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Moonlight casts a cool glow over the ocean as a night surfer prepares to paddle out a Publics
Vol. 11, No. 1
February/March 2008

  >>   Night Shift
  >>   Ancient Pathways
  >>   Trees of Life

Night Shift 

story by Derek Ferrar
photos by Chris McDonough


It’s midnight in Waikiki, and I’m walking barefoot and shirtless through the concrete heart of Honolulu’s beach metropolis, my eight-foot town funboard tucked under my arm. All around, the sidewalks are crawling with other creatures of the Waikiki night: decked-out clubbies, furtive trash-can scavengers, knots of tourist revelers. Offshore, head-high breakers glitter in the refracted light of a full moon and the city electric.

“What, you going surfing now?” a beefy braddah hanging out on the corner barks incredulously. “Brah, that’s nuts.” But I’m hardly alone; Kalakaua Avenue is buzzing with posses heading to and from the waves, devotees of that sub-culture of a sub-culture: night surfing.

To call the night-surfing experience “cosmic” is as much fact as it is surf-speak cliché. It is a fundamentally celestial pursuit, possible only when the moon—that cool, radiant muse of poets, shamans and lovers through the ages—is in her monthly fullness, with no veil of cloud hiding her face. And when you paddle out at night, the ocean itself resembles the void of space—a vast, enveloping blackness that renders you weightless.

Night surfing is predominantly a communal activity—after all, no one really wants to be out there alone among things that go munch in the night. And Waikiki, with its comparatively mild surf and reassuring thrum of humanity, is an especially storied spot for after-hours ripping.

Tales of surfing under the stars at Waikiki stretch back as far as the modern history of wave-riding itself. In 1909, eccentric wandering journalist Alexander Hume Ford—who introduced the royal Hawaiian sport to Jack London, and thus to the world—wrote of Waikiki beachboys fastening lamps to their long redwood boards “to ride the breakers in a circle of light” as part of an annual beach carnival.

Tom Blake, a legendary early surfing innovator who migrated to Waikiki in the Roaring ’20s, wrote of riding waves under the moon: “In the moonlight, incoming swells creep up like great shadowy creatures. One cannot realize the silence of the ground swells until waiting for them at night. From the shore, surfriders in the moonlight look strange and unreal ... one is never sure what it is until a rider lets out a yell. At night it is easy to yell because a person’s nerves are on edge in spite of the fun and beauty of the scene.”