The North Shore of Oahu has rhythm. A tireless, chaotic, unpredictable rhythm. Its tempo may change with each new swell, but the beat is always there, regardless of conditions, forcing us to react. We surf in cut-time on the small days, using our chops to blaze through all the staccato sandbars. On the big days, we work on our spacing, playing spare, forceful notes within the Outer Reef’s legato lines. And every new winter season, we try to make sense of these rhythms, observing movements both on land and in the lineup. This year was no different. Stubborn high-pressure systems, nail-biting title-races, deaths, injuries and northeast swells…they all have their own pulse. And when you string them all together, they make up a song. The song for the North Shore, ’03/’04.

NUMBER THREE THE BIG EAST : NOV. 21 How weird was the North Shore swell pattern this year? Just ask tow-in spirit Garrett McNamara, who in late November added a new spot to his growing list of big-wave haunts. The spot’s spooky name: Sandy Beach. Yup, that Sandy Beach, the one better known for its sponge-heavenly shorebreak and the long-defunct Gotcha Pro. On Nov. 21, a rare, cutoff low-pressure system sent a large, northeast swell straight into the chain’s right coasts. Normally dormant Outer Island spots came alive, and Oahu’s long list of anonymous eastside reefbreaks saw a whole contingent of new faces. But it was Garrett, his partner Ikaika Kalama, Ron Barron and Greg Quinn who scored the rarest bird — a spot they didn’t even know existed. “We knew there was swell on that side,” remembers Garrett. “It was only a question of where to go. That morning, these friends called me from Sandy Beach, guys I hadn’t talked to in 20 years. They’re like, ‘Get over here, Garrett. It’s huge!’ I wasn’t sure what to think, but then Ikaika got some calls and heard the same thing. So we flew on down there.”

Garrett said the wave broke way outside Half Point and peeled all the way to the blowhole — a solid, 20-foot lefthander rivaling any Outer Reef in terms of length. With a disbelieving audience lining the shore, they surfed about four hours. Ikaika caught about 20 waves, while Garrett grabbed 10. It was Garrett’s last wave, though, that prompted the loudest cheers. Taking off way back, he saw a big, heaving section ahead of him and decided to nut up and pull in. “I knew there was no exit,” he said. “But I got some good travel time. Plus, it’s always good when you can go for it and come out of those situations in one piece.”

As of late December, McNamara’s still calling his Sandy Beach assault the best tow session he’s had all winter. “From Jaws to Sandy’s,” he laughs. “Believe it or not.”