Pohnpei – Surgical Strike Tube Fest
I got skunked at P-Pass.
You could say that P-Pass took a pass on Scott Bass. It happens. Or I should say, it happened, but doesn’t have to.
I went in 2002 or there about (plus or minus a few years ). Point is I scheduled the trip in advance. Don’t do that. Pohnpei is the poster child for surgical strike mission. Wait for a big west swell to form off of Japan, the type of swell that would be good for Pipeline. Then pull the trigger.
I didn’t do that. I scheduled my trip to this dream locale way in advance, assuming it would be good for one week in February. I was wrong.
I did surf P-Pass. It just wasn’t epic. My fault.
I did however visit the most idyllic Garden-of-Eden-picture-perfect-waterfall — ever! I got my peace-nik on by placing flowers in the barrels WWII guns which were covered in verdant foliage and perched high atop the mountains overlooking Main pass. I explored the island by car, by foot, by boat.
The islands were lush, gorgeous, verdant. Nevertheless, all rather boring relative to crystal blue persuasion barrels with a flawless outcome. But not me. I went tourist mode. I had too, no waves.
The point is that you don’t have to do any peace-nik flower stuffing if you simply plan a surgical strike.
My buddy Allois at Pohnpei Surf Club hosted myself, Jeff Divine, Austin Ware, Jeremy Sherwin and Bryan Ingraham . Allois is a knowledgeable, generous, and gracious host. I highly recommend you use his accommodations.
Next time I’ll visit the swell forecast charts prior to booking. These days Pohnpei is a can’t miss tube fest. Surgical strike only.
From Allois’s Website:
Micronesia has some of the best waves in the world and Pohnpei has by far the best one in Micronesia. Expect warm, crystal clear water, with perfect powerful waves. In Pohnpei, waves break far from the beach, similar to Tahiti or Fiji, either on the barrier reef or near a reef pass. It is not possible to check the surf from shore, so the only way to get to the waves is by boat. Most of the swells that reach Pohnpei are generated by North Pacific winter storms (does not necessarily have the same swell window as Hawaii) and from typhoons in the Western Pacific. Pohnpei surf season goes from early September thru early May. Up to four feet, the waves on Pohnpei are user-friendly. Once the surf gets bigger, you enter another level of surfing. Late take-off’s, fast down-the-line rides, and hollow barrels are what you will find.
The Pohnpei Surf Break Down
No, Pohnpei is not always 8 to 10 ft with top to bottom barrels and pro surfers like you see on surf magazines. Those days do happen 2 to 5 times depending on the year.
On most days during our surf season the Pohnpei surf scene is comprised of around 20 laid back surfers on the whole island. During the off season you will be lucky to find someone to surf with at one of the off season spots or on a odd day at P-Pass.
Most swells that hit Pohnpei are from the north with size ranging from 2 to 6 feet. At this size P-Pass and most of the other waves in Pohnpei are for the intermediate to advance level. On a 2 to 3 ft day and a high tide P-Pass is a very easy and friendly wave to ride.
Ninety per cent of the waves surfed in Pohnpei are located on reef passes. The other waves are all located on bends on the barrier reef. Because there’s no way of checking these waves except by boat, and in most cases by leaving another perfect wave, these reef bends are hardly ever surfed.
There are no beach breaks or waves breaking close to the island in Pohnpei. All waves in Pohnpei break on the barrier reef and do require a boat ride.
The weather is always hot. The only time you might feel cold is during a rain squall or when the boat is moving. Bring a rain jacket for these days and lots of sun protection for when it is not raining. The ocean water is always warm, around 80+ degrees.
Pohnpei is heaven on earth for surfers and one of the friendliest places to surf in the world. It’s a little bit far from it all and expensive to get to, and this is the main reason this beautiful part of the world has been left untouched by tourism and surfers.
The Surf Season on the north side of Pohnpei is from October through April with occasional swells in September and May.
Winds have a tendency to blow very light and variable from August through December. Trade winds will blow from December until around June or July.
Trades winds are offshore. During every winter there will be a time when the trades will blow stronger then suddenly dying out into perfect conditions for surfing. For most of the time you would not find a place on earth with such perfect wind conditions. Palikir Pass can handle trade winds unless they start blowing too strong or with a lot of north in it.
It’s a perfect right hander. P-Pass is a short for Palikir Pass. Palikir is the name of the area in which this wave is located, a district of Pohnpei.
Palikir Pass is by far the number one wave in the region. Not only perfect but also works under most conditions. The predominant trade winds are always off shore or side shore.
Any swell from the NW to NE will make it work, with a straight north being the best for Palikir Pass. Too much E on the swell and it starts missing the pass (Palikir Pass faces a perfect NW and the wave still has to wrap around and into the pass). Too much W and the wave start to close out on the inside. Anyways, most swells that hit Pohnpei during our surf season are from the north with small variations from the east and west which is the best direction for Palikir Pass. Most swells that hit Pohnpei in the winter range from 2 to 6 feet with occasional bigger days.
On most days Palikir can be surfed at any tide and the reef is a lot more user friendly than Indo, Tahiti or Fiji. There is no reef walking unless you might have to retrieve your lost board on a really low tide day.
Swells here have nothing to do with Hawaii or anywhere else in the Pacific. We are located between Honolulu and Manila and a completely different swell window. We do require the same kind of low pressure systems as Hawaii, but from a different location in the Pacific Ocean.
Under small conditions Palikir Pass is a easy wave for a novice surfer. Once it reaches 5 ft and up you enter a different level of surfing. Even at that size it is a easy and perfect wave to ride with a predictable take off and absolutely perfect wall and sections. On up to a 5 ft day you can ride the wave all the way in until it becomes a 2 ft wave, or you can just ride the first two barrel sections and paddle back for more.
On most days there is no current at Palikir Pass. On some extreme tide days the current can get strong and move towards the channel. The tide variation on Pohnpei goes from 3ft to almost 6 ft on the most extreme tides of the year.
P-Pass holds good all the way to 10 ft (Hawaiian size here!). At this size or bigger, the wave will start doing a double up similar to Shipsterns in Tasmania. Our guest Mark Matthews from Australia called it a tropical Shippies on the biggest day ever surfed.
We have seen a few perfect waves on the 12 ft + range rolling through but to get into one of these waves you would have to be towed in. Days over 10 ft happen as often as the Eddie Aikau contest in Hawaii. Once every few years!
Well, if you don’t like those giant days with lots of pro surfers and photographers around, you won’t see any on most days at P-Pass. As we have mentioned before, on most days you will be living the South Pacific dream setup with a crew of friendly surfers sharing the line up. Because all waves in Pohnpei are perfect, surfers do take turns.
If you want to be part of the friendly crew of surfers that share these line ups, DO NOT BACK PADDLE OR PADDLE AROUND, DON’T DROP IN, and DON’T BE SNEAKY. The wave is perfect and everyone out is polite, so wait your turn, enjoy the ride and come back out for another one.
Palikir Pass has been surfed by the best surfers in the world — by all world champions from the last 15 years (everyone of them), the best female surfers, free surfers, and hundreds of regular surfers like me and you.
At Palikir you can surf at any tide meaning no waiting for the tide or winds to come up. Unless we are on some extreme low tides and powerful swells, we just move a little up the reef. The only time you might walk on the reef is if you lose your board, and most of the time the winds will blow it right to the channel, where the boats can go pick it up.
The main reason why people love and talk about Palikir Pass is because a regular guy can come out here and ride a wave, which at any other break in the world would have dozens, if not hundreds of locals and pros surfers fighting for that same ride. Here you will have a shot at riding a wave you see mostly in a photos or movies, without the hassle you would find at other well known spots around the world. Off course it also always depends on your level of surfing, so stay within it.
For sure, the ride of your life!
Once the north swells are in and the trades are blowing, no one wants to surf anything but Palikir Pass. But there are options on the right days, or for the right surfers. Other waves on the north side will always be bigger the Palikir and very possibly, shallower. On a high tide the Lighthouse can be a fun wave, and the Main Pass always bigger and challenging. To surf the Main Pass you have to make the wave or you might be in for some serious reef walks.
The East side has really fun and perfect waves from August until mid to late December. The West side also has some epic spots and on a giant swell there are other options that can go from a fun escape to the most epic ride of your life. No kidding.
As for most of the other waves in Pohnpei, we hardly see any surfers around as most don’t know about them, or where and when to go. Leave it to us to get you there.
Always make sure to get good travel insurance. 99.9% of our guests have never needed to use it, but for the other 00.1%, it’s a way to get home safe and alive. Be safe and smart when you travel. Get travel insurance!
Pohnpei “upon (pohn) a stone altar (pei)” (formerly known as Ponape) is the name of an island of the Senyavin Islands which are part of the larger Caroline Islands group. It belongs to Pohnpei State, one of the four states in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). Palikir, the FSM’s capital, is located on Pohnpei Island. Pohnpei Island is the largest, highest, most populous, and most developed single island in the FSM. The islanders of Pohnpei have a reputation as being the most welcoming of outsiders among residents of the island group.
Pohnpei also contains a wealth of biodiversity. It is also one of the wettest places on earth with annual recorded rainfall exceeding 7,600 millimetres (300 in) each year in certain mountainous locations. It is home to the ka tree (Terminalia carolinensis) found only on this island and Kosrae.
During the American Civil War, to counteract the United States blockade of their ports, Confederate States Navy ships hunted Yankee merchant shipping. On April 1, 1865, the CSS Shenandoah surprised four United States whalers at then- Ascension Island (Pohnpei), and destroyed them all. The local king, Nananierikie, was delighted to receive much of the spoils from this action.
By 1886 the Spaniards claimed the Caroline Islands which were part of the Manila-based Spanish East Indies and began to exert political authority. They founded the city Santiago de la Ascensión in what today is Kolonia (from Spanish colonia or colony). The Spanish built several government buildings, a fort, a church and a school. Spanish Capuchin friars were also sent from Manila to Pohnpei to preach the Catholic faith. After the 1898 Spanish–American War, the German Empire purchased the Caroline island group from Spain in 1899 together with the Marianas (except Guam) and 4 years later the Marshall Islands for 17 million goldmark.
During the German administration a fundamental change in land ownership was implemented on Pohnpei and throughout the Carolines. Beginning in 1907 the feudal system, where all land is held in fief, was gradually replaced with the issuance of individual deeds to land. The chief’s economic advantages were thus reduced, and only force of tradition granted a first harvest tribute to chiefs. With land holding, taxes came due and new owners, in lieu of payment, were obliged to work 15 days per year on public projects, such as wharf construction, road building, etc. One such work for taxes engagement sparked the Sokehs Rebellion. It began as an insubordination event during road construction on Sokehs Island, then escalated into the murder of 9 persons, the subsequent apprehension and trial of 36 Sokehs rebels, the execution of 15 insurgents, and banishment for others to Babelthuap in the German Palau Islands.
The German census of 1911–12 shows 3,190 Pohnpeians, 585 Central Carolinians and 279 Melanesians. Many of the outer islands were resettled (mainly on Sokehs Island) in consequence of destructive typhoons in their home islands. A special census conducted in late 1947 shows a total population of 5,628, of which 4,451 were Pohnpeians, and 1,177 were natives of other Pacific islands. By 1963 the population had grown to nearly 10,000.
With the Treaty of Versailles Japan as mandatory power assumed control of all German colonial possessions north of the equator, having occupied Pohnpei along with the rest of the Carolines, the Marshalls, the Marianas (except for American-owned Guam) and Kiautschou Bay during World War I. In subsequent years and during World War II the Japanese garrison strength was composed of about 2,000 men of the IJN under Captain Jun Naito and 5,984 IJA men under Lieutenant General Masao Watanabe. However, Pohnpei was bypassed by the US Navy during the island-hopping amphibious campaigns of 1943–1945. The island was shelled on several occasions, including by the battleships USS Massachusetts and USS Iowa, as well as air attacks launched from USS Cowpens. In 1945 all Japanese citizens were forced off the island; many of their Pohnpeian family members remained.
In 1980, a group of twelve artists including Marina Abramović, John Cage and Laurie Anderson were invited to Pohnpei as part of a project called Word of Mouth, designed to collect the artists’ conversations. According to Anderson’s recording for this project, as well as the track “Word of Mouth” from her album The Ugly One with the Jewels, while the artists were there a number of prisoners managed to escape from the jail, after which they broke into the radio station and shot the DJ before going on a rampage through the jungle armed with lawnmower blades. Four people were murdered overall. Television was also introduced to Pohnpei around this time.
The Federated States of Micronesia achieved independence in 1986 after being administered by the United States under UN auspices since 1947 as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.