An interesting ordinance is making its way through the City and County Council of Honolulu that could change the Hawaiian surfing experience forever.
Yep, Bill 041 has been introduced to take on the proliferation of short-term rentals, or STRs as they are known, and it has made its way through an initial preliminary council vote. It’s now under review by a few different council committees before a final vote, and then final approval by Mayor Blangiardi.
Let’s back up a minute.
Since the 1940s, surfers have been making the trek to Oahu’s North Shore to take on the challenge of some of the world’s most powerful yet perfect surf. There wasn’t much out there back then and it stayed that way up through the 1970s, with mostly beach cottages and other small structures making up most of the development. An industrious surfer could rent one and stay a month or two without really spending a bunch of cash. Property owners quickly realized that there was some money to be made renting these homes, especially during the prime surfing months through the winter.
More recently, with the advent of online booking agencies like Airbnb and VRBO, more than just visiting surfers were getting in on the program of whole-home rental, instead of the typical Waikiki hotel deal. Bring the whole family, cook your own meals, etc., and often at very affordable prices.
As with almost everything however, it was soon out of control with an estimated 15,000 STRs operating in the whole of the Hawaiian Island chain, many of which are on the North Shore of Oahu. Many of those being owned by non-Hawaiian residents, which incedentally didn’t further community relationships much. Many of these properties were also once an important part of the local lower-income housing stock which was, in turn, having a huge impact on that population.
Concurrently, other buyers were snatching up prime beachfront locations and building huge mansions. Ya know those “Team Houses” like the ones Quiksilver, Rip Curl, and the other big brands would rent every year, many of those are STRs year-round. Today, a full-on industry has been created with cleaning staff, gardeners, various tradesmen/women, and many more, all working in support of these rental properties. The irony being that this very bill may end up hurting many of the people it was supposed to help by creating more affordable housing.
Rent prices are kind of irrelevant if you don’t have a job.
Simply, Bill 041 has been written to all but eliminate STRs from non-resort areas, which will make it impossible for a visiting surfer on a budget to stay on the North Shore. Unless, $800 a night up at the Turtle Bay resort is in your budget.
As non-residents ourselves, it’s a tough one to take a side on. On the one hand you have the decades-old right-of-passage for every surfer to visit the North Shore, but on the other hand, imagine dealing with that every winter as a full-time resident. We can understand the frustration.
As of this writing, the bill has stalled out a bit as the various stakeholders make their voices known but one way or another the days of getting a crew together and renting a beater on the North Shore for a couple weeks may very well be a thing of the past.
A tradition of which has shaped the lives of hundreds of thousands of surfers from around the world.