by Catharine Lo
John Clark started surfing in 1954 at Canoes in Waikiki. He was eight years old. "By the time I hit high school, I was surfing all the spots from Diamond Head to Ala Moana," he recalls. "When my friends and I started driving, we went on surf safaris all over the island. And I mean all over the island." When he became a lifeguard at Sandy Beach in 1972 and then a member of the Honolulu Fire Department two years later, Clark became even more familiar with Oahu’s beaches. A lifesaver and consummate waterman, he decided to write a book. The result, after five years of research, was Beaches of Oahu, which immediately became the guide to the island’s sandy playgrounds. From Oahu, Clark branched out and penned Beaches of Maui County, Beaches of the Big Island, Beaches of Kauai and Niihau and Hawaii’s Best Beaches. Today, he is the indisputable expert on our beaches, and his thoroughness is legendary—his guides include descriptions and info on the dangers, uses, history and culture of every site. "I go to every beach, often a number of times, walk it, check it out, talk to the lifeguards, talk to the people using it, then write it all down," he says. "I have journals for every beach book that I’ve written."
photo by Kyle Rothenborg
That thoroughness begs the inevitable question: Which beach is his favorite?
"I don’t have one," he says diplomatically. "All of our favorite beaches, including mine, depend on the activities we like to do. I’m a surfer, so the beaches I like are the ones where I surf." Still, he will point to some of his favorites on Oahu: Hanauma Bay, "still one of the most beautiful settings in Hawaii"; Goat Island in Laie, "my favorite get-away-from-it-all beach"; and an area near Mokuleia Beach where "I find shells, turtles feed at the water’s edge, whales jump during the winter, seals visit once in a while, the ocean is clean, and the waves are usually good."
Clark, who has continued his heroic career and is now Honolulu’s Deputy Fire Chief, also has words of caution for all who head to the sea: "Every year we lose people when high surf sweeps them off steep beaches or rocky ledges," he cautions. "Visitors especially constantly underestimate the power of our surf." Beaches of Oahu was just re-released with updated maps, photographs and text covering 130 beaches. In it, you’ll find all the info you need before you head out the door: from a description of the petroglyphs at Ke Iki to the story behind the naming of Pray-for-Sex Beach.