Our Favorite Travel Essentials of the Year
Everything you need for your 2023 travel: our editors’ picks for on-the-road...
The Secrets of the Lake
On the dazzling shores of Italy’s Lake Como, a history flows rich with romance and...
It’s not a secret that surfers can be territorial. Ask for tips on the best spots from any local in surf centers across the globe, and it wouldn’t be uncommon to be met with a knowing grin and relative silence. Hawaii, the birthplace of surf and in many ways its heart, isn’t much different. Still, if you talk to the right people, you will find generous openness and key information.
We spoke to pros and Kama’ainas (Hawaiian for locals) to get the inside tip on the best beaches in Hawaii for surfing across the islands. Graham Ezzy is a Maui-bred professional windsurfer who has been competing on a world-class level since just after he turned 14. Daniel Jones, a North Shore native, comes from a legendary family of surfers (his brother is also a pro) and spent 20 years sponsored for performance shortboards. He shapes beautiful 60s and 70s design-influenced custom boards as the founder of Jones Surfboards. James Stone and Reed Dolman are beloved Oahu-raised surfers who put serious time on both the South and North Shores.
Here are the best Hawaiian surf beaches, as told by local-grown pros and lifelong mainstays on the scene. If you are a seasoned surfer—or in a couple of the below cases, a beginner—traveling to Hawaii for the first time, there is no more valuable info than this.
Diamond Head, Oahu
Located just outside of Waikiki, Diamond Head is super convenient for anyone staying in the center of it all. (The beach is walking distance from the Moana Surfrider, the Outrigger Canoe Club-affiliated Lotus, and the Royal Hawaiian). It is also a consistent favorite among locals. “The walk/hike down to the beach by either the marked paved trail with a railing or two un-marked 'monkey trails' create a comfortable sense of distance from the roads and cars above on the cliff and lookouts,” explained Stone of the isolated-in-plain-site waters. “The conditions throughout the year are generally windy, side-onshore from the prevailing trade-winds that we have in the islands which makes relaxing on the rock-laden beach sometimes uncomfortable, but that typically thins out the number of beachgoers,” he said. “Exposed to South, West, and Easterly swells throughout the year make it one of the most consistently rideable spots on the South Shore.” Simply put, “it always has waves,” said Dolman.
Another North Shore prize. “Smack dab in the middle of the main 7-Mile Miracle on the North Shore, Pupukea (sandbar beach break) offers up some of the most rippable waves on the North Shore,” explained Stone. “Not as frequented as their neighbors to the left, Ehukai and Pipe and to their right, Rocky Point, but depending on the swell direction and the sand bars, are world class. Best under six feet and although like most of the North Shore, is generally very crowded, you can find the occasional window with just a few others in the lineup. Sand builds up best in the spring for Pupukea. The beach is on the continues strip that stretches from Log Cabins-ish (on the Waimea Side) all the way past Sunset Beach. It shouldn't be too difficult to find your own personal space on the sand and the vastness gives you a unique perspective of the whole coastline as you look down in either direction.”
Velzyland (V-Land), Oahu
If you are looking for a point that is slightly off the main row, V-Land is ideal. “It is far enough away from the ‘main’ spots on the North Shore like Ehukai/Pipe, Rocky Point, and Sunset that it can feel a little more secluded, although the peeling/barreling right-hander is, for all intents and purposes, a 'perfect' wave,” said Stone. It breaks on every North, North-West, and North-East swell.
You don’t have to know much about surfing to know about the legendary Jaws. For those with the skill, it is a bucket list wave. As Ezzy relates, “When the waves break at Jaws, which is only a few times a year, their thunder can be heard from miles away—the sound reverberates and amplifies as it travels up the river valleys. Only the biggest and most violent winter storms of the North Pacific ocean generate swell big enough to break at Jaws. In most other places around the world, when the waves are so big, the ocean is wild and surfing is survival at sea, but Jaws can hold waves over 70 feet high that do not close out and with deep channels on both sides where waves never break.”
If you are staying on West Maui, Launiupoko is a local favorite nearby Lahaina that is ideal for families especially. “Lines and lines of little waves roll across the shallow reef, breaking softly into whitewater before reaching the strip of sand that is Launiupoko Beach, the ideal beach for a first-time surf on Maui,” said Ezzy. The beach is gentle, with a lava rock wall creating a calm area for kids to swim, and an area perfect for longboarding past the lava barrier. “Local families take advantage of the large grassy area to throw birthday parties with BBQ’s and longboards,” added Ezzy. It’s great for a relaxed beach day together.
Honolua Bay, Maui
Located just north of Kapalua in West Maui, Honolua Bay is part of a Marine Life Conservation District—it has cultural and environmental value—and is known as a peak spot for snorkeling, diving, and of course, surfing. “Hololua Bay is Maui’s best surfing wave, which means that it is often crowded,” said Ezzy. “North swells turn into clean barrels and open walls. The WSL sets up camp in the fall to showcase the women’s world tour talent.” The waves are consistently high quality, and on a quiet day, you are guaranteed to see a rich variety of fish, turtles, and coral.
For windsurfers, Maui’s Ho’okipa is legendary. “It is the best windsurfing beach in the world,” said Ezzy. “The trade winds blow a consistent 15 to 20 knots almost every day, and the waves are often big and powerful. Ho’okipa quickly became the home to professional windsurfing in the early 1980’s, and that continues to be true today. The wind that makes Ho’okipa so good for windsurfing, makes Ho’okipa subpar for traditional surfing. However, the new generation of surfers use the wind under their board to help them fly and rotate above the lip.”
Rocky Point, Oahu
The North Shore’s Rocky Point came up again and again among pros and lifelong local Hawaiian surfers. Jones, who lives and shapes his boards at Rocky Point, backs it in particular. “I surf out front most days as Rocky’s breaks on a West to Northeast swell 1 to 8 feet,” he said. “It’s one of the most consistent spots on the North Shore offering Lefts, Rights and everything from tubes, open walls and wedging ramps.” Best yet? Rocky Point is just five minutes on foot from the renown Pipeline and Sunset beaches. When the swell gets too big for Rocky, you know where to go.