(Australian Associated Press)
“You know you got a cut on your eye,” the leather-skinned Hawaiian man says to me, squinting into the midday sun.
“That’s going to attract sharks. You’d better paddle into the beach.”
Straddling my three-metre longboard about 300 metres off Waikiki Beach, I think about how hard it would be to get help if I crossed paths with the marine life way out here.
When the Hawaiian turns to face the ocean again, I quickly feel my eyebrow where my board had hit me moments earlier as I turtle-rolled under that last wave.
“Too bad it’s too shallow for them out here,” I call back, looking down at the reef below us.
He erupts into chuckles with me before letting out a long hoot heralding an approaching set.
If surfing is Australia’s national obsession, it’s Hawaii’s very identity.
The world’s first surfers were Hawaiian, and Hawaiian icon Duke Kahanamoku popularised the sport in Australia when he held a surfing demonstration at Sydney’s Freshwater Beach in 1914.
At the centre of it all is Waikiki Beach, a perfect stretch of sand with 25-30C, partly cloudy to sunny days nearly year-round.
The waves here are so gentle, glassy and crumbling that only Hawaiian royals were allowed to surf here in the pre-colonial days.
The main surf break is called Queens, named after Hawaii’s Queen Liliuokalani.
Today Waikiki is the quintessential beach holiday destination globally – chic, sophisticated, fun, trashy and timeless at the same time.
You don’t have to be a royal to surf here any more, but if you want sand right on your doorstep there are just seven beachfront hotels.
And I paddle to the one right in the middle – the Outrigger Waikiki Beach.
First opened by Roy and Estelle Kelley in 1947, the Kelley ohana, or family, still owns the hotel, which is a local institution.
Many of the staff have worked here for their entire careers, for decades, and many have parents who also worked here.
The staff are always smiling and chirpy as they walk the corridors and restaurants, bidding “aloha” to guests walking by.
My room looks over the beach right to Diamond Head and the cobalt blues of the Pacific.
From the shower I can see surfers cutting through waves way out at the reef I was surfing at just earlier.
In the noon heat I take some downtime to avoid sunburn and stave exhaustion from surfing.
At Waikiki I’m constantly spoiled for choice to fill my time in the middle of the day between surfs.
I can try paddling on an outrigger canoe, sail the channels on a Polynesian twin-hull catamaran, snorkel, laze by the pool or on the beach, or perhaps head up to the hotel’s penthouse spa for a traditional Hawaiian lomi lomi massage.
If I’m feeling energetic I could hike up the hulking extinct volcanic crater Diamond Head, known in Hawaiian as Le’ahi, overlooking Waikiki and Honolulu.
Or maybe even rent a car and drive around the island to check the famous surf breaks – Makaha, Off the Wall, Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach and Pipeline.
My partner knows exactly what she’s doing – shopping, and doing it well. We didn’t realise it before but Waikiki is up there with the top shopping in the Pacific.
And I’m not just talking about tourist knick-knacks or traditional Hawaiian souvenirs – the world’s fashion leaders are here too: Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Armani, Forever 21, Macys, H&M and many more.
I take a raincheck on shopping and head down the Hula Grill for a late breakfast – Portuguese sausage, capsicum and sweet potato hash topped with two fried eggs.
Waikiki has a little something to offer every holidaymaker, no matter what your taste is.
Back in my room to get changed for an afternoon surf, I find a card left on my bed.
Each day there’s another morsel of information about Hawaiian culture, this one about greetings.
The hotel is adorned with pictures, ornaments and placards about the history and culture of Hawaii.
It’s a delicate and subtle way to teach guests about the local traditions. But there are also more hands-on cultural activities for guests to try like flower lei making, hula dancing.
However, the Duke’s Waikiki, on the ground floor of the Outrigger, is really the paragon of the entire beach scene.
Up until it was renovated into it’s current open-air and wood-furniture form, the bars had big glass windows and air conditioning and horrible orange formica tables.
Worse still, Hawaii’s iconic beach boys weren’t really welcome.
So when the Duke’s was designed it was primarily a place where all the beach boys will always be welcome.
Gentle Hawaiian slack guitar with rising and falling vocals waft through the air with the hoots of laughter from holidaymakers every afternoon on this beach.
I make a few quick strokes before the gentle wave rolls into behind my board and I hear the skimming sound as I pick up speed and slide down the face.
I lazily pop up and turn, carefully dodging beginners grappling their boards and faffing about in the shallows.
Just when I think it’s over the wave drops away again on a second reef and reforms, with a fresh glassy wall steepening.
As the wave finally folds over ahead of me I straighten out and shuffle my feet up the nose slightly so it carries me into the beach.
At Waikiki it’s never a question of how long you want your ride to be. You’ve only got to think about how you’re going to get back.
IF YOU GO
GETTING THERE: Jetstar, Qantas and Hawaiian Airlines fly directly to Honolulu from Australia. Jetstar’s prices start at $654 return from Sydney.
STAYING THERE: Outrigger Waikiki Beach offers city-view rooms starting at $US200 ($A260) per night.
PLAYING THERE: There’s almost no end to the tourist attractions available in Waikiki including surfing, snorkelling, hiking, shopping, fine dining and much, much more.
Hawaii’s premier ocean sports festival Duke’s OceanFest, to be held from August 20 to 28, includes surfing, volleyball, swim, stand-up paddle-boarding, tandem surfing and surfboard polo events, as well as traditional Hawaiian music, films and food. Most events cost between $US10 ($A13)-$US60 ($A80) to enter and you can do that online at http://dukesoceanfest.com/applications.
* The writer was a guest of Outrigger Resorts and Hawaii Tourism.