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Ultimate Guide to Surfing in Hawaii: Everything You Need to Know

Across each of its islands, Hawaiian beaches are known to bring in some of the best surf in the world! Surf culture is strong in this tropical paradise, and with pristine surfing conditions, it’s easy to see why catching a wave is one of the best things to do in Hawaii. 

It’s hard to fully encompass all that surfing in Hawaii has to offer, but this guide will give you all you need to know to have the surf trip of a lifetime!

Hawaii was the first place I picked up a surfboard; some of my greatest memories of the sport have come from these islands. It inspired me to go surfing all over the world, and I’ve come back again and again to appreciate Hawaii’s memorable surf.

Whether you’ve never surfed before or are an expert, there’s a Hawaiian beach that can accommodate you and tons of surf instructors to help you along the way. 

Rainbow array of surfboards that say "Aloha"!
Embrace the spirit of Aloha through surfing

When Is the Best Time To Go Surfing in Hawaii?

Hawaii sees remarkable surf conditions year-round throughout each of its islands, so you’re in luck no matter when you visit. There are some times of the year when the waves vastly increase in size and intensity for more experienced surfers to test out their skills.

Wintertime in Hawaii is particularly wild, as winter storms send a powerful swell to the islands from late October to early March. This is when you’ll see most advanced surfers looking to spend time facing the huge barreling waves that can be seen during this time.

★ Good to know: The biggest waves are seen between November and February and most surf competitions are held during this time along the North Shore of Oahu! Watching these talented surfers is very entertaining (even if you can’t get in the water due to the size of the waves!)

During the summertime, you’re likely to notice calmer beaches- with some potentially larger waves rolling in on the southern shores. If you’re new to surfing, don’t be discouraged! Smaller and longer waves provide the best beginner surfing in Hawaii.

Which Hawaiian Island Has the Best Surfing?

There’s a multitude of places to learn surfing in Hawaii or gain more experience on the waves, but a few of the islands are known for their untouched surf reputation.

Professionals look to the northern shores of Oahu and Maui for all of the craziest waves. In many of these beaches when the swells are massive, they only allow very experienced surfers to hit the water.

Surfers braving the big breaks of Oahu
Party wave!

While these islands may have the most challenging surf, conditions vary depending on which side of the island you’re on, and you won’t be stuck on the beach if you choose to learn to surf on Oahu or Maui. 

Kauai has a diverse array of waves for each experience level, and the Big Island is known for being mellower compared to its neighbors.

No matter which island you choose, experienced instructors are knowledgeable about sandy-bottomed beaches that are perfect for a beginner surfer. If you do hit a rocky beach, be extremely cautious! Getting cut up on these beaches is not fun and will likely affect the rest of your trip.

You can easily find surf lessons to be booked online, or several surf schools offer lessons and surf camps!

Best Surf Spots in Hawaii

Oahu

Home to the capital of Hawaii- Honolulu, Oahu is also considered the capital of surfing throughout the islands. There are dozens of well-known beaches in Oahu where you can catch a wave.

Waikiki Beach is one of the most popular spots in the world for surfing and boasts iconic long rolling waves that are perfect for beginners who are learning the ropes. This beach is also extremely close to the capital city and airport, so you don’t have to travel far to experience this classic surf spot.

The only drawback is that the beach is certainly the most popular on the island and can get crowded at times. These Pacific islands tend to see fewer tourists from September to mid-December, granting an opportunity to possibly avoid some of the crowds.

Laynie and her friend after a surf sesh at Waikiki Beach
Surfing at Waikiki Beach never disappoints

Makaha Beach is the best beach for surfing on Oahu’s west side and is perfect for surfers with some experience to advanced surfers.

While the waves here can reach over 25 feet in the winter, it’s a fantastic place to surf year-round and is rich with history. The beach first gained popularity in the 20th century when the waves attracted locals and visiting surfers to the wonderful breaks of Makaha. 

There’s no doubt that the north shore of Oahu hosts some of the craziest waves in the world. Pipeline Beach frequently has large barrel waves that surfers use to challenge themselves. 

While you should not go out on these waves if you’re not extremely experienced in surfing, it’s a great place to watch surfers and frequently hosts surf competitions. 

Oahu is the surf capital of Hawai’i, and there are tons of surf schools for you to learn and perfect your surf wave riding technique. 

Maui

Maui, also known as the Valley Isle of Hawai’i, also offers some great surfing throughout the island with world-renowned surf spots residing here.

Honolua Bay is a well-known spot for beginner surfers to learn the ropes of the sport in the heart of Maui’s beloved town of Lahaina. Lahaina is a hippie-esque surf-dominated town, and you’ll likely encounter tons of surf shops and good vibes here.

Laynie hitting the waves in Lahaina
Riding waves in the surf town of Lahaina

One of my favorite places that I trained with was the Maui Surf Culture in Lahaina, which offers private, family, children, and group lessons and is only a 5-minute walk from a great beginner’s beach! Everyone at the shop will treat you like family, and I’ve never had a better surfing experience.

Along the North Shore of Maui, you’ll find Ho’Okipa Beach– another go-to surf spot for more advanced riders. 

This beach is known for strong riptides, relentless wave sets, and sharp rocks and reefs; it’s important that you are confident in your surfing and swimming ability before hitting the waves here. 

Pe’Ahi Beach, also known as Jaws Beach, is located along the North Shore of Maui and should only be braved by the most experienced surfers. 

This beach is NO JOKE.

A surfer at the front of a massive wave
Waves here can reach up to 70 feet!

When looking at the largest waves ever surfed, Jaws is always mentioned multiple times with over 70 foot waves being recorded. This spot is certainly only for surfers with extreme skill, but also worth your while if you’re looking to see surfers brave these massive waves. 

Both Maui and Oahu are also well-known for offering surf camps and retreats that can get you riding a board like a professional in little time!

Some top Hawaii surf camps to consider if you have more time on these islands and want to hone in on your wave-riding skills are:

  • Haleiwa Surf and Yoga Retreat (Oahu): Offering a more holistic approach integrating yoga classes, sound healing classes, and cacao ceremonies within their surf teachings!
  • Maui Surfer Girls: Female-owned with a passion for inspiring beginners, they offer women’s and teen girl’s surf camps for an opportunity to learn and create lifelong friendships.
  • Maui Surf & Soul: Found in the surf-loving town of Paia, this shop also focuses on tuning into the soul through connecting to the ocean, and even offers 6 week surf therapy programs for you to meet a “more elevated version of yourself”.

The waves here tend to be longer and smaller breaks, making them the best place to learn surfing on the Big Island or just to head out for a chill surf session. 

Honoli’i Beach Park sees year-round surf breaks on the eastern side of the island and is one of the most popular spots to surf near Hilo.

Big Island

The Big Island of Hawai’i is known for its unique volcanic landscape and unforgettable marine encounters, but many visitors may not consider this a hotspot for surfing. Contrary to popular belief, there are several beaches on the Big Island with great waves for riding, making it an adventurous addition to your Big Island itinerary.

For beginner surfers, Kahalu’u Bay is the place to go. It’s very easy to find surf lessons and rent surfboards here, and Kahalu’u Surf and Sea is a great shop that offers both. It’s not far from the airport and Kailua-Kona area where many big island visitors frequent on their trips. 

The waves here tend to be longer and smaller breaks, making them the best place to learn surfing on the Big Island or just to head out for a chill surf session. 

Honoli’i Beach Park sees year-round surf breaks on the eastern side of the island and is one of the most popular spots to surf near Hilo.

A surfer seen before a towering Hawaiian mountain on the coast
Surfing in Hawaii typically comes with great views

This beach is also very beginner-friendly, but as the winter swells begin to rise, the difficulty is raised. It’s always best to use your best judgment and know your experience level before going out on the water solo.

Banyans is a well-known spot that all the locals rave about, and it’s easy to see why. 

The conditions here are great for surfing year-round, and it’s not a very touristy area, meaning it’s very unlikely to be overcrowded and you can enjoy having the waves to yourself.

You’ll find high waves for experienced surfers here, and the location is very close to the popular town of Kona. 

Kauai

Kauai was the first place that I ever hopped up on a surfboard, and though I’ve surfed in places all over the world since, it still has a special place in my heart. Kauai’s views are also among the best for surfing as you’ll always have something to admire to keep your eyes on the shore!

Like many of the other islands, Kauai’s North Shore sees massive waves during the winter and springtime as well as several breaks for the beginner to experienced surfer.

While being one of the most photographed beaches in Hawaii, Hanalei Bay is not only a stunning beach but the best place on Kauai to learn surfing.

The beautiful Hanalei Bay
Kauai’s stunning coast makes a perfect view for any surf sesh

The bay has a sandy and shallow bottom, making it suitable for beginner surfers. Experienced surfers looking to rent a board can also find a great selection at Hanalei Surf Company– which is also known for their signature surf apparel.

Lessons can easily be booked online- I found this tour through Viator!

Located on the island’s south shore, Shipwreck Beach is more catered to intermediate to advanced surfers. 

The conditions here can be quite wild, creating fast waves that many locals have enjoyed for years. This is also how the beach got its name as these waves did wreck a ship here a long time ago- though the remains have since been swept away!

Along the east side of the island, Kealia Beach is another great place to surf in Kauai with a long stretch of beach with multiple peaks, so worrying about other surfers is not an issue here. 

The waves can get rowdy here, so it’s important to exercise caution and only go out if you’re experienced or if the conditions are calm. Luckily, this spot is still novice-friendly and mellower on the north end of the beach.

A hippie van transporting surfboards
Surfboards and good vibes everywhere in Lahaina!

All in all, Hawaiian surf culture runs strong and has brought adrenaline-seekers together for decades across all of the islands. If you’re looking for the best places to go surfing, consider putting Hawaii on your list! I never knew how much I would love it when I first picked up a board in Kauai, but it was 100% worth it.

Surf shops are abundant here, so finding an instructor or place to rent a board on the cheap around one of these top tier surf spots will be a piece of cake. The good vibes and endless fun of surfing in Hawaii makes it unforgettable and keeps me coming back each year to hit the waves, and I’m sure you’ll love it, too.

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