Surfing in Honolulu and Oahu
- Places to Explore
- Travel Tips
- Fodor's Choice
Perhaps no word is more associated with Hawaii than surfing. Every year the best of the best gather on Oahu's North Shore to compete in their version of the Super Bowl: the prestigious Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. The pros dominate the waves for a month, but the rest of the year belongs to folks just trying to have fun.
Oahu is unique because it has so many famous spots: Banzai Pipeline, Waimea Bay, Kaiser Bowls, and Sunset Beach. But the island also has miles of coastline with surf spots that are perfect for everyday surfers. But remember this surfer's credo: when in doubt, don't go out. If you're unsure about conditions, stay on the beach.
Makaha Beach Park. If you like to ride waves, try Makaha Beach on Oahu's west side. It has legendary, interminable rights that allow riders to perform all manner of stunts: from six-man canoes with everyone doing headstands to bully boards (oversize boogie boards) with whole families along for the ride. Mainly known as a longboarding spot, it's predominantly local but respectful to outsiders. Use caution in the winter, as the surf can get huge. It's not called Makaha—which means "fierce"—for nothing. 84-369 Farrington Hwy., Waianae, HI, 96792.
Sunset Beach. If you want to impress your surfing buddies back home, catch a wave at the famous Sunset Beach on Oahu's North Shore. Two of the more manageable breaks are Kammie Land (or Kammie's) and Sunset Point. For the daring, Sunset is part of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing for a reason. Thick waves and long rides await, but you're going to want to have a thick board and a thicker skull. Surf etiquette here is a must, as it's mostly local. 59-104 Kamehameha Hwy., 1 mile north of Ehukai Beach Park, Haleiwa, HI, 96712.
Ulukou Beach. In Waikiki you can paddle out to Populars, a break at Ulukou Beach. Nice and easy, Populars—or Pops—never breaks too hard and is friendly to both newbies and veterans. It's one of the best places to surf during pumping south swells, as this thick wave breaks in open ocean, making it more rideable. The only downside is the long paddle out to the break from Kuhio Beach, but that keeps the crowds manageable. Waikiki Beach, in front of the Sheraton Waikiki hotel, Honolulu, HI, 96815.
White Plains Beach. Known among locals as "mini Waikiki," the surf at White Plains breaks in numerous spots, preventing the logjams that are inevitable at many of Oahu's more popular spots. It's a great break for novice to intermediate surfers, though you do have to keep a lookout for wayward boards. From the H1, take the Makakilo exit. Off H1, Kapolei, HI, 96707.
Equipment and Lessons
Aloha Beach Services. It may sound like a cliché, but there's no better way to learn to surf than from a beach boy in Waikiki. And there's no one better than Harry "Didi" Robello, a second-generation beach boy and owner of Aloha Beach Services. Learn to surf for $40 in an hour-long group lesson, $60 for a semiprivate lesson, or $80 with just you and an instructor. You can also rent a board for $15 an hour. 2365 Kalakaua Ave., on the beach near the Moana Surfrider, Honolulu, HI, 96815. 808/922–3111. www.alohabeachservices.com.
Faith Surf School. Professional surfer Tony Moniz started his own surf school in 2000, and since then he and his wife Tammy have helped thousands of people catch their first waves in Waikiki. The 90-minute group lessons are $60 per person and include all equipment and transportation. Semiprivate lessons with up to three people are $100 per person, and private lessons are $125. For $500 per person you can book an all-day surf tour with Moniz, riding waves with him at his favorite breaks. Sheraton Waikiki, 2255 Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu, HI, 96815. 808/931-6262. www.faithsurfschool.com.
Hans Hedemann Surf School. Hans Hedemann spent 17 years on the professional surfer circuit. He and his staff offer surfing, bodysurfing, and stand-up paddleboard instruction, four-day intensive surf camps, and fine-tuning courses with Hedemann himself. One-hour group lessons begin at $75 per person, and private lessons are $150 per person. There's a second location at Turtle Bay Resort in Kahuku. Park Shore Waikiki, 2586 Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu, HI, 96815. 808/924-7778 or 808/447-6755. www.hhsurf.com.
Hawaiian Fire. Learn how to surf from some of Hawaii's most knowledgeable water-safety experts at this school, owned and operated by Honolulu firefighters. Lessons include two hours of surfing time (with a lunch break) at a secluded beach near Barbers Point. Transportation is available to and from Waikiki or Ko Olina. Two-hour group lessons begin at $109 per person, while private lessons are $159 per person. 3318 Campbell Ave., Honolulu, HI, 96815. 808/737-3473 or 888/955-7873. www.hawaiianfire.com.
Surf 'N Sea. This is a one-stop shop for water-sports enthusiasts on the North Shore. Rent a shortboard for $5 an hour or a longboard for $7 an hour ($24 and $30 for full-day rentals). Lessons start at $85 for three hours. Surf safaris for experienced surfers, which can last between four to five hours, are $220 per person. 62-595 Kamehameha Hwy., Haleiwa, HI, 96712. 800/899–7873. www.surfnsea.com.
A few things to remember when surfing in Oahu:
The waves switch with the seasons—they're big in the south in summer and loom large in the north in winter. If you're not experienced, it's best to go where the waves are small. There will be smaller crowds, and your chances of injury will dramatically decrease.
Always wear a leash. It may not look the coolest, but when your board gets swept away from you and you're swimming a half mile after it, you'll remember this advice.
Watch where you're going. Take a few minutes and scan the surf from the shore. Observe how big it is, where it's breaking, and how quickly the sets are coming. This will allow you to get in and out more easily and to spend more time riding waves and less time paddling.
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