Although Oahu’s North Shore is a somewhat modern-day phenomenon, surfing in Hawaii began thousands of years before “Da Country” was pioneered. Debates rage as to where the first intentional wave ride actually occurred, but the South Shore of Oahu has always been surfing’s spiritual home and is generally acknowledged as the birthplace of the act. Possessing a storied history, it is where “the sport of kings” was perfected, then lost, then re-discovered and exported to the masses via the generosity and aloha of Duke Kahanamoku—Olympic swimming champion, respected waterman and father of modern surfing.
Today, Oahu’s South Shore encompasses the full breadth of the surfing experience. From the gentle rollers at Waikiki to the heaving barrels of Ala Moana Bowls, this region has something for everyone—which is why everyone and their mother seems to be here! The crowds can be a bit overbearing, particularly on weekends and at the more popular breaks, but this is still Hawaii—the original tropical paradise—and with picture-perfect waves breaking in warm water a short walk from the shopping, hotels and nightlife of “Town,” it’s hard to go wrong.
The Surf: Like those of the nearby North Shore, the waves here break over relatively shallow, sharp coral reef. This is where the comparison ends, however. With a south facing swell window, “Town” only picks up summer swells, which typically possess a fraction of the size and power of those pummeling the North Shore during winter. In general, this is a beginner to intermediate surf zone.
Five Waves Worth Surfing:
- Bowls: The South Shore’s best wave, Bowls is a rippable left at chest high and a draining double-up barrel once it gets into the solid overhead range.
- Big Rights: A rippable right peak in the Ala Moana Beach Park area, Big Rights can handle a bit of size and produces the occasional barrel.
- Kewalos: A left breaking into a rare “reef pass,” Kewalos is a high performance wave popular with the up-and-coming grom crew.
- Canoes: The original Hawaiian surf spot, Canoes is a soft, rolling longboard spot in the heart of Waikiki.
- Sandy’s: An infamous shorebreak popular with the bodyboarding and bodysurfing crew, Sandy’s breaks more necks than nearly any other spot in the world.
The Water: With Hawaii’s water being slightly warmer in the summer than in the winter, trips to the South Shore will require little more than a sturdy pair of boardshorts and some quality sunscreen. Surface temps should hover around 80 degrees F (27 C) the entire season.
The Season: Although summer in Hawaii can be hit or miss, south and southwest swells typically start rolling through sometime around the first of May and last until mid to late September.
The Vibe: The most crowded and localized spots can be a bit intimidating, and pretty much anywhere in “Town” can be ridiculously crowded, but this is the Aloha State, so if you come with a friendly, generous attitude, expect the same in return.
Things To Do: This is Waikiki we’re talking about—tourist heaven and party-central. If you can’t find something to do, you are probably comatose. Clubs and restaurants abound, as do concerts at the Waikiki Shell and other venues. To escape the bedlam, try sneaking away to nearby waterfalls, or go hike Diamond Head for some dry-land exercise. For WWII history, you can’t beat Pearl Harbor.
Where To Stay: Hotels, motels, hostels and hovels abound. Choose your price-range, then get online and start shopping.
What To Bring: A longboard for Waikiki, something short and stubby for the other waves in the region and a step-up if the forecast looks promising and you feel like battling for bombs at Bowls. (Local Tip: There is a surf shop on nearly every corner here, and Oahu has the best selection of used boards in the world—try craigslist!—so to beat airline baggage fees, consider buying a board locally.) Leashes, wax and other accessories are all readily available, so you won’t need to pack much. Hawaii isn’t cheap, however, so bring lots of cash.
Getting There: Honolulu International Airport is a major hub, and can be accessed from just about anywhere. Hawaii has the same visa requirements as the rest of the US, so you shouldn’t run into any surprises. Airport code: HNL.