hawai curveHawaii offers more than Don Ho and Spam.

The plan for our trip to paradise seemed infallible. My partner and I, heading home to Australia from North America, were stopping to luxuriate for five nights at a resort that routinely wins prizes for most beautiful view on Oahu. We wanted, ¬needed and deserved this.

We had separate flights from Canada, but both were supposed to land in Honolulu on Friday evening. Over breakfast in Vancouver, I grilled Nicole. “Tell me the plan,” I said, making her put down her newspaper.

“What plan?” she asked. We had discussed the plan the night before but, as I’d suspected, she had no memory of it.

“The plan for meeting at the airport,” I said.

“Oh, easy. You’ll meet my plane.” She returned to perusing the arts section.

I persisted, knowing that flights to Hawaii from the mainland often went awry. “And if I’m not there? Then you’ll go to the rental car place, right?”

“Right,” she said, serenely buttering her toast and not ¬paying attention.

“What if I’m not there, either?” I prodded.

“Then it means your plane is late, and I’ll come and meet you.” My beloved resumed eating in a manner that suggested the conversation was over.

Unfortunately, my flight from Los Angeles was delayed 24 hours, and I had no way to contact Nicole. Our Australian cell phones weren’t working, and worse, she had no place to stay. Every hotel, motel and B&B on Oahu was completely booked because of a) a U2 concert, b) the annual marathon, and c) the Pipeline Classic surfing contest.

Nicole arrived on Friday night and was told by airline representatives—who should have known better—that I’d be ¬arriving on the next flight from L.A. And the next. And the next. She spent 18 hours meeting flights that I was not on. She finally gave up and spent her second night in paradise scrunched in the back seat of a rental Jeep.

When I finally reached the resort at midnight on Saturday, I rushed to the room. Inserting the key card, I called “Aloha!,” ready to ravish Nicole and interrogate her: Where had she been? Coconut macaroons rested on the pillows, but there was no Nicole. No note from Nicole. No Nicole’s stuff.

I didn’t know whether she’d found a beach to sleep on or if she’d run off one of the scenic cliff roads in her distress. Was she ¬sleeping calmly by the waves or has she been crushed at the bottom of a ravine?

In Oahu, the police form for reporting a missing person gives you three options for gender; you can identify your missing friend as “male,” “female” or “transvestite.” Although Nicole does wear men’s clothing, I securely checked “female” and gave details to help the detectives find her: hazel eyed, auburn haired, stocky, Australian butch, precious and, most of all, lost. And I left out any mention of her surgery scars. If they found those, it would mean she was in a morgue.

Sunday morning, as I was contemplating how to call her father and say that I’d misplaced his oldest child, Nicole turned up. “Thank God you’re all right!” I said, embracing her. In unison we demanded, “Where have you been?” After hours of talking, touching and sleeping, we felt reunited and refreshed enough to explore paradise for our remaining three days.

We first hit the Turtle Bay Resort, the only resort on the North Shore, is 880 acres spread over an astonishing knife-tip peninsula. One side offers wild waves for serious surfing, and on the other lies a sandy, shallow beach. Two pro-designed golf courses and an elaborate spa make it parent-friendly; while adults indulge, kids can run from slide to pool to beach, wild and safe at the same time. But a few acres away, honeymooners and other hedonists can easily find secluded coves to get cozy in.

Nicole and I held hands, more from fear of separation than a determined show of pride; after our two-day ordeal, neither of us would let the other out of sight. The resort alone is big enough to get lost in, and the island is known for, well, ABC’s hit Lost, which is filmed locally in jungles and on beaches.

It astonishes me that the majority of visitors to Oahu never make it out of Honolulu. Most stay in Waikiki or hop off to Maui and the Big Island on pricey inter-island flights. But the two-hour drive to the North Shore takes one into equally exotic scenery, as different from Honolulu as any of the other islands are. With no major cities, a few small towns and only one—count it, one—resort, the North Shore is quieter, safer, cleaner and less expensive than the south.

The two-lane Kamehameha highway winds through mountains and along the shoreline, taking you from waterfront to waterfall through colorful surf towns. Lanikai’s eye-candy cliffs shelter homes of Hollywood celebrities, including many from Lost, and the beach that Condé Nast Traveler calls the best in the world. Novices can kayak out to the two hill-island “mokes” for private sunbathing, while landlubbers can lounge on the quicksilver beaches or hike the golf course green hills way above the Pacific.

North Shore dinner options range from the exquisite, surf-side Ola—winner of several awards for best new restaurant on Oahu, it features Hawaiian cuisine prepared with local produce—to fantastic, freewheeling, free-market “shrimp trucks” that serve up steaming plates of just-caught giant shrimp, Asian rice and corn for about $12.

North Shore snorkeling is modest by Hawaiian standards, but you can still find exciting sea life. Nic and I spent hours trailing behind a graceful green sea turtle, which was as accepting of us as we were amazed by it.

What it lacks in colorful corals, the North Shore makes up for with surf culture. My bumper sticker proclaiming “I survived North Shore” is the envy of every surfer Down Under. While the international pros competing in the Pipeline Classic zoomed down the steep cliffs of water, I joined two other beginners for our first surf lesson in a cove where the waves were more like ripples. The Hans Hedemann Surf School blessed us with long, lean Ash as our instructor; he seemed an ideal potential sperm donor as well as Zen surf master.

On a board on the sand, before we got wet, Ash demonstrated the four simple steps that would take us from thrashing about in the water to standing up and gliding to the beach in glory. The first step was moving from a flat position to kneeling. The second was kneeling on one knee. I was leaning forward to watch everything Ash did, nearly bursting my wetsuit with anxiety to memorize his moves. “Don’t look at me like that,” he warned. “This is only steps one and two!” I tried to relax, but steps three and four were tricky dance maneuvers, exhausting to perform even on the sand. Once in the water, I’d be lucky to get up on my knees.

Ash pushed me onto my first wave and shouted encouragement as I executed steps one and two. But then, instead of shifting my weight to my rear foot and squatting (step three), I spectacularly fell off. My board went shoreward and I hit the bottom, but the springy plastic tether boinged me—and my ride—back to the surface in the crashing, shallow surf.

Ash waited, bobbing on the waves, while I made the long, tiring paddle back out. “Nice try,” he lied, and made me high-five him. “You know, some people do better going directly up to their feet,” he said. “Skip step two.”

“Skip step two?” What do you mean?” I asked. “Never mind,” Ash said. “Here’s a cute wave; just do it.” He shoved me onto the break, and I felt the hydraulic power lifting the board. It’s energy seemed to carry me up through steps one, two, whatever. I was standing up! Surfing!

For a good two seconds before I hit the wash, I felt triumphant.

My girlfriend didn’t get any photos of me standing, but then, she had a very small window of opportunity. Her images show me as I spent most of that morning: paddling out, kneeling up, falling down. Still, I got to my feet on four waves, and collectively those were the best 10 seconds of my life. Despite the lost days of vacation and the girlfriend missing in action, there was exhilaration and glory