Hawaii’s Best Beginner Surf Spots : Words by Raye Teyssier
Hawaii is a surfer’s paradise. As the most isolated chain of islands in the world, we are able to receive swell from all directions, and have an abundance of beautiful coastlines. Boasting powerful, dangerous waves such as Jaws and Pipeline, playful Waikiki (the ‘birthplace’ of surfing as we know it), and everything in between, there is a wave to be found for all levels of surfers. Nevertheless, it can be intimidating to paddle out at a spot you aren’t familiar with, not to mention that it can be tough to determine how ‘friendly’ a spot is just by watching from the beach.
Although there are plenty of clues you can look for to help you determine when a spot is a good one to surf, sometimes it’s nice to know where to go ahead of time! So here’s a handy guide to some Hawaiian surf spots you should check out while you’re on the islands.
1. ‘Thousand Peaks’
Location: Ukumehame (Maui, SouthWest)
Best time of Year: summer, spring/fall
Pros: waves in almost any size, lots of peaks/ never too crowded, long rides
Cons: wind exposure, long paddle out
The home of Maui Surfer Girls, Thousand Peaks is a beautiful and reliable surf spot that tends to break year round but is especially fun in a nice south swell. It’s a very clean break, making it easy to read, and there are large channels to make paddling out much easier. The wave boasts long rides with multiple re-forms, and lots of areas to sit; there are many peaks to choose from so you’ll never feel crowded there. Ride a longboard or even SUP surf if you want the best waves; even in the biggest it gets, the shape of the wave is manageable for a less advanced surfer to drop in on. Keep your eyes out for the local turtles and don’t forget to give a wave to your friendly neighborhood surf instructors!
2. ‘Pops’ (aka ‘Populars’)
Location: Waikiki (O’ahu, South Shore)
Best time of year: ANY!
Pros: Soft/gentle wave, manageable in all sizes, mellow crowd, long rides
Cons: long paddle out, can be crowded in peak season, soft in high tide
Located right in the heart of Waikiki, Pops is a fantastic wave for beginner and intermediate surfers. A typical day features waist-high to shoulder-high waves, but even when small it can be fun! Although typically there are one or two dozen surfers out, generally the crowd is friendly and you’ll find a nice mix of visitors, old-timers, and mellow locals. There is an inside and outside section, and on a good day you can get a classic, Waikiki-style endless ride. The soft, slope-y face of the wave is very forgiving and creates an ideal place to push your limits of riding bigger waves than you are used to (come in the summer for a chance at overhead surf). Longboards only!
Location: Lahaina (Maui, West)
Best Time of Year: any
Pros: excellent wave shape, gets hollow, easy to access/ lots of rentals nearby
Cons: crowded, currents by the breakwall can be difficult to navigate
Breakwall is a spot for longboards, short boards, fun boards, or SUP surfers; its a place for first-timers and for seasoned pros. Like a friend you can count on, there will be a rideable wave there most every day of the year. Expect a crowd, but also expect half of the crowd to be fairly inexperienced, so there is not too competitive a vibe in the water. Be mindful not to ride too close to the breakwall, as getting caught ‘inside’ where the waves hit the wall can become very dangerous and the current strong.
6. ‘Chuns Reef’
Location: North Shore (O’ahu)
Best time of Year: spring/fall
Pros: great for all surf levels, spread out, lots of turtles
Cons: dangerous in big swell, sharp/ shallow reef inside, powerful
Chuns is a truly world-class wave when it’s firing; in ‘smaller’ winter swells (a few foot overhead) it peels beautifully and boasts some of the best rides you can find. However, as a proper North Shore wave, it also has a lot of power behind it; avoid big surf here (15th’ or bigger faces… ) unless you are very advanced, as the waves will easily snap a board or leash in the height of winter. For most beginners, small days are most ideal, so catching the shoulder season swells in spring/fall is a great compromise between the roaring winter surf and the ankle-high summer sessions. Even small days are fun, but the reef inside is quite sharp; ideal Chuns for beginners would be a nice waist-to-chest high day where the wave breaks just behind the reef. Lots of surfers are always in the water here, but there are lots of waves to catch— and just one juicy ride at this spot will have you smiling for days.
7. ‘The Cove’
Location: Kihei (Maui, South)
Best time of year: summer
Pros: soft wave, sandy bottom in many spots
Cons: crowded, generally tiny
The Cove in Kihei is a very mellow place to start catching your own waves; a soft wave, it’s rarely too big to be manageable for a beginner (in fact, it can sometimes be too small). With sandy spots and a gentle shore break, its a great area to get used to falling properly or staying on the board, and very forgiving if learning when to stop in your wave. Be aware of your surroundings, as many others are also learning to control their boards at this spot.
8. ‘Pu’ena Point’
Location: Hale’iwa (Oahu, North Shore)
Best Time of Year: winter
Pros: safe place to surf when waves are XXL, easy to navigate & access, long rides
Cons: crowded, only breaks in big swell/ winter, lots of surf schools
Pu’ena only exists in big surf; when the waves are small, it looks a lot like a lake, but when the surf is reaching intimidating sizes all up and down the North Shore, this is the spot to safety surf (and maybe even push your limits). The waves here re-form 3, 4, even 5 times, providing ridiculously long waves and tons of room to play. With no shorebreak, sand at the exit/ entrance point, and the waves getting progressively more strong the farther out you paddle, it is an unusually simple break to navigate. Because of this, it is typically packed to the brim with surf schools and surfers of all ability levels. As with any spot, be mindful of those around you and proper surf etiquette.
9. ‘Lemon Drops’
Location: Poipu (Kaua’i, South Shore)
Best time of Year: summer
Pros: safe beginner spot, friendly/ mellow crowd, easy access
Cons: mushy, small/ soft
Located right at Poipu beach, Lemon Drops is a fantastic spot for those who are just getting their surfing basics solid. Essentially a beginners-only spot, you aren’t liable to encounter anyone aggressive or judgemental here. The wave isn’t very exciting for intermediate surfers (for that, Paddle out a bit farther to PK’s, one of the best waves on Kaua’i’s south shore), but will offer a mellow session to relax and enjoy the water.
Location: Melaekahana, (Windward side, O’ahu)
Best time of Year: fall, spring
Pros: great training for reading a spot, manageable in larger surf, sandy bottom in areas
Cons: lots of families/ beginners, current/ wind exposure
Castles is a very playful wave, and encompasses a wide area. You can surf inside and near the sandy shore break, paddle out for longer rides, or farther towards the cliff wall for more advanced and rippable waves. Although the windward side is notoriously… well, windy… if the nearby north shore is blown out, there’s a good chance the windward side is calm. If you’re not quite ready for the power of North Shore but want a taste of more powerful waves, catch it when there’s a north swell happening. Be very mindful of currents, and watch for man-of-wars 8-10 days after each full moon.
Hopefully you can enjoy all of these surf breaks in our little corner of paradise! As with any location worldwide, make sure you are aware of proper surf etiquette before paddling out. Have fun, and please surf with Aloha; respect our oceans and those sharing the water with you. And remember most of all to respect the power of nature; no matter where you are, always check conditions and use caution and common sense. If you are hesitant, check in with a local, and when in doubt, don’t go out! By surfing new breaks, your surfing will improve, and your connection to the local environment and people will grow.