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Hawaii Surf Camps & Surf Spot Guide
This is our ultimate guide to Hawaii surf spots and Hawaii Surf Camps. Matt’s put together a load of information about accommodation, surf camps & surf spots across the islands of Hawaii. If you know where you are headed why not check out the Hawaii Surf Camps we have listed on Surf Sleep Travel.
Oahu South Shore, Hawaii Surf Camps & Spot Guide
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 for Hawaii’s surf camp beginners 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 On Oahu’s South Shore, Hawaii:
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 ideal for beginners coming to Hawaii’s surf camps or intermediate surfers just looking for fun waves with friends.
Top Five Surf Spots Oahu South Shore, Hawaii:
1) 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.
2) 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.
3) Kewalos: A left breaking into a rare “reef pass,” Kewalos is a high performance wave popular with the up-and-coming grom crew.
4) Canoes: The original Hawaiian surf spot, Canoes is a soft, rolling longboard spot in the heart of Waikiki.
5) 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.
Surf Season On Oahu’s South Shore:
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. For beginners seeking out one of the many Hawaii surf schools or Hawaii surf camps can help navigate the seas of people.
Things To Do On Oahu’s South Shore:
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.
Oahu South Shore, Hawaii Surf Camps & Surf Accommodation:
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.
Oahu North Shore, Hawaii Surf Camps & Spot Guide
The Proving Grounds. The Seven-Mile Miracle. The Country. The Mecca of Surfing. The North Shore. Whatever you call it, the stretch of coastline extending from Haleiwa to Turtle Bay is quite literally the epicenter of heavy-water performance surfing—and professional surfing in general—if not all year, then for at least six weeks every winter. Pioneered in the early ’40s and overrun by the time Beatlemania hit its fevered pitch, Oahu’s North Shore has played host to more surf-related history than any other locale on the planet, and after more than 60 years still remains the benchmark against which all other surf zones are judged.
From Butch Van Artsdalen’s groundbreaking Pipe session to the soul arches of Gerry Lopez; from the Triple Crown dominance of Sunny Garcia to the complete mastery of Kelly Slater; and from the aloha of Eddie Aikau to the brutal reputations of Da Hui and the Wolfpack: if its noteworthy and its surfing, chances are good that it happened here. Today, the North Shore sees tens of thousands of surf tourists flock to its beaches every season and hosts the final event of the WT pro tour, but crowded lineups, contest waiting periods and over-priced real estate notwithstanding, these are the waves that we grew up dreaming about, and they keep us coming back, year after year.
Surf Spots On Oahu’s North Shore:
Breaking predominantly over sharp, shallow reef, the waves on the North Shore are not for beginners (with the exception of Chuns Reef, which is the region’s token longboarding spot). While breaks like Laniakea and Haleiwa may appeal to the intermediate crowd when the swell is on the small side, Sunset, Pipeline/Backdoor and Waimea are for pros and hell-men only, as are the half-dozen lesser known but equally dangerous thick-lipped beasts within walking distance of these marquee breaks.
The Water: Hawaii is the original tropical paradise, and it isn’t hard to see why. White sand beaches give wave to clean, crystal-clear water that averages a balmy 75 F (24 C) during the winter season, making board shorts and a 2 mm wetsuit top sufficient for most sessions.
Surf Season On Oahu’s North Shore:
North swells arrive in late October, as does the pro circus and thousands of frothing tourists. Try the late season—February through March—for less crowded lineups and no shortage of swell.
The Vibe: Hawaii is notorious for localism, and the North Shore is no exception. With crowd pressure at popular spots bringing tension to a breaking point, semi-secret “local” waves are closely guarded, and often off-limits to visitors. If you have skills and respect, you’ll get waves. If not, you’ll get pounded (either by the ocean or a jiu jitsu-wielding moke).
Things To Do On Oahu’s North Shore:
The circus is in town for six weeks starting mid-November, with the Triple Crown and WT pro tour both culminating at the Pipeline Masters in early December. In addition, the big-wave contest at Waimea Bay has a holding period from December through February, so if carnage and conquest are your cup of tea, look no further. If you are looking for a nightlife, parties dripping with surf celebrity and beautiful people abound, although they can be as hard to access as a set wave at Pipe.
Oahu North Shore, Hawaii Surf Camps & Surf Accommodation:
The major surf brands have bought up a fair share of the beachfront real estate and now run a series of “team houses,” but for the everyman surfer accommodation options range from 5-star hotels to dirt-bag hostels—and latecomers can always pitch a tent in the bushes.
What To Bring: First and foremost, a step-up board and a big-wave gun—and the skills to use them. Extra leashes, warm water wax, quality sunscreen and a wetsuit top should suffice in the surf, while boardshorts and t-shirts will keep you covered on land—although a warm jacket may come in handy on cool evenings. Pack a book and hiking shoes for downtime between swells, and most importantly, bring an endless supply of patience and a humble attitude.
Getting There: Hawaii has the same visa requirements as the rest of the US, so you shouldn’t run into any surprises. Honolulu International Airport is a major hub, and can be accessed from just about anywhere. Return flights from the West Coast range from $300-700 USD, depending on the season, whereas you’ll be lucky to score a ticket from Australia for under a grand.
Big Island – Hawaii Surf Camps & Spot Guide
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.
Big Island, Hawaii 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.
Top Five Surf Spots Big Island, Hawaii:
- 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 On Hawaii’s Big Island:
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.
Big Island, Hawaii Surf Camps & Surf Accommodation:
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 accommodation 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).
Kauai – Hawaii Surf Camps & Spot Guide
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.
Top Five Surf Spots Kauai, Hawaii:
- 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 On Hawaii’s Kauai:
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.
Kauai, Hawaii Surf Camps & Surf Accommodation:
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).
Maui – Hawaii Surf Camps & Spot Guide
Named for the mythological demi-god who fished the Hawaiian Islands out of the ocean with a magic hook, Maui is an island rife with mystery and legend. A veritable hotbed for hippie communes in the late ’60s and ’70s, the island has always had a taste for the transcendental—just ask anyone who has locked into a life-changing freight train barrel at Ma’alaea, witnessed the country perfection of Honolua Bay, or taken a Peahi bomb on the head. Despite its popularity with the tourists, Maui wears its “outer island” status with pride. But if Innersection winners and XXL awards are any indication, however, the Valley Isle might just be the center of progressive surfing’s next chapter.
The Surf: Although best known for 50-foot heroics and unmakeably fast right hand barrels, Maui does have tamer waves on offer as well. Nonetheless, the island is by and large an intermediate to expert surf zone.
Top Five Surf Spots Maui, Hawaii:
- Honolua Bay: The granddaddy of all tropical reef points, Honolua was considered the perfect wave in the early ’70s, and anyone who has been lucky enough to score an empty bowl at this right hand anomaly will tell you the dream is still alive and well more than 40 years later.
- Ma’alaea: The world’s fastest right, or its most glorified closeout? It depends on the day, but when this wave is on, there are few in that can compare. Every long, fast, down the line barrel in existence owes its descriptor to this original “Freight Train” reef.
- Peahi (Jaws): Although this wave is beyond the skill set (and desire) of most surfers, it is one of the most watchable big wave arenas in existence, so post up on the cliff and bear witness to the world’s best watermen doing their thing.
- Ho’okipa: A right hand reef point that suffers from strong, consistent sideshore winds—making it one of the most popular kite- and windsurf waves in existence.
- Lahaina Harbor: A user-friendly left reef, this wave is centrally located in Lahaina town and is popular with the kids and weekend warrior crew.
The Water: A bit dirty in Lahaina and other developed areas, but that is to be expected. Everywhere else is the typical Hawaiian-blue water we have come to expect. Surface temperatures range from 75–81 F (24–27 C).
The Season: Maui has epic waves on both sides of the island. For Jaws and Honolua, north swells come between November and March. For Ma’alaea and Lahaina Harbor, you’ll be looking for summer south swells between May and August.
The Vibe: Like all Hawaiian outer islands, Maui enjoys the fact that it is relatively obscure and unknown. Give the locals respect, keep your head in and don’t bring a crowd.
Things To Do On Hawaii’s Maui:
Haleakala Crater is an incredible experience, containing a harsh moonscape dotted with the striking plant species exclusive to the region, such as the endangered Silversword. Another nice outing is a day trip to beautiful Hana.
Maui, Hawaii Surf Camps & Surf Accommodation:
Maui is a popular tourist destination, and has many high-end hotels and other accommodations. There is also a big backpacker scene, dating back to the island’s early hippie days, so your options range from five-star hotels to a tent in a commune.
What To Bring: A shortboard and a step-up. A big wave gun if you are coming for Jaws and a kiteboard or windsurfer if you are heading to Ho’okipa. Hiking shoes for a Haleakala walk. Your favorite hash pipe and tie-dye shirt.
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 Maui’s Kahului Airport. (Maui also receives direct flights from a handful of cities on the US mainland.) American visa rules apply in Hawaii. Airport codes: HNL (Honolulu) and OGG (Kahului).