When you grow up with Oahu’s famed Banzai Pipeline as your front yard like Jamie O’Brien did, it’s no wonder that surfing and a deep respect for the ocean would be in your blood. For O’Brien it also led to a career as renowned pro surfer and founder of the surf school at Turtle Bay, one of the island’s most idyllic surf spots. It all started not long after learning to walk. “I fell in love with the ocean from a very young age. The first time I went surfing I was three years old,” he recalls. “My parents brought me to this wave on the east side, and I took off on the wave. I remember thinking, ‘Woah, this is so cool, I’m on a wave.’”
The North Shore native soon went on to world-wide acclaim, surfing competitively from age six, eventually leaving the circuit, chasing killer waves across the world, and documenting it all on social media. His next chapter? He’s thrilled to be back home launching his very first surf school, the Jamie O’Brien Surf Experience, at Turtle Bay.
The JOB POV: expert lessons for all levels
“It was always a dream of mine to start a surf school,” says O’Brien. “I never did it because I never felt like I had the right location. When starting a surf school, ‘location, location, location’ is everything.” Setting up his debut surf school at Turtle Bay makes his vision a reality. “I really want to share the way I learned to surf and how I think people should look at surfing.”
With a crew that varies from 8-16 people depending on seasonal needs, the school offers beginner to advanced lessons, and everything in between. “We teach maneuvers they can work on, like at the end of the wave, do a cannonball! Or that soft tops are a world-class surfboard and don’t let people let you think they’re not. I try to teach them all the fun aspects of surfing beyond just standing up and riding a wave.”
For the more advanced, they take surfers offsite to more challenging waves at Laniakea beach in between Turtle Bay and Haleiwa beach on the North Shore for a day tour. “It’s a fun, advanced-to-intermediate wave, if you want to step up your experience,” says O’Brien. And guests can feel confident knowing they have expert guides to lead the way: “Local people that live on the North Shore are showing you the right waves to surf, the way the currents go, where not to go, where to paddle out.”
Best of all, there are opportunities to surf every day of the year. “We have multiple golf carts on property and unlike most other surf schools, we can operate all year long as there are a couple of key surf spots on property,” he notes. “When everywhere else [has waves] too big to teach lessons, we have a beautiful little bay and on-property safari to another little break. It’s safe and protected.”
Get ready for a natural high
Beyond the joy that catching waves brings, and the social aspect of getting to hang ten with your buddies in the water, there’s a deeper experience the surfer hopes to share with guests—the opportunity to commune with nature. “The ocean is a natural healing place. You can paddle out, and it’s just you and Mother Nature,” says O’Brien. “Surfing is that one place that my dad always taught me would keep me out of trouble. There’s something that feels so good about leaving all the red lights and traffic and being one with Mother Nature, breathing that salt air. It gives you a buzz. Whether you’re boogie boarding, stand-up paddleboarding, or surfing, it just kind of gives you that energy to feed your life.”
“If you’re feeling stressed out, you can always go bodyboarding,” he continues. “If I can help share that same experience with people and teach people how to surf and have fun and all the right ways to approach it, and how to be safer and cautious about currents and getting them to understand the ocean, we’re giving people wealth and health for the rest of their lives. We can spread this feeling that hopefully they can keep spreading forever.”
The superfan special
Through social media, O’Brien has amassed a large following for what he does in the surf industry. Whenever the team discover that kids who are superfans are on premises at Turtle Bay, he makes a point to show up and surprise them personally when he can. The reactions make it all worth it—for all parties involved, including O’Brien. “Some kids start crying, some go silent. Some kids’ moms start speaking for them and as you give the surf lessons, they all start to warm up and the next thing you know they’re hugging you,” he says. “That’s a great feeling.”
Those kinds of genuine moments are key for this surf legend. “My personal boards are there at the school—those are boards that I’m riding throughout the month. It gives customers a real feeling like, ‘Jamie actually surfs here; he’s not just the name but also the face of the surf shop.’ It keeps it authentic.”
In search of turtles and rainbows
In addition to surf lessons, JOB Surf school has several other opportunities to enjoy the life aquatic on Oahu, like a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) adventure. “We take our guests down to Haleiwa Rainbow Bridge and paddle upstream under the rainbow bridge, the most famous bridge on the North Shore. It’s a beautiful, authentic SUP experience. It’s fun for everybody and safe at the same time,” he notes.
Another not-to-be-missed outing for the whole family is a special “turtle safari,” called the “Supsquatch” tour. “We call it the ‘Supsquatch’ because you’re on a massive surfboard, like something a Sasquatch might use,” he says with a laugh. Up to five people can fit on the 15-foot or 17-foot inflatable surfboards. “You can take the whole family out and everybody joins the activity, and there’s one instructor taking you through a remote place at Turtle Bay. If you’re lucky, which we usually are on the tour, you can see the turtles and rainbows. You get a real cool, unique visual of the beautiful 1,300 acres that Turtle Bay has to offer as well. Beyond turtles, you can see the natural beauty of the North Shore from a different perspective.”
Enjoy a natural amphitheater
It’s not just the water experiences O’Brien is excited about at Turtle Bay. He’s psyched for guests to get a true sense of place and immerse themselves in nature, in style. “It’s a beautiful five-star resort,” he says. “While your kids or husband or wife is out there surfing, you can be at the pool bar having a drink, listening to live music, getting lunch, and you can watch your family or friends learning how to surf. It’s like a natural amphitheater…a whole new planet, planet Hawaii.”
For something more private, guests can opt for the Ocean Club Level. Elegant-yet-laid-back, the Ocean Club is an exclusive lounge with floor-to-ceiling windows for taking in spectacular ocean views alongside an included, curated menu of food and beverages. Imagine sipping wine or beer at sunset, starting the day with espresso and granola parfait, or savoring everything from sandwiches and mini salads to evening hors d’oeuvres like homemade russet chips and Maui onion dip in between.
Back to the source
It’s the way these “Only at Turtle Bay” experiences stay true to the island culture and landscape—a core focus of the resort’s recent extensive transformation—that give Turtle Bay a special place in O’Brien’s heart. You could say he’s come full circle. “I was born in Kahuku hospital, which is less than five minutes from Turtle Bay. I grew up surfing around Turtle Bay. We used to have surf competitions there when I was young.”
All these years later, he still finds fresh thrills in the water there. “Every time I ride a wave, I want to go back and ride another one,” he says. “There are plenty of places to learn to surf on the North Shore. What makes us so special, we’re the only people allowed to teach in the 1,300 acres of Turtle Bay. We’re blessed to have that opportunity. I personally think Turtle Bay is one of best places in world to learn how to surf.”