Hawaii is one of the most geographically isolated places on the planet.
For some, that means only one thing: groundswell. Everywhere, in every direction, the currents of the Pacific are churning up the winds, storms and fetch that give these islands their world-class waves. Below is a list of the best places to enjoy them.
1. Ehukai Beach Park (North Shore, Oahu)
This is generally a good place to come if you are beyond a beginner, but still getting used to things. It will also give you a great feel of Oahu’s North Shore. The pipeline is immediately to the left, and when it’s big enough, it essentially swallows all the peaks of the beach park.
Riding a wave at the Banzai Pipeline at Ehukai Beach Park in Haleiwa, Hawaii
2. Laniakea (North Shore, Oahu)
You can blend in here. The “town” crowd from Honolulu loves this wave, and there are always different faces in the water. There’s a shorter, hollow left as well, which can be very fun, but it’s really known for the four or five sections that, with the right conditions, can make for an extremely long, fast ride.
Caution: Be sure to keep your valuables in your car hidden while you surf.
Laniakea Beach on Oahu’s North Shore, also known as Turtle Beach
3. Backyards (North Shore, Oahu)
Backyards is a very fast, advanced wave with a steep wall, thick lip and shallow reef below. There are good barrels, and swell magnet from all directions, but it works best on a northwest swell. The wave can get very, very big and often has less of a crowd than other spots. It’s farther out on the point from Sunset.
Mighty wave near North Shore on Oahu, Hawaii
4. Sunset (North Shore, Oahu)
Sunset is one of the most famous right-hand points and thus attracts people from all over the world. In that sense, you can surf it without worry (crowd-wise). It’s not a wave to be taken lightly, even at a playful one meter. It turns very fast and hollow as it emerges and walls up quick from deep water; its famous inside bowl throws way out for a good, heavy barrel.
Ready to catch a wave at sunset
5. Hookipa (Paia, Maui)
Between Haiku and Paia is Maui’s most consistent wave, or waves, and it happens to double as one of the best windsurfing spots in the world. All the various peaks can be seen from the bluff along the Hana Highway heading east from Paia.
Hookipa catches everything from the big west-northwest winds to the easterly windswells. It’s very exposed to the wind, so get up early before the wind does, and then go out again late in the afternoon. With Kona winds, you always win!
Heading into the water to paddle out at Hookipa Beach in Paia
6. Honolua (North Shore, Maui)
Honolua is one of the most magical waves in the world, a flawless right point that seems to peel into infinity – when you happen to catch one. The crowd here is dense, but the joy of one ride makes it all worth it, especially that clear barrel through the cave section.
Surfing the big waves at Honolua Bay in Maui
7. Velzyland (North Shore, Oahu)
Velzyland is probably the riskiest inclusion on this list. Shallow, extra sharp reef, a heavily localized group of surfers, and a barrel that seems to suck dry make for a serious North Shore experience. Respect here (for everything) is vital.
Surfing lesson from one of the many talented local surfers
8. Hanalei (North Shore, Kauai)
This peeling right point works on most winter swell directions. When the wave’s smaller, it’s good fun to grab a longboard and go make friends in the lineup. They might be able to point you to other waves nearby that you won’t read about online. The bay here is pristine, and so is the town by the same name. It’s on the far northeast side of the point, toward Princeville.
Surfboards lined up in the sand at Lumahai beach near Hanalei, Kauai
9. Canoes (South Shore, Oahu)
This is the jumping off point for the Waikiki surf adventure, and the rest of the South Shore as well. Every surfer must come here at least once, and there are few waves that are as friendly to teach a beginner.
On the South Shore, you can surf 15 different spots in a single session, so paddle around and explore. For more great waves on this side of the island, seek Bowls, Kaisers or the wave in between the two, aptly named Inbetweens.
For the full rundown of breaks, pick up “Frank’s Map” at any surf shop in Hawaii.
Tandem paddling in calm waters
More experiences nearby
5 Jurassic Views You’ll Find in Hawaii
USA Party Cities
3 Days in Honolulu, Hawaii
Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor
9 Weekend Getaways From 9 U.S. Cities
Where to Stargaze in the USA
Haleakala National Park
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park