To get to Sandy’s we first have to get past the lady parts.
See, the road from Honolulu to the popular bodysurfing beach known as Sandy’s takes us past Koko Head Crater, a dramatic volcanic tuff cone whose name in Hawaiian is Kohelepelepe which means, uh, cough, “labia minora.”
In the legends of Pele, the goddess of the volcano, one of Pele’s sisters attempted to attract a demi-god by the name of Kamapua’a by throwing her va-jay-jay to this spot. Kamapua’a, by the way, appears in Hawaiian legends in the form of a pig. A handsome pig, but pig nonetheless.
Look, I just report this stuff; I don’t make it up. Okay, that’s enough morning TV talk for the moment.
Once past the urogynecologist’s dream site the road to Sandy’s passes some very beloved spots favored by our 8 million visitors each year as well as locals.
We pass the famed snorkel spot Hanauma Bay and the Halona Blowhole, where sea water rushes through a submerged tunnel in the lava rock, compresses vast quantities of air and then geysers into the atmosphere in time with the waves.
Next to the Blowhole is a small inlet and beach area that garnered attention as the place of the William Holden/Deborah Kerr love scene in the 1950s movie From Here to Eternity.
Hollywood and the Hawaii Tourism Authority would like visitors to call this idyllic place “Eternity Cove” but to locals it’s known as “Cockroach Gulch” after the sizable population of 3” Periplaneta americana that inhabit a narrow lava tube at the base of the wall framing the cove.
After the Blowhole, we start along the last wild stretch of Oahu coast line, an area called the Ka Iwi Coast. Ka Iwi literally means “The Bones” in reference to its historical significance as the launching point for King Kamehameha I’s campaign to unite the Hawaiian Islands and where Pele, the Goddess of Fire, first arrived and then departed from the island on her travels. Ka Iwi is also the name of the adjacent channel between Oahu and Molokai, our nearest neighbor island and a reliable place to whale-watch in the winter months.
Finally, the Malt arrives at Sandy’s. The name itself is a bit of a puzzle. Most newcomers refer to it as “Sandy Beach” and that makes sense because the sand there is very fine and notorious for getting into everything including, probably, your Kohelepelepe.
But locals and makule (well-seasoned) guys like me always refer to the beach as Sandy’s using the possessive form which recalls old tales of a fisherman of that name who frequented the rocks near the blowhole. Others say that “Sandys” without the apostrophe is just a local pidgin form. Whatever.
In Hawaiian there is no single name for the beach. The bodysurfing area is called Wāwāmalu which sort of means tumultuous or thundering roar. The other end is named ʻŌkuʻu which means to crouch and probably refers to folks hunched around a healing stone near the ocean.
In addition to its super-fine sand, Sandy’s is known for some really rugged shore break surf. How rugged? Well, more injuries occur annually at Sandy’s than any other beach in the State of Hawaiʻi. It is also a formidable consumer of bikini tops.
The problem is that many experienced bodysurfers are always in the water, making riding the waves look easy. Visitors unfamiliar with the beach misjudge the dangers and often get into trouble. For this reason, lifeguards have been stationed at Sandy since 1971 and they are very busy. Searching for missing bikini tops among other activities.
Sandy’s famous waves are formed by a quick change in the ocean bottom. The sea bottom at Sandy’s is mostly sand patches and shallow rock ledges.
At the water’s edge the bottom drops off abruptly to an average depth of eight to ten feet.
This abrupt change in depth creates the steep, hard-breaking waves in Sandy’s shorebreak, which in turn generate ferocious rip currents.
Besides the shorebreak, Sandy’s has several other popular bodysurfing and bodyboarding sites: Pipe Littles and Half Point in front of the bathroom and a board surfing break called Full Point on an offshore reef near the east end of the beach.
In my younger days, I was an avid bodysurfer owing mostly to a lack of the fast twitchy muscles that would have made me a better board surfer.
For years I surfed at Sandy’s but it was never my preferred location simply because of the beating it delivered on every visit.
This part of Oahu was quite remote until recently. In the late 1800s and early 1900s it was used for ranching, a practice that changed the ecology as native vegetation like beach sandalwood was replaced by Kiawe (mesquite) and Wiliwili for cattle feed.
It is a harsh land of low, wind-swept dunes and ‘a’a lava – the very sharp crumbly kind of volcanic output not at all like the smooth, flowing, gloopy stuff (pahoehoe) produced by the current eruption on the Big Island.
Sandy’s was not accessible by automobile until 1931, when a coastal road following the cliffs from Hanauma Bay was completed.
The new road attracted sightseers and campers, along with the fisher folk, but few swimmers because of the rough seas and rip currents.
The area was ripped by major tsunamis at least four times during the last century, involving the Aleutian tsunamis of 1946 and 1957, the 1952 Kamchatka Tsunami, and 1960 Chile Tsunami.
These tsunamis had the side effect of destroying all of the recorded archaeological sites within the coastal plain.
To this day, parts of the Ka Iwi coast line are sterilized by the salt washed ashore by the tsunamis which are reported to have reach 36 feet in height.
During the late 1940s and 1950s, when not dodging tsunamis, bodysurfers taught themselves how to ride the shorebreak and by the 1960s, the beach had become a popular destination.
In 1968, when the City of Honolulu improved the park and added a restroom/shower facility, Sandy’s became one of the most popular beaches among teenagers and its reputation as a dare devil wave-riding site was solidified in the 1970s with the introduction of the bodyboard or paipo.
In the 1980s and 1990s there were many attempts by developers to build on the precious resource of wild coast line. Fortunately, citizen action and push-back defeated the developers. The City re-zoned sections of the land to put it off-limits to moneyed interests and, finally, in 2010 the state of Hawaii protected the last sections by re-designating them from “urban” to “conservation.”
In October 2014, Honolulu City Council member Stanley Chang proposed changing the name of Sandy’s to “President Barack Obama Sandy Beach Park.”
That proposal really got our collective Kohelepelepe in a twist. The plans were dropped due to howls of opposition from the public.
Max enjoyed his visit to Sandy’s but he liked the ice cream cone we bought him even more. He’s not much of a beach dog but he’s always a willing companion as we travel Oahu exploring our island home.