Travel to Hawaii -- North Shore Pipeline of Oahu

Tanner Gudauskas heads back out after retrieving yet another board after breaking several during his heat at the 2011 Billabong Pipe Master. Despite scoring just 4.76 points, he beat Australian Jack Freestone. Gudauskas lost his second heat of the day. (Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/MCT / December 8, 2011)

My name is Gary Warner and I am a hodad.

For those who aren't familiar with archaic surfer slanger, a hodad originally was the kind of Southern California guy who greased his hair and wore white T-shirts and cared more about working on his hotrods than hanging 10 at the beach.

That's not me. I grew up in the blow-dry era and drove a yellow Ford Pinto in high school.

But over the years, "hodad" has morphed into a term used to describe people like me who can talk surf, wear surfwear, hang out with surfers — but never get up on a board.


My road to hodad-ness began 20 years ago last month when, as the Orange County Register's military writer, I was sent to Oahu for the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Five thousands survivors, including 50 from Orange County, marched down Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki. Afterward, I was assigned by the paper's sports editor to go up to the North Shore to check out a hot young Orange County surfer named Andino competing at the Banzai Pipeline.

Two decades later last month, I was rolled out of mothballs as the ex-military writer to go to Pearl Harbor for the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. A few hundred survivors marched or were wheeled into the ceremonies near the USS Arizona Memorial, including about five from Orange County. Afterward, as the travel editor, I assigned myself to head up to the North Shore to check out a hot young Orange County surfer named Andino compete at Pipeline.

Kolohe Andino, the son of the guy I went to see the first time, Dino Andino.

In 1991, Dino Andino was part of a hard-charging, high-octane group of young surfers who were bringing edge and attitude to the often laid-back sport. Along with his tattooed buddy Matt Archbold, Andino had a reputation of being, well, a jerk when it came to talking to the media.

When I walked up to him at Pipeline, he couldn't have been nicer — maybe it was just the surprise that the hometown paper had come all that way to write him up.

"Compared to the North Shore, the surf back home is Pee-Wee League," Andino told me.

I hung out to watch some great surfing — the Australian Tom Carroll snapped a turn on a barrel at Pipeline that is still legendary today — I have to admit I saw it, but it didn't register as a great moment at the time. I do remember the guys all wore helmets and tighter trunks — looking a little like Tour de France riders out in the waves. A network television crew filmed the whole thing, and the Hard Rock Cafe was one of the sponsors — I wore out that T-shirt with "PRESS" on the sleeve.

The lure of it all hit pretty hard. Banzai Pipeline (Hodad note: The "in" name has shifted from Pipeline to Pipe and back to Banzai Pipeline over the years) is the most famous wave in the world for a reason. When it is working — at about 10 to 12 feet — it forms an aquamarine tube that's unlike anywhere else in the world. And it's close — you can stand on the beach and see the look of fun or fear on the surfers' faces as they shoot out the end of the tube or get pummeled into the coral.

Since then, I've made surf contests part of my travel itinerary. I've gone to Australia twice for surf contests. I went all the way to Tahiti just to see the famous Teahupoo break only to find out I had missed a big swell by two days. Closer to home, I've volunteered to cover contests at Trestles and Huntington Beach.

Most of all, I've been back to the North Shore so many times it's hard to remember exactly — eight? Ten? I've seen all the major contests and twice was lucky enough to catch the rarest north shore event — the Eddie Aikau big wave surf contest that only goes off at Waimea Bay when the waves are over 20 feet. The second time, in 2009, Greg Long of San Clemente, Calif., snatched victory away from Kelly Slater, who is sort of the Babe Ruth-plus-Michael Jordan-plus-Tiger Woods of surfing.

A lot has changed over the years. No more helmets. No more network television. There's a bypass around Haleiwa so you don't have to make the crawl across the ancient two-lane bridge at the harbor. There are more homes and a Starbucks at the Foodland supermarket. The Chart House long ago became Haleiwa Joe's.

One of the weirdest is the absence of women's events — no pro surfing contest in Hawaii this December despite Carissa Moore of Hawaii leading the women's top tour and Courtney Conlogue of Santa Ana, Calif., topping the total points board. But no showdown at Moore's home turf. What a boneheaded loss for pro surfing.

This year at Pipeline there was a live video feed, Wi-Fi for reporters, and gourmet food trucks. Like nearly all the contests these days, the sponsor was a surf wear manufacturer — Billabong, out of Australia. But a lot was familiar — the sloping sand, the girls in bikinis, the surfers always surprisingly short — the better to crouch in the tube. There seemed to be more of a family scene — moms and dads with babies, older tourists who drape towels under their baseball caps to cover their necks like something out of the French Foreign Legion.

But it was all familiar too. And 20 years later, I was looking for an Andino.