Hawaii’s Big Island—also simply known as “Hawaii”—has a reputation for being fickle and hard to score, and this is a reputation the local surfers have worked hard to cultivate. The truth is that with a bit of persistence and a solid 4×4, it is possible to unearth as many setups on the Big Island as anywhere else in Hawaii—and often with a fraction of the crowd. Top-level surfers like Shane Dorian, Torrey Meister and CJ Kanuha hail from this fabled outer island, and their aggregate skill level is testament to the quality and diversity of the waves on offer.
The Surf: Like most of the other islands in the Hawaiian chain, the Big Island contains predominantly reef bottom setups, with many of the waves being quite shallow and heavy. Although there are a handful of beginner spots on offer, for the most part this is an intermediate to advanced destination.
Five Waves Worth Surfing:
- Banyans: One of the more famous waves on the island, Banyans breaks both right and left, and is the setting for Shane Dorian’s annual Keiki Classic surf event.
- Pine Trees: A fun righthand reef near Kona, this is another of the island’s most popular spots.
- Honolii: One of the most consistent (and crowded) spots on the island, Honolii is a river mouth setup near Hilo.
- Hapuna Bay: A sand bottom wave with both lefts and rights, this spot is popular with kids and beginners, but can be fun for the advanced surfer as well.
- 69s: A left and right reef break near Hapuna State Park, this rippable wave is named after a nearby telephone pole (so keep your mind out of the gutter!).
The Water: The Big Island is just what its name suggests—big. This means that development is pretty thin and spread out, resulting in a clean, idyllic warm-water experience. Surface temperatures range from 75–81 F (24–27 C), so you’ll be in boardshorts year round, although a wetsuit top might come in handy in winter.
The Season: The Big Island has breaks facing all four cardinal directions, which means that there is typically always somewhere to surf. The most consistent seasons are summer and winter, so for north swells come between November and March, and for souths between May and August.
The Vibe: While the Big Island doesn’t have the reputation for violence and localism that some of the other outer islands do, it is still a closely guarded secret. Respect the locals, don’t snake anyone, and if possible, come alone.
Things To Do: Mauna Kea is the highest point in Hawaii and the world’s tallest mountain (if you measure from its base, which is miles below the surface of the ocean), while Mauna Loa is the world’s largest active volcano. Both warrant a visit, as does neighboring active volcano Kilauea.
Where To Stay: Tourist areas have a large selection of hotels (which can be a bit pricey). Out in the country, you’ll be hard pressed to find hostels or other forms of budget accomodation, but you may be able to pitch a tent if you buddy up with the locals—who will also be able to point you in the direction of the island’s many secret spots.
What To Bring: A shortboard and a step-up. A 1mm wetsuit top for cool winter mornings. Hiking boots and cool weather gear if you plan to visit high elevations, and a snowboard or skis if you want to enjoy the novelty of surfing and riding on the same day (Mauna Kea has a seasonal snow cap).
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 the Big Island’s Kona or Hilo International Airports. (Both airports field flights from a handful of international destinations, so depending on where you are coming from, it is possible to fly directly to the Big Island.) American visa rules apply in Hawaii. Airport codes: HNL (Honolulu), KOA (Kona) and ITO (Hilo).