Hawaii is the capital of modern surfing. This group of Pacific islands gets swell from all directions, so there are plenty of pristine surf spots for all. Beginners, as well as advanced riders can surf almost all 365 days of the year. Transparent water, glassy waves, tubular or slower rides, reef or sandy bottoms: you can surf all types of waves in Hawaii, as long as you’ve got a board. Ground swell is the key to the Hawaiian surf breaks.
Adrenaline will be running high when you try one of the Triple Crown of Surfing spots on Oahu’s North Shore. If you can handle the wave, the take-off and the surf line, then this is the ultimate surf destination. Here you will find Banzai Pipeline, Sunset Beach and Haleiwa Beach Park. They are some of the best-known surf spots in the world. A good alternative is Backdoor, also known for its “rights on the other side of Pipeline.” Oahu’s North Shore is constantly testing your skills. Here you can expect fast drops, tough locals and sharp shallow reef. Learn how to surf – or teach others – at White Plains Beach and Waikiki Beach.
Big waves are also seen in Waimea Bay, one of the most recognized surf sanctuaries in the world of wave riding. Sandy Beach is a superb surf spot, too. Canoes is also great for beginners, but not exactly perfect for relaxed surfing. Despite the long rides, it is always very crowded. The Big Island is great surf destination for those willing to learn how to surf. Pine Trees is a wonderful surf break just south of Nelha. Try it on the incoming midtide. The Kohala Lighthouse is also a very nice surf spot, suitable for all surfing levels, but watch out for the rocks at low tide. Kauai has produced some of the best surfers in the world, so it’s a good option. Hanalei Bay offers the best conditions on the island. It’s consistent, beautiful, and offers surf for the entire family. Kalapaki Beach, Kealia Beach and Shipwreck Beach should be checked out and surfed, too. Maui is the windiest of the Hawaiian islands. This is why it is also one of the best windsurfing and kitesurfing spots in the world. When swell and wind match their best qualities here, the result is breathtaking. Peahi Jaws pumps one of the most dangerous waves on the planet. Hookipa Beach Park is a wave windsurfer’s mecca; while Honolua Bay can offer small fun rides, as well as super fast overhead barrels. Here are the best places to go surfing in Hawaii:
Jaws aka Pe’ahi (Maui)
Pe’ahi is Maui’s biggest surfing break, and the yearly Billabong XXL Global Big Wave contest has listed Jaws as the winning break more than any other place. When Jaws is going off, the top names in surfing flock here – and mere mortals follow to watch in awe. “Jaws” is certainly the most well known, and also the most geographically specific name for the surf break. The name “Pe’ahi” has become more popular with surfers trying to draw connection with local culture as of late – so it is now common to hear that name used as well. Before you add this to your must-do list for your Maui vacation, here is the bad news: chances are you won’t be able to. Most years there are just a few big-wave events with the perfect conditions for surfing Jaws. So, you’re going to need some luck with timing! If you are lucky enough to see this in person, you’re sure to appreciate the magnitude of these feats of athleticism. Check out this amazing video of Jaws here.
The Pe’ahi Lookout is the lookout on the Peahi cliffs above the break are the best vantage points outside of a boat or helicopter. As far as driving to the overlook goes, the best route is shown in the Google Map below. This 1.5 mile dirt road currently is graded to a point that cars that aren’t especially low can get in or out when it is dry. That said, it can rain suddenly on the North Shore, and what looks like a sunny beautiful day can be sprinkled with sudden downpours turning the steeper parts of the road to a surface that’s as slick as ice. Depending on what you’re driving, you could get stuck and need assistance. There are a few places you can park off to the side of the road (be sure not to block access roads), so if walking 3 miles round-trip is not an option, you can drive in as far as you feel comfortable given the current conditions, and opt to walk the rest of the way.
Banzai Pipeline (Oahu)
If you are on a quest to find the legendary Banzai Pipeline Hawaii, known around the world for its perfect barreling waves, then head to Ehukai Beach Park on the North Shore Oahu. Rated as one of the best Oahu beaches on the North Shore, surfing pipeline is an unique experience itself, and also ranks high as one of the top 100 things to do before you die! If you don’t already know, the winter swells that roll into this part of Oahu’s North Shore, push up onto an extremely shallow reef, thus creating some of the best picture-perfect waves that form gorgeous surfing barrels that pro surfers dream about. Surfing Pipeline Hawaii poses serious bodily injury if you are caught in the wrong place at the wrong time! Hundreds of surf boards are broken each year on the shallow reef, along with injuries and sometimes even the unthinkable. Regardless, hundreds of surfers from around the world fly in to Oahu for their chance to surf the famous Banzai Pipeline. This is the home of the Pipeline Masters Surf Contest that is attended by the best and bravest surfers from all over the world. Ehukai Beach Park is a beautiful long stretch of North Shore beach. During the winter, you can literally stand on the edge of the water, and watch the surfers in action just a short 40 yards into the ocean. When summertime rolls around, and the waves go flat, you can experience some of the best snorkeling on Oahu! Just make sure to check in with the lifeguard to make sure it’s safe before entering the water.
Ke’ei Beach, Big Island
Just beside the well-known Kealakekua Bay is a small beach unknown to most visitors. Ke’ei Beach is one of the best-kept secrets on the Big Island’s Kona Coast, visited mostly by local fishermen, surfers and the occasional sightseer. Ke’ei Beach is one of relatively few great surf spots on Hawaii’s main island and you won’t find Jaws or Banzai-level waves here, but the underwater reef that stretches for 300 yards can provide long, consistent rides when the conditions are right. Ke’ei Beach has white sand speckled with black lava fragments and is a good spot for a picnic. When it come to swimming though, the conditions aren’t that good because the nearshore ocean bottom is very shallow and rocky. There is a narrow sandy channel at the northern end of the beach that’s suitable for swimming. Other water activities that are possible here are snorkeling, surfing and fishing. The reef stretches offshore for almost 300 yards. On some days the surfing conditions are quite good here, with some of the biggest waves and longest rides in the area.
Ma’alaea Pipeline (Maui)
Ma’alaea is best known as the home of the world’s fastest rideable wave, generated when the southerly swell hits Maui. In winter, migrating humpback whales visit the harbor of the small fishing village. Ma’alaea Bay is a humpback whale sanctuary, and in the winter the whales migrate into the harbor of the small fishing village. Ma’alaea Pipeline is known to produce one of the world’s fastest rideable waves during large southerly swells. The surf break is called Ma’alaea, or freight train, and breaks over a shallow coral reef.
Honolua Bay (Maui)
The most popular yet fickle waves on Maui are those found at Honolua Bay. Surfing Honolua Bay on a good day can be the best experience of your life. Though, keep in mind that you’ll be surfing with 1,000 other guys and girls who probably surf better than you. These locals will, without hesitation, make a good day bad if you do something wrong. The wave at Honolua Bay is made up of 3 main parts; The Cave, The Point and Keiki Bowls. There are other portions of the wave, though not always present.
The point is usually a little smaller than the Cave, and is usually filled with groms and girls that rip. The wave is a little more forgiving and holds relatively the same size through to the cave. It usually closes out before the cave. The Cave is named after the hole in the reef that swallows surfers. The Cave is the growling beast that you wish was your pet. This spot jacks up and moves around depending on swell. It peaks out in front of the rock cliff, and on certain swells and tides, if you lose it, you may find yourself as an addition to the cliff. The Cave can throw the most machine-like barrel you’ll ever see. It can be perfect, which makes it increasingly difficult to get a wave from the pack. Keiki Bowls is a fast moving, shallow wave that breaks a couple feet deep or less over a sharp reef. For surfing, it’s usually reserved for racing. Mostly, this area is surfed by bodyboarders and groms that don’t mind the loss of size and shallow bottom. On the best days, all three of these sections will connect and give you the longest wave of your life.
Ho’okipa Beach (Maui)
Ho’okipa is Mecca to the windsurfing world (and no slouch for board surfing, either.) There are professional windsurfing competitions held here, and on just about any day with wind (most) you can watch pros doing their thing. Ho’okipa also provides sightseers a stunning backdrop to watch the best effortlessly play with the ocean in a way that mere mortals can only dream of.
If you’re considering getting in to surf or sail here, you’d better be skilled enough for the conditions – especially if the orange flags are out and the surf is big. Even on smaller to average days, sudden and quickly building afternoon winds, strong rip currents and shallow reef can quickly take control from overoptimistic novices. The inexperienced would also be well advised to study the ocean and locally experienced surfers carefully before entering. If you don’t see the best way in and out ask the guards how to avoid the rip (and then the reef) when you come back in.
Overall, swimming is definitely secondary to other attractions here, as options are somewhat limited. On the Pavilions side there are small areas of sandy-bottom ocean with sheltered swimming, and there are also often small tidepools running the length of the middle of the beach that keiki love to play in. Casual swimmers rarely venture beyond the shallow margins of the shoreline. There are lifeguard towers at both ends of the park.
Lopa Beach (Lanai)
In addition to a lovely, long white-sand beach, this somewhat secluded and remote area of east Lanai is designated as a bird sanctuary and is the site of the Loko Lapa Fishpond dating to ancient times. Unfortunately Lopa Beach is not a good swimming beach due to the ocean currents and topography of the seafloor which is rocky and shallow. Swimmers should only venture in the water when there is no surf and even then should stay very close to shore due to the possibility of strong currents. and hazardous ocean conditions. Lopa is a favorite spot for experienced surfers when the swell is right. Less experienced surfers and recreational swimmers should go to a gentler beach without strong currents.
Hanalei Bay (Kauai)
The two-mile long crescent shaped beach was named the best in the United States in 2009. It’s underdeveloped compared to Hawaii’s better known surf spots, and a view of Kauai’s gorgeous mountains is the reward for getting on top of a big wave. Surfing is best in the winter; the water is calm during the summer months. Experienced surfers are offered large waves at a reef on the right hand side of the bay. Closer in, at the pier, the waves lose energy and are perfect for beginners. Variably sized waves are served at the middle sections good for body boarding and intermediate level surfers. Hanalei Bay is never crowded and offers plenty of room to play. Unfortunately the weather and surf don’t always cooperate. Winter storms can bring chaotic ocean conditions, with run-off from rainfall sometimes dirtying the water. Storms and rainfall can also change the beach’s sand by littering it with debris and rocks.
Canoes is the endpoint of Duke Kahanamoku’s legendary mile long ride. Canoes is probably the most crowded beginner surf break in the world. Its located right in the heart of tourist central, Waikiki. On a nice Saturday afternoon its no surprise to see 200 people out there having fun in the sun. Even at the crack of dawn on a Monday morning you’ll find at least 40 regulars out there. The waves are about is good as it gets for longboarding. Long rides, consistent lefts and rights, and well spread out. The reef is nice and deep which makes it the perfect spot to learn. Heavy beginner crowds can also make it a dangerous place for those not looking out for surfboards heading straight for them.
Ala Moana Bowls & Kaisers (Oahu)
Ala Moana Bowls & Kaisers are some of the best expert breaks on the south shore of Oahu. On one side (straight across from magic island) you have Ala Moana Bowls, a fast and very hollow left that was created artificially when they dredged the boat harbor. On the other you have Kaisers, a very fast and sometimes barreling right that breaks over shallow sea urchin infested waters. There are several breaks in between that are a little more mellow. On very small days this is usually a good bet to catch some good rides. On big days you see double overhead barrels all over the place. As with most town spots, and especially because the surf is so good here, it gets very crowded. Localism can be thick at times, especially at bowls left, but show your respect and you shouldn’t have any problems. If you are a beginner, do not paddle out here unless the surf is very small. You’re better off going over to Flies or Canoes.
Diamond Head Lighthouse (Oahu)
Diamond Head Cliffs is a very popular surf break for the nearby locals. It’s exposure to both east and south swells make it one of the most consistent breaks on the south shore. When surf is chest-high everywhere else, it will be head-high here. With the east exposure comes the windward wind. On windy days this break will be blown out with a nasty cross wind. Not all is lost though, wind surfers swarm by the dozens to dominate the blown out waves. Surfers get out there early to snag the morning glass.
There are several breaks along the cliffs, sometimes only 2, other times as many as 5 or 6. You’ll see a good mix of long boarders and short boarders shredding the steep faces and long lines. The main peaks are more higher performance, and more crowded. You’ll find thicker and more mellow waves breaking off to the side.
Lighthouse is the break out from (you guessed it) the lighthouse. This high performance wave breaks on shallow water and to the right. It’s usually not as crowded, but the people who do surf there can dominate the wave, so be prepared to wait your turn, and even get snaked/dropped in on. Patience and a high tolerance will buy you a few good rides.