How To Surf Sunset with Hank Gaskell

If you’re looking for a true North Shore gut-check, look no further than Sunset Beach. Once heralded as the pinnacle of the Hawaiian surfing experience, Sunset has been overshadowed by high-performance venues like Off the Wall and Pipe in recent years. But ask any North Shore surfer worth their salt, and they’ll tell you that the North Shore experience is incomplete until you’ve paid your dues at Sunset. To guide us through the lineup, we rang up two-time Sunset champ Hank Gaskell, for some insight into surfing’s original proving grounds.

Hank Gaskell, looking all too casual on his way into a powerful Sunset bowl. Photo: Heff

Surfing Sunset can be a really humbling experience. It’s not like many other waves on the North Shore. Even though it doesn’t get as much exposure as some of the other spots, it’s still one of the best waves on the North Shore. It’s always changing and it’s just really, really hard to surf well—I guess that’s what makes it so fun. It’s not easy.

The currents at Sunset are kind of legendary. I’ve had some sessions out there where all I did was fight the current. The entire session was a battle. I actually had a heat there once where one of the guys in the heat got sucked out to Backyards and had to get towed in by a Jet Ski. So the currents are no joke, you’ve got to keep mind of them the whole time you’re out there.

As far as boards go, if you want to use a 10-foot day as an example, I’ll ride a 6’11” or a 7’2″ Tokoro. Those boards seem to always kill it out there. You definitely want a bigger board out there, something with a little more meat that can handle an open wave like that. You’ll be dodging plenty of West Bowl sets, so you want something that you can paddle.

The crowds out at Sunset aren’t as intense as they are at some of the other places on the North Shore. I mean, it can still get pretty dense, but it’s mostly an older group of guys who surf there a lot. As long as you know what you’re doing, the crowds don’t have to be too intimidating.

As far as actually surfing Sunset is concerned, my favorite part of surfing the wave is how you can really lay into your turns there. You’ll have all this speed and energy and the wave is just bending back at you—it just makes it perfect for putting all of your strength into your turns. It’s one of my favorite things about surfing Sunset, it’s a real down-the-line wave that allows you to put everything you have into it.