The Night Ocean
When the sun goes down, Maui's ocean enthusiasts come out to play.
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Kenneth “Woozer” Goring would have been the kind of kid who runs around the neighborhood until the streetlights come on. But Woozer grew up with the ocean as his playground. He remembers sitting on his surfboard in Tavares Bay on Maui’s north shore, bobbing in the waves until dark.
“It wasn’t meant to be night surfing; I just couldn’t get myself to come in,” he recalls. “My mom would come out on the point and wave her arms and yell, ‘Come in! Come in!’”
As a college student on O‘ahu, he would march with his longboard through bustling Waikiki — past couples heading to dinner and revelers in high heels — until he reached the shore. There he’d paddle out to his own little floating party on the water.
“You can see the lights and action and hear the lu‘au drums, so it makes you feel like you’re part of the city’s nightlife.”
He notes that, in daylight, some surfers can be competitive and territorial. All that washes away in the dark, and nocturnal wave riders are often each other’s biggest allies.
“Night surf missions are more of a group thing. It’s like ‘Let’s go! Who’s coming?’” Woozer says.
He pauses before adding with a grin, “It also cuts down on your odds of being eaten by a shark.”
Night surfers, he explains, aren’t focused on busting the biggest air or nailing sharp cutbacks. Darkness dictates a different experience altogether. Performance is less important and all that’s left is to enjoy the ride.
Catching waves in the dark is a jolt to one’s senses; engaging those senses collaboratively becomes crucial. Surfers use the glow of a full moon or even flashes of light from passing cars to spot waves forming on the horizon, while the sound of a wave crashing in the distance hints at what’s coming next. A shift in the water or a bump under the board adds another clue to this inexact science.
Because of these variables, night surfers tend to go for smaller waves than they’d choose in daylight. Australian big-wave rider Mark Visser is an exception. In 2011, he was towed via Jet Ski into thirty- to forty-foot waves at Pe‘ahi on Maui’s north shore. Lights built into his vest and board, plus a beam from a helicopter above, guided Visser along the monster wave face.
For the everyday nightrider, though, bigger isn’t necessarily better.
“With night surfing, I just want to feel the cold air and see the light on the water,” says Woozer. “It’s less about performance and more about enjoying the moment.”
Traveling under water at night is like opening a doorway into another ocean. As the sun fades, a cast of underwater characters follows close behind, switching shifts with their diurnal neighbors.
“A lot of the stuff you see at night, you’ll never see during the day,” says Maui Sporting Goods owner Brian Yoshikawa. An avid night diver, he recently spotted a fish he’d never witnessed before, day or night.
“I’ve been doing this for forty years and I’ve never seen anything like it — not even in a book,” he says.
For Brian, night diving isn’t just about checking out the scenery. It’s a chance to chase down one of the ocean’s most prized nocturnal creatures — the Hawaiian spiny lobster. These crawling crustaceans hide in rocks and reefs during the day and come out at night to forage.
Free diving for lobsters at night is relatively inexpensive, compared to other forms of ocean hunting, Brian says. All you need is a wetsuit, gloves, a flashlight and a float system.
“With blue-water spearfishing, it’s going to cost you $3,000 for a complete setup, but with night diving you can spend $500 and you’re good to go — that simplicity is part of the appeal.”