Best Places to Surf in Hawaii
Local Surfing Locations
Think of Hawaii and surfing is sure to be one of the first images that come to mind. This incredible sport has played an integral part in the development and identity of the islands, and its roots can be traced back to the 4th century A.D. when Polynesians began to make their way to the islands from Tahiti and the Marquesas. The rich tradition of surfing flourished and the best surf boards and beaches were reserved for royalty.
Sadly, the arrival of Westerners to the islands contributed to the near demise of this rich tradition steeped in art, culture, and religion. A cash economy was created, people had less free time, and Protestant Missionaries discouraged the practice.
By the beginning of the 20th century, surfing was near the brink of extinction. Ironically, those of European descent were instrumental in reviving the sport. Literary giant Jack London, journalist and rolling stone Alexander Hume Ford, and highly-skilled waterman George Freeth joined forces to help revive the fledging tradition.
A few years later, Native Hawaiian and supreme waterman Duke Kahanamoku visited southern California on his way to the Summer Olympics in Stockholm and held several surfing demonstrations that sparked a huge interest in the sport on the U.S. Mainland. After winning Olympic gold, Duke toured the world, became a Hollywood favorite, and spread his love of the sport worldwide. His efforts earned him the title ‘The Father of Surfing’.
Thankfully, the beautiful tradition of surfing not only survived, but underwent somewhat of a renaissance. Today, Hawaii is home to many of the best places to surf in the U.S. and the world. And while we understand that hard-core, advanced, and professional surfers already have their favorite surfing haunts, we thought those of you at the beginner and intermediate skill levels might appreciate some guidance. So grab your board and check out our take on the Best Places to Surf in Hawaii.
Best Surfing in Oahu
Oahu is the proverbial heartbeat of surfing in Hawaii. The island’s North Shore is the place to catch the perfect wave, regardless of your skill level. Before you head out, we should note that the winter waves can be massive and are best left to the professional crowd. However, the summer waves are much tamer and are ideal for the beginner and intermediate level surfers. Of course, use your judgment or hire a professional surf and adventure guide to help you get started.
Puaena Point- Located next to Haleiwa Beach Park, Puaena Point is a great spot to catch your first wave or perfect your technique. It is ideal for surfers and stand up paddleboarders alike. There is also some shade to be had along the shoreline if you need a break from the rays. As an added bonus, it’s not far from Haleiwa, a great town with cool surf shops, restaurants, boutiques, and art galleries.
Chun’s Reef- Also located outside of Haleiwa, Chun’s Reef (referred to as simply Chun’s by locals), has ideal conditions for learning and perfecting your technique when conditions are calm. Waves break pretty far out, so there’s smaller shore break, making for long rides. Chun’s is a hot spot for some of the surf schools.
Laniakea Beach (aka Turtle Beach)- Named after the sea turtles that come to shore here, Turtle Beach can be a bit crowded, as people come to view these beautiful creatures lounging on the sand. A long right side break is great in small to medium waves. Plus, this spot is located right across from the fabulous Turtle Bay Resort.
Canoes- If you'll be headed to the South Shore, check out Waikiki’s Canoes surf spot. The waves here tend to be easy and on the slow side, perfect for beginners or those surfers who have gotten ‘rusty’. After a long day of surfing, rest up at the luxurious Royal Hawaiian Hotel.
Diamond Head Cliffs (Cliffs)- Located in the middle of three or four separate breaks, Cliffs is the most popular spot at Diamond Head. The waves here tend to be a bit calmer in the early morning and after 4 pm or so, and are good for beginner to advanced surfers, although it may not be ideal for first-timers. There are also numerous fabulous hotels near this spot, such as the Waikiki Parc Hotel, Lotus Honolulu, Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort and Spa, Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort, The Kahala Hotel and Resort, and Trump International Hotel Waikiki Beach Walk, to name a few.
Flat Island (Popoia Island)- Located about one quarter mile from Kailua, Flat Island is a favorite of beginner surfers and longboarders. Beware of the reef at low tide. As an added bonus, the island is a State Seabird Sanctuary and they can be seen nesting along the rocky shore.
Oahu just might be one of the best spots to surf in the world. Whether you are a first-time surfer, stand up paddleboarder, or just looking to perfect your technique, we recommend you consult with a professional to make your experience as safe and memorable as possible. With this in mind, allow us to recommend our friends at Mahina Hawaii. We’re certain you’ll find their surfing lessons and other adventures will exceed your expectations.
Best Surfing in Maui
Maui’s waters are crystal clear, offering surfers and paddleboarders amazing views of the reefs, tropical fish, and sea turtles below. It’s also a great spot in that you can reach any shore in less than three hours. Keep in mind, though, that it has a well-earned reputation as a windy island, with winds kicking up by 9 am or earlier. Therefore, it’s recommended you grab your board of choice early in the morning.
Launiupoko State Wayside Park- Located just south of Lahaina, Launiupoko has long, easy reef waves that are ideal for newbies. The vibe here is super-welcoming and you’ll find a wide range of folks from every walk of surfing life here.
Kihei Cove- A top-pick for the beginner to intermediate crowd for its fun sloping waves. The swell here can roll in over 100 yards and is fun for surfers and stand up paddleboarders alike. It’s also a great place to just hang out and relax if you want to wait for your surfing friends!
Guardrails- Taking its name from the breaking waves at the highway’s guardrails, this is a great spot for upper beginner and intermediate surfers who want to work on their technique in a quiet environment. The vibe is generally welcoming, as well. Getting in and out of the water can be a bit tricky, as sharp coral and rocks can be a challenge. We recommend you go with an experienced guide your first few times.
Lahaina Breakwall- This spot is popular with surfing schools as well as more advanced surfers. Some say it offers the most consistent surf in the area. Be wary during low tide, as the water is shallow and will bring you close to the sharp reef under the surface.
Kaanapali Beach- Located just outside the luxurious Kaanapali Alii and near the Marriott, Kaanapali Beach, this spot often appears on lists of the world’s most beautiful beaches. And thanks to its consistent waves and few rocks, it’s the perfect place to get your board wet. However, because the waves can be short, it’s not the best spot for stand up paddleboarding.
Maui’s near-perfect waters provide the ideal environment for surfing and paddleboarding, and we want you to get in the water with no hassles and no fuss. That’s why we confidently recommend Maui’s premier surfboard and stand up paddleboard rental service; Island Surfboard Rentals. They provide free delivery and pick up of rental gear right to your door, so you can jump into the fun in no time; it doesn’t get any better than that!
Best Surfing in Big Island
Because it is the youngest of the Hawaiian Islands, the Big Island has fewer beaches and surf spots than the other islands. As a result, it can often be overshadowed by some of the more famous locales in the island. And while many spots here are geared toward those with more experience, you can still find some places suited to beginner and more intermediate skill levels.
Pine Trees- North of Kona Airport, this is a classic place to surf for more experienced surfers, but also has a bay area that’s perfect for beginners. And although you won’t find any pine trees here, you will find a beautiful crescent beach that also happens to be one of the best places to barbecue on the Kona Coast. Note that you’ll need a four wheel drive vehicle to access the beach.
Kahaluu Beach- Locals here understand many surfers at this spot are still learning or practicing, and there’s a friendly atmosphere here. Known as one of the best surf spots in Kona, it’s also the perfect place to snorkel and picnic, in case your ‘surfer muscles’ need a rest.
Honolii Beach Park- Located on the island’s East Coast and just a short drive from Hilo, Honolii Beach is popular with locals and rather advanced surfers year-round. It is also known for its consistent waves. The summer months bring optimum waves for those looking to refine their technique.
Anaehoomalu Bay (also known as A-Bay)- Great for surfing, windsurfing, and also popular for snorkeling Anaehoomalu Bay is located on the Kohala Coast of the Big Island, off Highway 19.
Your safety is of the utmost importance; so before you head out to your surf spot of choice, please remember that no matter where you are in Hawaii, conditions can often change quickly. Additionally, be wary of hidden dangers such as rip currents, urchins, reefs, rocks, and (although very rare) sharks. Plus, your particular definition of ‘beginner’ or ‘intermediate’ may vary from others’ interpretation of these skill levels. Be aware of your own abilities, be courteous to the locals, and above all, be respectful of the ocean. Remember: ‘If in doubt, don’t paddle out.’
Best Surfing in Kauai
It’s no accident Kauai has produced some of the best professional and amateur surfers in the world. The island is the perfect place for surfers of all skill levels, from first-timers to world champions. Kauai’s white sand beaches and year-round trade winds make it the perfect surfing destination. Of note, waves here are known to come in ‘sets’, meaning a calm period of several minutes can suddenly be interrupted by a sudden intense wave; as always, respect the ocean and use caution.
Kiahuna Beach- Located on Kauai’s southeast corner, this spot is actually a section of the popular Poipu Beach and boasts perfect waves for the more novice surfers, and those who need to boost their confidence. Beginners should stay close to shore; the more experienced crowd can ride the waves out past the reef. Boogie boarding, swimming, and snorkeling are also popular here.
Hanalei Bay- This beautiful half-moon bay on the North Shore is known for its consistent waves. Best of all, the bay has three distinct areas of swell that make it appropriately challenging for all skill levels. The picturesque mountains, gorgeous beach, and pristine waters make for some amazing sights, too.
Kealia- Known as the one of the most (if not the most) popular spots on Kauai’s Eastern Shore, Kealia is a favorite of the locals; as many reside in nearby Kapaa and it’s a good place to catch a wave if nothing else is breaking. Beginners should leave this spot to the more intermediate to advanced crowd, however.
Shipwreck Beach (also known as Shipwrecks Beach)- Located just east of the island’s southeast tip, Shipwreck isn’t as crowded as other spots on Kauai, mainly due to its sharp coral and rockier terrain. Calm conditions are good for the advanced beginner and intermediate crowd. Boogie boarders and windsurfers also love this spot. While there, we recommend you stay at the internationally recognized Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa, as Shipwreck Beach is located just off the hotel property.
Kalapaki Beach- Many tout this beach as the best in Lihue, and even the island’s entire Eastern Shore. It is partially protected by a large breakwall, making it the perfect place for the entire family to surf, stand up paddleboard, or boogie board on the long and gentle waves.