Surfing in Hawaii: A Visitors Guide

Surfing in Hawaii
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Surfing in Hawaii is an unforgettable experience. This sport is closely intertwined with the culture and history of the islands, and even beginners can join in on the fun. Visitors of (nearly) all ages and levels get to feel at one with the ocean, get great exercise, and experience the unbeatable thrill of riding a wave. 

Curious about surfing in Hawaii? We have info for all levels, whether you’re an experienced surfer or a complete beginner. 

Hawaii surfing

The Basics of Surfing in Hawaii

Have you ever surfed in Hawaii? It’s an incredible experience that differs from what you’d experience in other surfing destinations, like California or Australia. But there is also a lot that is the same. After all, the rush of finding that perfect wave, getting pushed forward by the ocean, and paddling out to do it all again – it’s unbeatable (and addicting!). 

But you may be surprised by the ways that surfing in Hawaii is different. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you look forward to your ocean adventure:

The Water is Warm

You won’t see too many Hawaii surfers donning full-body, insulated wetsuits. That’s because our water is warm year-round. That’s why so many people love surfing here!

Opt instead for a rashguard and any swimwear you’ll want for sun protection. 

There are Places for All Levels of Surfers

The North Shore of Oahu is the world capital of big-wave surfing. It draws highly skilled surfers from all over who come to tackle waves reaching over 30 feet tall. These waters are only for true experts. 

Meanwhile, less than an hour away in Waikiki, the water is teeming with beginner surfers riding their very first waves. 

And that’s what is great about surfing in Hawaii! There are waves for all levels – as long as you know where to go (which we’ll talk about more below). 

Crowds are an Issue

Hawaii is full of surfers in search of the perfect wave, so it’s tough to find excellent conditions without big crowds. Be sure to be respectful, be aware, and be safe while you’re sharing the water with other surfing enthusiasts. 

Be Safe

Many people in Hawaii encourage surfers to abide by the rule, “if in doubt, don’t go out.” This especially goes for visitors who are new to the islands’ waters. 

No matter how experienced you are, if you are a visiting surfer, then you are in foreign waters here. Hawaii’s unique layout means our conditions and beaches are unique and can vary even in the same neighborhood. 

Don’t arrive at a beach and head straight for the water. Don’t ignore etiquette or get overly confident. Enter the water thoughtfully. Chat with lifeguards beforehand. They would much rather spend a few minutes giving you the low-down on conditions than having to come out and rescue you. 

Beginner Surfing

Have you ever surfed before? If not, Hawaii is a great place to try surfing for the first time. But you can’t just pull up anywhere and expect to catch a wave. You’ll want to start by booking surf lessons. 

There are places for surf lessons on nearly every island, so you’ll have no problem finding a place to learn. You can choose an individual lesson, which would be more in-depth and customized, or you can join a surf school, which would be a group class. Some instructors also offer private lessons just for your family.

You’ll use a longboard during your lesson, which is easier to stand and balance on. The instructor may give your board a push to help you stand on your first wave. 

When you go out for your surf lesson, remember to wear reef-safe sunscreen and/or sun-protective clothing and hydrate as soon as you’re out of the water. 

You may become addicted to surfing after just one lesson. If so, your instructor can give you tips and advice for going out on your own. Many companies offer surfboard rentals near beginner-friendly spots, so it will be pretty easy to catch even more waves after your first lesson. 

If you’ve had surf lessons at another destination but are still a beginner, you should still take lessons in Hawaii. That way, you can get a feel for our unique ocean conditions and etiquette. 

Hawaii Surf Spots

Big wave surfing in Hawaii

Ok, so you know some of the basics about Hawaii surfing, and you’re ready to go. We’re excited for you! Ahead we’re sharing some of the most popular surf spots on each island – for all levels. These places are also great for watching surfing, so it’s no problem if you’re more of a surfing supporter than an actual athlete. 


Waikiki Beach – Though most popular among beginners and surf schools, many experienced surfers are drawn to the classic beach vibes of Waikiki. 

Chun’s Reef – This is a great intermediate and beginner spot for surfing in Hawaii and is a hot spot for lessons. But the north shore can be unpredictable, so definitely be aware of conditions. 

Waimea Bay & Sunset Beach – These north shore surf spots are popular among big-wave surfers. These expert surfing spots are excellent for watching surfing in Hawaii during the winter months. 

Surfing on Maui

Kihei Cove – Many surf schools operate out of Kihei Cove, as this is a beginner-friendly spot (though it is crowded). 

Honolua Bay – More advanced surfers love to ride the waves in West Maui’s Honolua Bay. 

Peahi – This North Shore location is Maui’s ultimate big-wave surfing spot. Watching expert surfers at Peahi, also called Jaws, is a lot of fun. 

Surfing on Hawaii Island

Kahaluu Beach Park – This great beginner-friendly spot for surfing on Hawaii Island (AKA the Big Island). You’ll find this spacious and fun spot in Kona. 

Banyans Beach – More experienced surfers will often head to Banyans Beach in Kona. 

Honoli’i Beach Park – This is a great spot in Hilo for experienced surfers (or for beachgoers to watch surfers!)


Kalapaki Beach – This is the go-to place for beginner surfers and is where you can get lessons or rentals from the Kauai Beach Boys. 

Hanalei Bay  – During winter, you’ll find all kinds of waves at Hanalei Bay, which is on Kauai’s north shore. 

Tunnels Beach – Advanced and expert surfers often head to Tunnels Beach on Kauai, which has large surf breaks in the winter. 

The History of Surfing in Hawaii

Surfing is a big part of Hawaii’s culture and history. And when you go surfing here, you’re participating in a centuries-old sport that has brought great joy to generations of Hawaiians. 

It’s believed that surfing originated in Polynesia and arrived in Hawaii with the first settlers. Explorers in the 1700s wrote about Hawaiians surfing, though back then, it was widely reserved for aliʻi (royalty). 

During the 1800s, surfing became popular among Hawaiians from all classes, and in the early 1900s, a surfing hero emerged. Duke Kahanamoku is considered the father of modern surfing. He helped introduce the world to this incredible sport and became a symbol of Hawaiian spirit.

Statue of Duke Kahanamoku in Waikiki

Surfing gained popularity across the globe, but Hawaii remained one of the ultimate destinations for it. Over the years, a range of surf competitions have taken place on the island, and many continue today (you have to check out the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational if you get the chance!). 

Whether you’re riding a beginner wave in Waikiki or watching experts surf monstrous waves on the North Shore, you’re enjoying a sport that feels refreshingly modern yet holds a deep and meaningful history. 

Other Ways to Enjoy Hawaii’s Water

If surfing in Hawaii isn’t for you, that’s totally ok. We still encourage you to watch some surfers while you’re out on the beach. But you may still want to enjoy the water. Here are some fun alternatives to surfing in Hawaii:

  • Stand-up paddleboarding allows you to catch small waves without having to manage a surfboard. It’s also perfectly fun in calm waters. 
  • Bodyboarding doesn’t require you to stand up while riding a wave, so it may be easier to get the hang of. It’s also suitable for different sizes of waves. 
  • Kayaking is a fun way to feel at one with the water while getting some exercise. 
  • Snorkeling is another popular Hawaii ocean activity. 
  • Take an outrigger canoe ride in Waikiki. They often catch waves during your excursion. 
  • Windsurfing and kitesurfing require some lessons, but they offer a lot of thrills in the water. 
  • Jetski tours and rentals are available in select places in Hawaii. 

Are You Ready to Surf in Hawaii?

Barreling Waves

Does this all sound like a dream? Many people travel to Hawaii just to surf, and it’s easy to see why. Our water is warm and inviting, and when conditions are right, you can catch a thrilling wave. 

But even if you are an everyday visitor to Hawaii, you can still get in on the fun. Surf lessons will allow you to try out the sport without committing an entire vacation to it. Contact Hawaii Aloha Travel for help setting up a lesson with the best teachers on every island. 

Who knows? Maybe you’ll fall in love with the sport and return to Hawaii with one mission: to catch the perfect wave. If so, you won’t be alone.