North Shore Oahu Waves: How To Find the Best Surf (All Levels!)

north shore oahu waves
Hawaii Aloha Travel > Blog > North Shore Oahu Waves: How To Find the Best Surf (All Levels!)

You’ve probably heard of the famous North Shore Oahu Waves – but do you know where to find the best surf on Oahu? 

Different levels of surfers need different types of waves. Luckily, the waves vary dramatically between various areas of the island. 

So, before you make your visit, make sure you know where and when to go to find the best surf on Oahu, whether you’re looking for big thrills with North Shore Oahu Waves or a small, beginner-friendly swell. 

North Shore Oahu Waves

Banzai Pipeline wave north shore oahu

We’ll start with the real conversation starter: the famous swells of Oahu’s North Shore. Here, you’ll see 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.

Top Surfing Beaches for North Shore Oahu Waves

  • Sunset Beach
  • Waimea Bay
  • Ehukai Beach (Bonzai Pipeline)

Best For:

The North Shore is famous for its 30+ foot waves. It’s one of the most popular destinations for big-wave surfing, and some of the top competitions happen here. 

Best Time to Visit

To watch big-wave surfers, visit these North Shore Oahu beaches in the winter months – specifically November through March. If you want to swim and avoid the waves, summertime has much calmer waters. 

South Shore Oahu Waves

Waikiki Surfing

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.

Top Surfing Beaches for South Shore Oahu Waves

  • Waikiki Beach
  • Hilton Lagoon
  • Sandy Beach

Best For:

Beginner surfers, surf schools, or anyone who wants smaller waves and calm waters.

Best Time to Visit

Late spring and summer have great beginner waves on Oahu’s south shore. 

West Shore Oahu Waves

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. This area typically has conditions similar to the North Shore Oahu waves: big surf in the winter but suitable swimming and diving conditions in summer.

Then, there are protected lagoons, such as those at Ko Olina. This resort area (where the Disney Aulani and the Four Seasons are) consists of 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.

Best West Shore Surfing Beaches

  • Lanikuhonua Beach
  • Maili Beach
  • Pokai Bay Beach Park

Best For:

Experienced surfers wanting something more challenging than the south shore but less looming than the North Shore Oahu waves. 

Best Time to Visit

To see surfers (or to surf yourself if you’re experienced), come to the Leeward beaches in Winter. Summer months are best for swimming and diving. 

East Shore Oahu Waves

Windsurfing and Kiteboarding at Kailua Beach

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). 

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 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!

Top Surfing Beaches in East Oahu

  • Makapuu Beach Park
  • Waimanalo Beach Park
  • Kailua Beach Park

Best For: 

Boogie boarding, windsurfing, and occasional surfing conditions. 

Best Time To Visit

Conditions are pretty consistent year-round, with surf breaks varying day-to-day. 

Finding the Best Waves on Oahu: North Shore and Beyond

So what are your plans? Will you be watching pro athletes taking on the giant North Shore Oahu Waves? Or are you trying your hand (or feet?) at surfing for the first time in Waikiki? 

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!