Hans Hedemann Surf School
Courtesy Turtle Bay Resort


Though it has been around for more than 40 years, Turtle Bay used to be a bit like me: a little out of place on the wild North Shore. The property, in fact, was originally conceived as a casino, and for decades — even after legislation died that would have allowed gambling — it retained that architecture and ethos.

Perched on a stunning point, primed for postcard vistas, with the drama of the ocean swirling all around, the hotel somehow managed not to seize on its surroundings. Its lobby was closed in, with windowless back walls that blotted out the water. And sure, you could rent surfboards. But they were a side note. The main retail option was a gift shop stocked with muumuus. To locals like Hedemann, the contrast was striking: a resort in the heart of a surfing mecca that pretty much ignored the kowabunga crowd.

“It was like going to Deer Valley and not seeing any lifts,” he says.

Times change, though, and that was then.

Late last year, Turtle Bay unveiled the results of a multimillion-dollar renovation — an overhaul that holds surfing, and surf culture, at its core. All 410 guest rooms have been upgraded, stylized with island fixtures and recast as “epic” rooms (a nod to surfer lingo), not to mention their killer ocean views. The muumuu store is gone, replaced by a coastal lifestyle shop. And the entire lobby has been opened to embrace the ocean, with broad picture windows providing panoramic views and a loungelike hangout called Surfer, the Bar.

As if to punctuate the point, the first thing I notice when we pull up to the valet is an operation bearing my companion’s name. The Hans Hedemann Surf School, once relegated to a tucked-away nook beneath the lobby, now enjoys prime standing front and center, greeting guests as they check in.

“I don’t know about you,” Hedemann says, “but now this whole place fits. It’s just so much more in tune with local culture.”

In the days that followed, those words stayed with me. I came to think of them as an apt description of Oahu itself, a destination showing off a fresh identity, based on traits that have been there all along.