A 52-acre recreational lagoon and shoreside commercial development called Wai Kai featuring a surfing wave pool with the world’s largest standing wave opens Saturday in Ewa Beach.
The $112 million commercial complex, which extends along the Wai Kai Lagoon’s inland shoreline, includes three restaurants, a coffee shop and bar, two event lawns, a boardwalk, a fire pit and terrace, the Nalo Kai Club with private lounge, Sessions Lifestyle & Apparel shop, a sandy area, a dock, lagoon equipment rentals — all anchored by an artificial wave attraction called the Wai Kai Wave.
The Wai Kai lagoon and commercial complex, which held a private celebration with about 450 attendees Wednesday, is getting lots of positive buzz from those in the community that see it as the activation of a long-planned and shifting centerpiece of Hoakalei Resort and Ocean Pointe communities produced by Haseko Development Inc.
The development, which Haseko chose to do in phases due to the pandemic, is expected to bring new economic opportunities, community benefits and further support for Ewa Beach. The neighborhood has been on an upswing since the 2019 opening of a $23 million clubhouse at Hoakalei Country Club, which is preparing on April 9-15 to host its second LOTTE Championship, a women’s professional golf tournament on the LPGA Tour.
At the same time, its wave attraction has drawn criticism for its use of potable water when clean drinking water is a concern islandwide. There are those who worry that the attraction will increase tourism, which could change the fabric of the neighborhood and snarl traffic.
Haseko’s Director of Retail Development Larry Caster said in a statement, “Wai Kai aims to create community and connection through interactive and engaging activities, dining and events. We’re excited to provide a unique place for locals to gather while introducing travelers to the vibrant surf and waterman lifestyle for which Hawaii is known.”
Nicole Fuertes, The LineUp at Wai Kai’s marketing director, said Oahu’s latest gathering place will offer farmers markets; Wahine Wednesdays, a surf, paddle or yoga session followed by food and drink specials at The LookOut; and Sustainability Sundays, a monthly event highlighting local non-profit organizations’ sustainability efforts. Camp Kai, a multi-day camp for children, also will operate during certain dates throughout the year, Fuertes said.
There’s also the Wai Kai Wave Surf Academy, which was developed by Shane Beschen, a former No. 2 ranked surfer in the world, X-Games Champion and currently Red Bull’s high-performance surf coach, to help anyone become a better surfer.
The cost for rides will include a variety of options, but pricing starts at $90 for a 45-minute surf session and $45 for a one-hour watercraft rental. Local pricing starts at $70 for a 45-minute surf session and $34 for a one-hour watercraft rental. Monthly and annual memberships also will be offered. For more information, visit https://atthelineup.com/.
The wave attraction is similar to a river wave where fast-moving water rushes over a subsurface slope to produce a stationary, continuous wave. Skip Taylor, a partner with Surf Park Management whose Hawaii consultancies include helping to turn Turtle Bay Resort into a surfing destination, said “It’s basically Waimea River on steroids.”
Taylor said Hawaii has a long history of river surfing, which will be highlighted during the Wai Kai Show, a wave-pool show with surfing as well as Hawaiian and Tahitian dancing. He said the show is slated to start April 17 and continue on Mondays thereafter.
Rainer Klimaschewski, who developed the citywave surf technology with his wife, Susi Klimaschewski, said the Wai Kai Wave is one of 15 similar wave pools that they’ve produced around the world, though Wai Kai Wave is the widest at 100 feet. Klimaschewski said the next widest is a 55-foot wave at Lakeside Surf at Lake Chelan near Seattle.
Klimaschewski said the technology behind citywave goes back about a decade and the company’s involvement with Wai Kai was tied to Beschen, who has competed in surf contests in their native Germany.
“We are very proud to come to Hawaii and build a wave because Hawaii is the origin of surfing,” he said. “Hawaii is No. 1 for surfing all over the world and it’s such high-quality surfing.”
Taylor with Surf Park Management said the breaking, but not barreling, wave can be adjusted from 2 to 6 feet in height, and the padded pool is deep enough to allow use by regular surfboards instead of only boards with no fins. Haseko can partition the pool into three sections to offer wave variety and higher-volume use, he said.
Beschen said in a statement, “Our goal isn’t to replace the ocean, rather to be a valuable resource for water enthusiasts. It’s the perfect practice arena for the sport’s best to hone their craft, and an accessible entry point for beginners to learn in a controlled environment.”
Brian Keaulana, co-founder of Honokea, where a different type of wave park is planned, said artificial surf technology has the potential to dilute the Hawaiian surf culture and the respect that the ocean deserves. However, he said it can be a powerful training tool when developed in the right way with Hawaii’s surf culture and etiquette at the forefront.
“The thing I really love about what Wai Kai is doing is hiring the local people, the local surfers, the local community— it’s those people that really are going to branch out and teach the rest of the world when they come down,” Keaulana said.
Taylor said some big names in the world of surf already have tried out the Wai Kai Wave, including Olympic gold medalist Carissa Moore, world champion big-wave surfer Kai Lenny, and “Mr. Pipeline” Gerry Lopez.
Lenny said in a statement, “I had the best time visiting The LineUp. It’s the perfect environment to improve surfing technique and try out different tricks because it’s a never-ending ride. I can’t wait to go back.”
Realtor Shannon Severance of RE/Max Honolulu, who lives in Haseko’s Hoakalei Resort, said the attraction will work in concert with other new offerings to elevate Oahu’s West Side.
“It will pump in employment opportunities for our families and we’ll be able to have more eateries. The more and more stuff that opens around there — the better,” Severance said. “We get more of an address, we get more of a ZIP code.”
Taylor said The LineUP, which includes the The LookOut Food & Drink, Foam Coffee & Bar and water activities, will open with approximately 250 employees. The Kitchen Door, a dual-concept restaurant from Michelin-awarded Chef Todd Humphries, Maui-born restaurateur Richard Miyashiro and Managing Partner Tim Seberson, aims to open with about 75 employees across the Plaza Grill, its premier waterfront restaurant, and its counter-service Boardwalk Cafe.
Humphries said the menu is global comfort food inspired by “what chefs like to eat when they go out.”
Sen. Glenn Wakai (D- Kalihi-Salt Lake-Aliamanu) is most excited about the potential of surf technology. While Hawaii is the birthplace of surfing, Wakai said other locales have achieved greater economic and community benefits from surfing.
“California and Australia own surfing. They’ve taken what was originally Hawaii’s and made it their own,” he said. “We’ve just sat here in Hawaii watching other entities and locales take what was ours.”
Wakai said his request for the U.S. Olympic Team to consider using the Wai Kai Wave pool for training is pending. He also has suggested using the venue to run high school surf competitions.
The project has received criticism from state Sen. Kurt Fevella (R-Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point) who questioned why the company is using potable water for its wave pool instead of brackish lagoon water that has about one-third the salinity of seawater.
“What they did in the worst water crisis in Hawaii’s history (Red Hill) opening up the largest water wave pool, that’s not pono. Our infrastructure cannot handle what they say they are going to do to that park,” Fevella said.
Taylor said the Wai Kai Wave pool holds 1.7 million gallons of water, or about 2-1/2 times the water needed to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
Haseko said it opted to use potable water due to a combination of factors including maintenance, health regulation standards and impact on lagoon biology.
Taylor said The LineUp is going after a sustainability rating from the Sustainable Tourism & Outdoors Kit for Evaluation (STOKE), which measures sustainability within the surf park industry. He said $1 from every guest activity booking also will be donated to the Hawaii-based SeaTrees program to support educational programs as well as coastal restoration.
Fevella also expressed concern about the impact of traffic, especially from tourists, which he expects based on pricing will be the park’s heaviest users.
Caster said Haseko is projecting that over 65% of the site’s patrons will be locals, and that future development will depend on their support as well as the success of the project.
He said in Phase I Haseko has only developed about 30,000 square feet of the project’s allowable 350,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space. He said Haseko also is permitted to develop up to 950 low-density hotel-type units and about 850 resort residential units, which would likely be mid-rise condominiums and apartments.
Star-Advertiser staff writer Andrew Gomes contributed to this report.
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