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. These spots, however, require experience. Nonetheless, with most dependable sets and access to lessons, Waikiki is still a great place for beginners to learn or for novice surfers to catch predictable waves. Group lessons on Waikiki Beach start at $50, but if you really want to fine-tune your skills, you can pay up to $500 for a daylong private outing with a former pro.

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 and talk to locals to get more info about surf breaks before trying yourself.

If you don't want to run the risk of a confrontation with local surfers, who can be very territorial about their favorite breaks, try some of the alternate spots listed below. They may not have the name recognition, but the waves can be just as great.

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 in an hour-long group lesson, a semiprivate lesson, or with just you and an instructor. You can also rent a board here. 2365 Kalakaua Ave., on beach near Moana Surfrider, Waikiki, Honolulu, Hawaii, 96815. 808/922–3111; Lessons from $50, board rentals from $20.

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 include all equipment and are the cheapest option. You can pay more (sometimes a lot more) for semiprivate lessons with up to three people or for private lessons. You can also book an all-day surf tour with Moniz, riding waves with him at his favorite breaks. Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort, 2335 Kalakua Ave., Waikiki, Honolulu, Hawaii, 96815. 808/931–6262; Lessons from $65; board rental from $20..

Hawaiian Water Sports. Although the shop is located in Kailua, this jack-of-all-trades outfitter conducts surf lessons on storied Waikiki Beach. Choose from a 1½- or 3-hour group or private lesson. There are discounts if you book online in advance. This safety-conscious company also offers windsurfing, stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, and kitesurfing lessons and equipment rental. 171 Hamakua Dr., Kailua, Hawaii, 96734. 808/262--5483; Group lessons from $15.

Hans Hedemann Surf School. Hans Hedemann spent 17 years on the professional surfing circuit. He and his staff offer surfing, bodysurfing, and stand-up paddleboarding instruction, multiday intensive surf camps, and fine-tuning courses with Hedemann himself. Two-hour group lessons are the cheapest option, but private lessons are also available. There are also locations at Turtle Bay Resort in Kahuku and at Kahala Hotel & Resort in Kahala. Park Shore Waiki, 2586 Kalakaua Ave., Waikiki, Honolulu, Hawaii, 96815. 808/924–7778; 808/447–6755; From $78.

Surf 'N Sea. This is a one-stop shop for surfers (and other water-sports enthusiasts) on the North Shore. Rent a short or long board by the hour or for a full day. Two-hour group lessons are offered, as well as surf safaris for experienced surfers, which can last between four and five hours. 62-595 Kamehameha Hwy., Haleiwa, Hawaii, 96712. 800/899–7873; Lessons from $85, rentals from $5 per hr.