Mike McHale: Life on Hawaii's north shore

Image by Grace Picot

Image by Grace Picot

Every surfer on the planet (and many non-surfers) will be familiar with the North Shore of Oahu. Home to some of the world's finest beaches, Oahu is a popular destination for surfing, swimming, snorkelling and diving. During winter months the swells at notorious surf spots Waimea Bay, Pipeline, and Sunset Beach can reach 30 feet or more, causing dangerous conditions even for the most experienced surfer.

The North Shore Lifeguard Association are a group of full-time workers who have committed their lives to patrolling this dangerous stretch of beach. Local lifeguard Mike McHale was kind enough to give us some tips about visiting the North Shore, including where to eat, the best time to visit and how to stay safe ...

Image by Grace Picot

Image by Grace Picot

Interview with Mike McHale: North Shore, Oahu 


What do you love about living on the North Shore?

I have lived on the North Shore for 26 years. I love the accessibility to the ocean and the mountains. It's quite easy to go to the beach daily whether to surf, paddle, sail or fish. Also getting to the mountains is very accessible for hiking, hunting, dirt biking or mountain biking.


When's the best time of year to visit?

If you are looking for surf the best time to visit the North Shore is Nov. - Feb. But if you want beautiful swimming and snorkelling and a more relaxed pace I recommend June and July.

3 things that you recommend to visitors of the North Shore

  • An early morning beach walk

  • A short hike up to the WW 2 bunkers

  • Watch the sunset.

Image by Grace Picot

Image by Grace Picot

Where would you go for a good Hawaiian cultural experience?

Waimea Valley has some great cultural information if you take the time to to listen and learn from their guides. Also seeking out volunteering jobs at places like Loko 'Ea fish pond is a way to connect and learn about local cultural ways.

Where would you recommend to eat on the North Shore? 

Eating out here on the North Shore has really changed in the last few years. We now have some great "Lunch Truck" options. At the top of that list is Pupukea Grill, Sandy's Sandwiches, and Impossible's Pizza. As far as dinner goes Cafe Haleiwa has a great menu and for the vegetarian eaters The Beet Box Cafe. Both are BYOB and right next to the Bonzer Front where you can shop for beer and wine.

Image by Grace Picot

Image by Grace Picot

Are there any good local festivals?

If you are into surfing the Triple Crown could be considered a festival. Other than that it's pretty quiet. There's the occasional art and crafts show and the weekly farmers' markets. Waimea Valley hosts an annual Makahiki festival as well.

If you were to recommend 1 other Hawaiian island to visitors, which one would you say?

If you are willing to get out and explore, Maui has a lot to offer. You can visit the high mountain views of Haleakala and take a long drive on the Hana Highway.

Image by Grace Picot

Image by Grace Picot

What's it like to be a lifeguard on the North Shore? 

Working as a full time North Shore Lifeguard is a real life gift. We always say "we get paid in waves and sunshine". Honestly our pay is almost depressingly low but, being at the beach 40 hours a week, our camaraderie is high. 

We really do save lives and that feels great. My advice to visitors, especially during high surf season is to respect the ocean! Understand that just because you are on vacation and paid to come here doesn't mean that it's a free for all. The warnings from Lifeguards come for a reason and it's actually your safety we have in mind. when going to the beach and there are warning sings posted, it's always a good idea to check in with an open minded attitude. We'll help you find the right beach for the day, recommend a place to eat and a few other must do things to see along the way. 

Remember, when travelling anywhere in the world, it's all in the approach of how you ask. Ask nicely and the doors will open!

Image by Grace Picot

Image by Grace Picot

What does 'aloha' mean to you?

To me, Aloha means sharing and caring for one another. Making sure nobody goes without. If you have something, always offer it up first. Give with no expectation of return. There's a saying "Live Aloha, Die Broke." If you can understand that, then you can enjoy the Aloha Spirit.

More about Mike: Instagram  Website (unfortunately, the business of saving lives isn't as lucrative as some may think, so in his spare time Mike runs a prop hire company. Check it out!)

Thanks for your time, Mike!