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Even though Oahu is hardly a perfect square, we still have four different sides to the island: North, South, East, and West. And, each side of the island gives visitors a different beach experience (and waves, too). I was shocked at how different the ocean can behave on the same island. But, I’ve learned the waves and beaches are a function of which direction the shore faces (against or with the tradewinds).
So, before you make your visit, make sure you know where and when to go to find the best waves on Oahu:
Oahu’s south shore spans from Makapuu Point all the way to Kapolei. And, of course, the south shore includes famous Waikiki. There’s a reason this is the most popular place for visitors to take surf lessons: During the winter, the waves are SIGNIFICANTLY smaller than those on the North Shore.
During the fall and winter, the surf on this side of the island usually stays quite small and manageable. But, in late spring and summer, the surf goes up a bit. (but the wave heights are still considered small).
That makes for a fun learning experience for those surfing for the first time. The only downside? Lots and lots of people. Waikiki beaches are very popular with visitors staying in Waikiki. So, watch out! And, don’t hit oceangoers with your surfboard.
South shore beaches include:
The west shore of Oahu is also known as the leeward side of the island, and you’ll find variable surf here, depending on what time of year you visit. The leeward Waianae Coast extends from Kaena Point to Barbers Point and typically has conditions similar to the North Shore with big surf in the winter but suitable swimming and diving conditions in summer.
Then, there are protected lagoons, such as those at Ko Olina. The Ko Olina lagoons are four, man-made lagoons that feature low-key waves and a nice, sandy bottom. Instead of surfing, you may want to try paddle boarding at these lagoons, since these swimming holes are little-more than an ocean swimming pool. But, if you have children who are still acclimating to the ocean, this is the perfect place to go. Keep in mind, even though there are resorts fronting the lagoons, all Hawaii beaches are public.
West shore beaches include:
The east shore or Windward Coast extends from Makapuu Point to Kahuku Point on Oahu, and it offers some of the best windsurfing on the island (which means you’ll encounter a lot of wind on this side). But, on a personal note, this is my favorite place to swim and soak up some rays. Why? Because many of the east shore beaches are less crowded than Waikiki, and the surf is a little more fun for boogie boarding and surfing. Expect larger swells during the summer and smaller waves during the winter. But, the variability is small, as the waves are moderately sized mostly year-round.
No matter which time I visit east shore beaches, I can almost always find lots of waves to use for boogie boarding. However, the shore breaks can be a bit treacherous, and the portuguese man-o-war are mean little suckers! Always walk along the shoreline before going in the water to see if there are any washed-up. If there are many, that means there may be lots of them in the water, and you may want to reconsider!
I’ve saved the north shore of Oahu for last on purpose — here, you’ll find the famous big-wave surfers, and they hang-out on the north shore for a reason. During the winter, you can find waves from 6-12 feet regularly, with some swells reaching 30 feet or higher! Of course, during this time, the big-wave surf contests start to gear-up, and even if you’re not a surfer, you can enjoy watching the professionals tackle the big waves. In fact, if you book an Oahu Circle Island Tour through Hawaii Aloha Travel, your guide will help you experience all the north shore has to offer, and you can visit some of the area’s spectacular beaches. During the summer, the waves are big enough for beginners, but most people head to the south or east shore if they want to surf. Historic Haleiwa town is also a fun place to visit for those who like to poke in-and-out of local stores.
There’s no “wrong” season to visit any of Oahu’s beaches, but there are different times of year when waves are either big or small, depending on where you go. So, use this post as your go-to reference when you’re looking for the best waves on Oahu!