Mixed Plate

Classic Brenneckes--crystal blue barrels and big crowds

More than anywhere else, Brenneckes is the surf spot that captured my imagination and addicted me to the art of wave riding.

Brenneckes was (sadly, this is past tense) situated just east of Poipu beach, a beautiful little sand cove where south swells funneled in. It was designated as a no surfboard zone, so bodysurfers and bodyboarders alike reveled in the lineup.

The wave itself was pure magic. It was pretty much a closeout wave, but unlike my other break Running Waters, you could get a lot of distance before the curtain finally fell for good.

The water had this beautiful greenish-blue tinge, and the barrel was just pristine and crystalline. To this day, I can still see the almond eye in my mind, with sunlight streaming through the silvery curtain.

I was introduced there by my dad, who used to shove my brother and me into whitewater waves on those little Styrofoam surfboards that snapped so easily (pre-bodyboard days). I still remember watching an 8 mm movie that my mom took of my brother who was riding and got bowled over by a side wave--so funny!

My mom and dad got us real Morey Boogie "boogieboards", I think in 1976, and we were like, "OK, now what?" Little did I realize that this would turn into a lifetime obsession.

Anyway, when I was about 14, I finally got the nerve to get past the whitewater shorebreak and into blue water (yeah, I know, I sucked). It was then that I realized that I could ride the face of the wave rather than just the crumble.

Throughout the ensuing summers, I was "coerced" to ride waves with my buddies Jon, Brad and Wayne. We'd hook up on the weekends and ride with the throngs of others who sprinkled the lineup.

I soon realized that there was a very distinct hierarchy in the lineup. The local Koloa Boys pretty much had a lock on the good waves, with the older and better riders getting the lion's share of rides. Some of the characters I remember include the Rat, Hank and Abram. In my eyes, they were so skilled, doing these 360's (aku-belly spins, more like spinning your board around, half-bodysurfing), kneeboarding (sometimes dropknee, sometimes two knees), and charging the big (overhead) surf.

It wasn't like Australia, where grom hazing takes on a whole new meaning. However, I could see the hierarchy in who got what waves, and punks who got out of line were immediately dealt with by being constantly burned (dropped in on). I couldn't wait to gain just a little more status so I could get better waves.

One of my idols was Mario Balmores. This guy was the embodiment of smooth. He was one of the few who could stand on his bodyboard, with both fins on no less, and just cruise in the pit. He had a very casual attitude, and never flailed. Just a couple of strokes and kicks and he was up and riding. I decided I wanted to ride like him.

Unfortunately, my skills were woefully inadequate. I could not stand up on my board. I finally figured out that by using a single fin, I could stand upright before going over the falls. It was an exciting time just trying and trying to get it going.

After months, I could finally ride: standup going right and prone going left. Talk about limited skills. But I was having fun (I think). I used to cop some serious beatings, just getting tumbled and flipped everywhere, but it was exciting. It wasn't something that was forced on me--for once, I had pursued an activity all by myself.

I remember picking up my friends on Sundays, right after church. Then we'd drive to the "No Parking" zone right on the shoulder to check out the waves.

As with most places, there are many moods to Brenneckes. Mornings and evenings had totally different feels and vibes. When south swells came in, it was awesome seeing the whole bay close out.

One time, we thought we could make it out in wild surf. No one else was out and the lifeguard warned us. But in our youth, we thought we could handle. Trying to time it, we charged off the rocks and into the maelstrom. All four of us ended up getting washed back to shore without even catching a single ride. We were humbled.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. In November 1982 Hurricane Iwa blew over Kauai, obliterating Brenneckes. All the sand (and I mean all) was washed away, deposited several miles away around the cove. The Brenneckes house was literally lifted off its foundation and shoved across the road by the high waves. The road itself was demolished.

About a year later, I tried surfing the place, but it just wasn't the same. The sandbar was replaced by small boulders. The wave was a dumpy, choppy peak--a far cry from the old perfection.

Then in 1992, Hurricane Iniki made a direct hit on the island, further damaging the fragile coastline.

There have been several initiatives by Rego Trucking and the City and County of Kauai to replenish the beach with sand, but there's a long way to go before it can return to its original majesty.

Interestingly, Hurricane Iwa moved the sand to a formerly rocky coastline and improved the wave over there. Now, the sandbar at Shipwrecks is my Kauai south shore surf destination. Although the Brenneckes of old only exists in my mind and in the photos I've taken, the spirit and stoke of the break lives on elsewhere.

The author, Brenneckes, circa 1980