Maui's coastline has surf for every level of waterman or -woman. Waves on leeward-facing shores (West and South Maui) tend to break in gentle sets all summer long. Surf instructors in Kihei and Lahaina can rent you boards, give you onshore instruction, and then lead you out through the channel, where it's safe to enter the surf. They'll shout encouragement while you paddle like mad for the thrill of standing on water—most will give you a helpful shove. These areas are great for beginners; the only danger is whacking a stranger with your board or stubbing your toe against the reef.
The North Shore is another story. Winter waves pound the windward coast, attracting water champions from every corner of the world. Adrenaline addicts are towed in by Jet Ski to a legendary, deep-sea break called "Jaws." Waves here periodically tower upward of 40 feet. The only spot for viewing this phenomenon (which happens just a few times a year) is on private property. So, if you hear the surfers next to you crowing about Jaws "going off," cozy up and get them to take you with them.
Whatever your skill, there's a board, a break, and even a surf guru to accommodate you. A two-hour lesson is a good intro to surf culture.
You can get the wave report each day by checking page 2 of the Maui News, logging onto the Glenn James weather site at www.hawaiiweathertoday.com , or calling 808/871–5054 (for the weather forecast) or 808/877–3611 (for the surf report).
Even if you aren't a surfer, watching is just as fun (well, almost). Near-perfect waves can be seen at Honolua Bay, on the northern tip of West Maui. To get here, continue 2 miles north of D. T. Fleming Park on Highway 30 and take a left onto the dirt road next to a pineapple field; a path leads down the cliff to the beach. In addition, Hookipa Beach Park, just outside of Paia, gives you the perfect overlook to see pro surfers, windsurfers, and kiters.
On the South Shore, beginners can hang 10 at Kihei's Cove Park, a sometimes crowded but reliable 1- to 2-foot break. Boards can easily be rented across the street, or in neighboring Kalama Park parking lot. The only bummer is having to balance the 9-plus-foot board on your head while crossing busy South Kihei Road.
For advanced wave riders, Hookipa Beach Park on the North Shore boasts several well-loved breaks, including "Pavilions," "Lanes," "the Point," and "Middles." Surfers have priority until 11 am, when windsurfers move in on the action. Competition is stiff here. If you don't know what you're doing, consider watching.
Long- or shortboarders in West Maui can paddle out at Launiupoko State Wayside. The east end of the park has an easy break, good for beginners.
Also called "Thousand Peaks," Ukumehame is one of the better beginner spots in West Maui. You'll soon see how the spot got its name—the waves here break again and again in wide and consistent rows, giving lots of room for beginning and intermediate surfers.
Good surf spots in West Maui include "Grandma's" at Papalaua Park, just after the pali (cliff)—where waves are so easy a grandma could ride 'em; Puamana Beach Park for a mellow longboard day; and Lahaina Harbor, which offers an excellent inside wave for beginners (called "Breakwall"), as well as the more advanced outside (a great lift if there's a big south swell).
Surf camps are becoming increasingly popular, especially with women. One- or two-week camps offer a terrific way to build muscle and self-esteem simultaneously.
Big Kahuna Adventures. Rent soft-top longboards here for $20 for two hours, or $30 for the day. The shop also offers surf lessons starting at $60, and rents kayaks and snorkel gear. Across from Cove Park, the company has been around for years. 1913-C S. Kihei Rd., Kihei, HI, 96753. 808/875–6395. www.bigkahunaadventures.com.
Goofy Foot. Surfing "goofy foot" means putting your right foot forward. They might be goofy, but we like the right-footed gurus here. This shop is just plain cool and only steps away from "Breakwall," a great beginner's spot in Lahaina. A two-hour class with five or fewer students is $65, and you're guaranteed to be standing by the end or it's free. Owner and "stoke broker" Tim Sherer offers private lessons for $250 and will sometimes ride alongside to record video clips and give more thorough feedback. A private two-hour lesson with another instructor is $150. 505 Front St., Suite 123, Lahaina, HI, 96761. 808/244–9283. www.goofyfootsurfschool.com.
Hi-Tech Surf Sports. Locals hold Hi-Tech in the highest regard. It has some of the best boards, advice, and attitude around. It rents even its best surfboards—choose from longboards, shortboards, and hybrids—starting at $25 per day. All rentals come with board bags, roof racks, and wax. 425 Koloa St., Kahului, HI, 96732. 808/877–2111. www.htmaui.com.
Maui Surfer Girls. This highly reputable company immerses adventurous young women in wave-riding wisdom during overnight one- and two-week camps. It also offers daily surf lessons that take place away from the big crowds of Lahaina or Kihei. HI. www.mauisurfergirls.com.
Nancy Emerson School of Surfing. Instructors here will get even the shakiest novice riding with the school's "Learn to Surf in One Lesson" program. A two-hour group lesson (up to five students) is $78. Private lessons with the patient and meticulous instructors are $165 for two hours. The company provides boards, rash guards, and water shoes, all in impeccable condition—and it's tops in the customer-service department. 505 Front St., Suite 201, Lahaina, HI, 96761. 808/244–7873. www.mauisurfclinics.com.
Outrageous Surf School. If you're not too keen on shore lessons (which usually have you spend 30 minutes simulating surfing instead of doing the real thing), Outrageous Surf School might be your best bet. A short instructional video is followed by a quick demo, and down to the Breakwall you go. Lessons start at $60 for a group, $85 for semiprivate, and $120 for a private lesson. Repeat classes are $40. 640 Front St., Lahaina, HI, 96761. 808/669–1400. www.youcansurf.com.
Royal Hawaiian Surf Academy. Owner Kimo Kinimaka grew up rippin' it with his uncle, legendary surfer Titus Kinimaka, so it's no wonder his passion translates to a fun, memorable time at the novice-friendly Lahaina Breakwall. Private lessons are $150, and group lessons cost $65 per person. Rash guards and shoes are provided. 117 Prison St., Lahaina, HI, 96761. 808/276–7873. www.royalhawaiiansurfacademy.com.
Second Wind. Surfboard rentals at this centrally located shop are a deal—good boards go for $20 per day or $130 per week. The shop also rents and sells its own Elua Makani boards (which means "second wind" in Hawaiian). Although the staff doesn't offer lessons, they will book you with the best surfing, windsurfing, and kiteboarding lessons on the island. 111 Hana Hwy., Kahului, HI, 96732. 808/877–7467 or 800/936–7787. www.secondwindmaui.com.