Shades of surfer his­tory

Pad­dling back into Hawaii’s Tur­tle Bay af­ter 35 years

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - PHIL JARRATT

I AM cruis­ing up the Kam High­way on Oahu’s North Shore, on my way to an ap­point­ment with ho­tel his­tory, when I see a road­side sign that makes me laugh out loud. At the end of my friend Mark Cun­ning­ham’s drive­way at Kawela Bay there is an un­avoid­able red paint warn­ing: NUFF HO­TELS AL­READY!

I feel like a traitor when, about 2km down the road, I wheel into Tur­tle Bay Re­sort to check in. For decades, the thought­ful, philo­soph­i­cal Cun­ning­ham — re­cently re­tired as the North Shore’s chief life­guard and for a quar­ter of a cen­tury revered as the world’s best body surfer — and his friends have been fight­ing against planned con­do­minium ex­ten­sions to the land­mark ho­tel that be­gan life in 1972 as Del Webb’s Kuil­ima Re­sort Ho­tel and Coun­try Club.

It’s an im­por­tant fight and they’ve won sig­nif­i­cant vic­to­ries in the Hawaii state leg­is­la­ture, ef­fec­tively con­tain­ing Tur­tle Bay Re­sort to its al­ready sprawl­ing es­tate, with two golf cour­ses near Kahuku, and pro­tect­ing the nearvir­gin Kawela Bay in one di­rec­tion and the farm­lands and bun­ga­lows of the lush wind­ward coast in the other.

Tur­tle Bay re­mains the only ho­tel worth the de­scrip­tion on the North Shore, but the op­po­si­tion to its ex­pan­sion has seen off sev­eral cor­po­rate own­ers in re­cent years.

For all that, it’s played a sig­nif­i­cant part in surf­ing his­tory and en­joys a mag­nif­i­cent po­si­tion on the pin­na­cle of two wild coasts. Fol­low­ing a re­cent facelift, it is a very pleas­ant place to spend a quiet few days.

Although there was bit­ter op­po­si­tion from the big- wave pioneers who had set­tled at nearby Sunset Beach, when the Kuil­ima first opened, it pro­vided em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties for the itin­er­ant hip­pie surfers who flocked to the North Shore from across the world for the big wave sea­son from Novem­ber to Fe­bru­ary.

By the mid-1970s, how­ever, it had failed as a golf re­sort and the con­do­mini­ums around the perime­ter of the course be­came cheap long-term rentals for vis­it­ing surfers. It was to the Kui con­dos that the Aussie con­tin­gent re­paired in the win­ter of 1976 when a cell of lo­cal surfers started get­ting vi­o­lent in and out of the water. The emerg­ing cham­pi­ons with the loud­est mouths (Wayne ‘‘Rab­bit’’ Bartholomew and Ian ‘‘Kanga’’ Cairns) had the most to fear, but we all felt a lot safer in­side the Kui’s se­cu­rity com­pound.

The rea­son for my re­turn visit con­cerns an­other piece of surf­ing his­tory from the same sea­son. In 1970, Clark Gable’s step­son, the cu­ri­ously nick­named An­thony ‘ ‘ Bunker’’ Spreck­els, in­her­ited more than $US50 mil­lion as the re­sult of his mother’s brief mar­riage to sugar baron Adolf Spreck­els. It was an ac­ci­dent of lin­eage, but Bunker, a very good surfer and early de­sign in­no­va­tor, made the most of it.

When I met him at the Kuil­ima in late 1976, he was pasty, over­weight and near dead from drug and al­co­hol abuse. We got on like a house on fire. As it turned out, over sev­eral ex­cep­tion­ally strange days at his beach­side ca­bana, I recorded the last pub­lished in­ter­view with Bunker be­fore his death in Jan­uary 1977 at 27, a num­ber that, for hell­rais­ers, is the equiv­a­lent of the crick­eter’s 87.

Now the Ja­panese mag­nate, phi­lan­thropist and long­boarder Takuji ‘‘Tak’’ Ma­suda, who di­vides his time be­tween homes in Zurich, Tokyo and Mal­ibu, wants to use my work as the nar­ra­tive back­bone for his doc­u­men­tary fea­ture on Bunker, film­ing me wan­der­ing around the mod­ern Tur­tle Bay Re­sort, look­ing re­flec­tive and, pre­sum­ably, older and wiser. As gigs go, I’ve had tougher ones. We record the au­dio at singer Jack John­son’s nearby stu­dio and then, with Tak de­layed on some other mis­sion for 24 hours, I reac­quaint my­self with the re­sort.

It was quite glam­orous to us back in the day, then it be­came tacky, and now, I have to say, I love it again. The re­sort fat cats who have come and gone might not un­der­stand this, but Cun­ning­ham and the North Shore Coali­tion have prob­a­bly done Tur­tle Bay a favour. It is what it is. Pe­ri­odic facelifts can’t dis­guise the fact this is a 70s re­sort, and for me that is a plus.

Tur­tle Bay’s five restau­rants range from burg­ers and beers at the pool­side Hang Ten and coun­try club cool at Lei Leis on the golf course (where lo­cals go) to ex­quis­ite seafood (piled way too high, so share) at the sig­na­ture res­tau­rant 21 De­grees.

My favourite: a sunset swim in the la­goon, fol­lowed by a beer and a fish taco at Ola’s out­side ta­bles on the sand. The re­sort now has a dude ranch and great beach walk­ing in ei­ther di­rec­tion. To wind­ward, the tourist mecca of the Poly­ne­sian Cul­tural Cen­tre is at hand, but if you can’t stand the happy throngs, just drive the Kam High­way and check the sim­ple fish­ing bun­ga­low ar­chi­tec­ture and its back­drop of green.

Along the North Shore, Waimea Bay and Falls are spec­tac­u­lar and, be­yond, Old Haleiwa is still charm­ing, with street­side shell mar­kets and great bars.

Tip: eat at Joe’s.

A Beach Cot­tage at Tur­tle Bay Re­sort on Oahu’s North Shore

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