fun hours in beautiful Hawaii.
Oh, if all this outdoor sun, fun and surf talk has worked up a thirst, I recommend you quaff a Point Panic Pale Ale from Honolulu Beerworks.
I know that as I get older, I head for the Point Panic beer more frequently than the Point Panic rocks. Cheers!