Also known as “The Garden Isle,” Kauai is beautiful, mellow and closely guarded—the kind of place that would prefer not to have a surf guide written about it! While the North Shore of Oahu prints t-shirts and poster boards in an effort to “Keep the Country Country,” Kauai actually IS country, and the locals intend to keep it that way. A number of top Hawaiian pros have cut their teeth on the island’s diverse waves (including Bruce and Andy Irons), but street cred has always been more important than magazine spreads on Kauai, and the only way to gain street cred is through respect and commitment. Far from the city lights of Waikiki and the concrete jungle of Honolulu, this is Hawaii as it should be, so do your part to preserve the ambiance.
The Surf: Predominantly reef breaks with the occasional beach break thrown in, Kauai is an intermediate to expert destination—the power of the winter surf is not to be taken lightly.
Five Waves Worth Surfing:
- Hanalei Bay: Probably the best-known wave on Kauai, Hanalei Bay is a long right hand reef point with occasional barrel sections. There are also a number of other waves in the bay, making this a popular surf zone.
- Pine Trees: A sand-bottom river mouth tucked inside Hanalei Bay, Pine Trees is where many of the young local rippers learn to surf, and has hosted the Irons Brothers Pine Trees Classic (a surf contest for kids) for over a decade.
- PK’s: Situated in front of a hotel, PK’s has a soft outside section and a hollow inside left.
- Acid Drops: Another reef break in the Poipu zone, Acid Drops is a hollow right and left peak that takes a south swell.
- Secret Spots: There are many secrets on Kauai. Your best bet is to either explore (with sensitivity) or befriend the locals.
The Water: Relatively undeveloped (when compared to Oahu), Kauai’s water is beautiful and clean. Surface temps range from 75–81 F (24–27 C).
The Season: Kauai picks up both north and south swells. Winter (November through March) is the big wave season on the north shore, while summer (May through August) sees smaller waves on south facing beaches.
The Vibe: Much less crowded than Oahu, Kauai has a core crew of tight-lipped local riders who know how to keep secrets and enforce lineup etiquette. The trade off is that the island houses some of Hawaii’s best waves, offering a nice change of pace for those who are willing to bring much respect and a laid back attitude. Tread lightly and come alone.
Things To Do: They don’t call it “The Garden Isle” for nothing. Kauai is lush, fertile and green, and has numerous world-class hiking trails and vistas. Some of the best include the Alakai Swamp, Waimea Canyon and the Na Pali coast.
Where To Stay: Kauai is set up for tourists, but that doesn’t mean that it is overrun with hotel development. Poipu is a good place to base yourself during the summer months, while hotels around Hanalei are convenient in the winter. Many of these hotels are high end, however, so shop around before committing.
What To Bring: A standard shortboard, and a step-up or minigun if you are coming in winter. A 1mm wetsuit top for windy winter days. Hiking shoes and an appreciation for natural beauty. Lots of respect for the locals.
Getting There: Honolulu International Airport is the main gateway into the state of Hawaii, and from there you will catch an interisland flight (typically on Hawaiian Airlines) to Kauai’s Lihue Airport. American visa rules apply in Hawaii. Airport codes: HNL (Honolulu) and LIH (Lihue).