North Shore's Surf Row: Where the pro surfers live
Either by ownership, long-term lease or rental, Ke Nui Road, on the North Shore of Oahu, is now home to world’s biggest surf companies and their best surfers, at least from November through January. From the street, the houses are tough to distinguish, most cut off from the world by thick hedges and intimidating gates. From the beach, though, these properties share something special. In real estate terms, let’s call them big wave adjacent.
Last week, we road-tripped to the North Shore with nothing but a map and a modest dream—to take a neighborly peek over the surf world’s most expensive fences.
When we climb the perilously steep stairs from the beach to this backyard, we’re struck by two things: One, the number of signs reminding guests to wash their feet (in four languages, no less) and two, its openness. There’s no fence along the beachfront. No gate, no hedges and no signs alerting us to dogs that bite.
Surfer Dustin Barca emerges from the house as soon as we arrive; he tells us Oakley has been renting here for years, since Andy Irons won his first Triple Crown a decade ago. It’s full of good memories for the team.
Compared to some of the other properties on this stretch of beach, the three-bedroom house is modest. There can be up to 15 people staying there, but Barca says they have to limit it, because crime is a problem. It’s a concern that’s echoed throughout the day, but definitely not reflected in Barca’s demeanor.
Visible surfboards: 18
Putting greens: 1
People at home: 2, including visiting surfer Jason Magallenes
Pets: 1 (Kapui, a dog whose stamina for playing dead is unparalleled)
Closest neighbor: Rumored to be the Target house. No one’s home next-door, but the number of beach towels bearing a red bull’s-eye seems to confirm.
This house has been rented out by the company in the past, but now that Nike has transitioned its surfers to Hurley (which it also owns) it’s unclear who’s going to set up shop here this winter. Boasting seven bedrooms and two amazing decks overlooking the break at Off the Wall, it’s hard to imagine the property going surfer-free for much longer.
Visible surfboards: 0
People at home: 6 retirees living it up
With its pitched roof jutting prominently above the hedge line, the Billabong house is one of the easiest surf houses to spot from the sand. From the outside, the house is as imposing as the Oakley house is inviting. There’s no beachfront entrance here; a tall brown fence surrounds the property. On the other side of the fence: a manicured stretch of grass, lawn furniture that’s not covered in wet towels (a North Shore rarity) and a lanai that extends the entire length of the house.
There are four groms in the backyard when we arrive, but they make themselves scarce when the topic turns to real estate. Tammy Moniz, whose four sons surf for Billabong and whose daughter, Kelia, is sponsored by Roxy, has been staying at the house for a couple years now. She welcomes us to take a seat on the broad back lanai. “We just got back from Australia, and I think it has kind of an Aussie feel.”
It’s easy to see what she means. The house is immense, but its exterior walls are broken up by tall windows and decks that invite the outside in.
As we talk unhurriedly, people come and go around us. The six bedroom house sleeps 18 comfortably, but during the peak season, the house sees up to 27 guests at a time. There’s one room just full of bunk beds. That said, Moniz describes the house as having a real ohana feel. The boys do their own laundry, she insists, and everyone’s very respectful. If the Billabong house feels closed off to outsiders, it’s matched by a sense of family within its walls.
Moniz also confirms what we hear as we travel up and down surf row: it’s not the epic party scene she remembers from the past. When we ask why not, she credits Kelly Slater. “He’s made it more professional. It’s a sport now.”
Visible surfboards: 11
Pets: 1 small dog called Nahla
People at home: about 7 (groms, Auntie Tammy, Jack Freestone and Alana Blanchard included)
Rental price: $1,200 a night
In addition to the house the Monizes are staying in, Billabong rents the next two houses up Ke Nui, towards Pipe.
The four-bedroom, four-bathroom Blue Wave House next-door rents for $750 a night. It’s where the Billabong A team sleeps. See inside.
The two-bedroom, one-bath home rents for $350 a night. It’s been reserved by Billabong through January. See inside.
Jamie O’Brien’s Dad’s House
There remain a handful of residential properties nestled among the imposing surf houses and rental estates of Ke Nui. Among them is a former sugar mill house, which has been converted into a confusing constellation of rooms and apartments. Professional surfer Jamie O’Brien lived here, and, if you assumed from the beach the house was serving as the headquarters for Red Bull, you could be forgiven. It’s certainly what the awning, beach umbrella, bar tables and custom-built Red Bull Jacuzzi—all gifts from O’Brien’s sponsor—imply.
Though O’Brien has since moved up the road, his dad still lives here, and the house is still decorated in promotional jetsam. Despite not being a surf house, the residents here report all the same problems: strangers at the gate, theft, crowds on the beach and in the line-up.
The place itself feels like the product of an obsessive collector. It’s like being in an antiques shop. The O’Brien artifacts continue inside, along with actual flotsam (old signs that have washed ashore) and stuff bought during movie set liquidations (everything from fake fruit to furniture).
There’s happy-birthday bunting hanging out back, and we ask whose big day we’ve crashed. “We hung it for Jamie’s dad last week, but come back in a year. It’ll still be there.”
Signs threatening trespassers with dog attacks: 1
Dog attacks: None
Attack dogs: None
Pets: 2, a small adorable dog called Gizmo and his much larger, much sleepier companion
Oil paintings of Jamie O’Brien: innumerable
Vans House (or maybe we should say the Vans complex)
The five-bedroom property Vans historically has rented for its surfers will now house (part of) the massive media camp the company is bringing to Haleiwa this winter. Next door, there is a nearly identical house, which is still being renovated for the surf team.
Visible surfboards: 0
Persons at home: 0
Volcom owns two properties along Ke Nui Road, separated from each other by the public right of way to the beach. One is a three-story house steeped in surf history, reserved for use by Volcom’s most elite surfers; the original Volcom property is more of a bungalow.
We pause in the backyard, soaking up the place: a cat (Smokey), a Dora the Explorer flotation device, the head to a now bodiless action figure. That’s when Laserwolf, a surf photographer who’s been on the North Shore for almost 5 years now, turns up. He shows us a picture of Jamie O’ Brien in the barrel on his phone; the next time we see it will be on stabmag.com.
The smaller property has that famed frat house feel. We notice an indoor leather couch propped up on cinder blocks on the back deck, followed by a Volcom mural painted on the outside wall. “It was raining out,” Laserwolf offers by way of explanation for the impromptu art installation.
Volcom surfer Kaimana Henry manages the house, and he lives there year round. There are three bedrooms on the ground floor and a basement full of bunk beds that the groms call “the dungeon.” When the house is really packed, it sleeps about 15 people.
“It’s definitely not like it used to be,” Henry says about the parties, but, almost immediately, someone changes the subject to the pair of underwear that’s lying in the middle of the deck. It’s questionable whether it’s a male’s or female’s. Nobody picks it up.
Volcom snatched up the four-bedroom beachfront property next-door and rents it out for $1,000 night when the surfers aren’t around. Former residents include North Shore surf legends Gerry Lopez and Herbie Fletcher.
Despite the radically different aesthetics, the two houses share a certain atmosphere. Behind the high hedges and even higher fences lies the location of the house party you only ever dreamed about in high school and college.
Visible surfboards: A walk-in closetful
People at home: 4 (including a quick drop-by from surf photographer Brent Bielmann)
Beers in the recycling bin: a disappointing 1
Jamie O’Brien’s House
Surfer Jamie O’Brien lives in what feels like the backyard of the Volcom properties, sandwiched between the big house and Ke Nui Road, just a few houses up the beach from his dad. Since we were in the neighborhood, we stopped by to see if the surfer-cum-real estate investor could tell us anything about his own house. O’Brien explained that his home was the original beachfront property on the lot. It’s where Gerry Lopez used to stay, before the big house was built.
Pets: 2 dogs (including the inexhaustibly curious Bruno)
People at home: 5
Red Bull promotional materials: 1 hat