Honolulu is the capital of the state of Hawaii and is located on the southern shore of the island of Oahu. It is known for its iconic crescent beaches, laid-back lifestyle and epic waves, which attract the world’s top surfers as well as keen amateurs. Read on for our picks of the best surf spots in the world’s surfing capital.
Ala Moana Bowls
Ala Moana Bowls is a popular spot among resident surfers, and is best suited to intermediates and professionals. Waves are typically 1ft to 4ft high (0.3m to 1.2m), but can reach up to 12ft (3.6m) on windy days. The convenient location of the beach — between Sunset and Makaha — make it the ideal place to go after a day in the city. The Magic Island side of the beach features a beautiful stretch of sand, while the harbor side has the Hilton beaches — great spots to relax after hitting the waves.
Sunset Beach is the most famous big-wave surfing spot on Oahu’s northern shores, and was the setting for the Duke Kahanamoku Invitational Surfing Championships until 1985. It’s still regarded as one of the biggest tests of a surfer’s ability and hosts the annual Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, which is part of the World Surf League. The beach is absolutely breathtaking, but not recommended for beginners due to its extensive coral formations and the presence of jellyfish. Its best swells come from the northwest and are between 6ft and 10ft (1.8. and 3m) high.
The Banzai Pipeline is found off Ehukai Beach on Oahu’s northern shore, and offers some of the world’s best and deadliest surfing. Powerful waves — usually around 9ft (2.7m), but sometimes as much as 20ft (6m) high — break over a sharp reef just beneath the ocean surface, leaving little room for error. There are also two reefs in deeper water further out, surfable depending on the weather. Those who can rise to Banzai’s challenges may be rewarded with a rideable barrel of their dreams, but it’s certainly not for beginners.
Located on Oahu’s south shore near the Koko Crater, Sandy Beach is one of Hawaii’s premier spots for body surfing and bodyboarding, owing to a surf that breaks very close to its pristine shores. It’s also one of the most picturesque and tranquil beaches on the island, famous for fine yellow sand that gets absolutely everywhere. Top tip: don’t be fooled by the ease with which experienced surfers navigate the waves; a sharp-drop off in the ocean floor near the shoreline can result in powerful rip currents, which often catch beginners off guard.
Kewalos is accessed by taking the stairs leading down from the Diamond Head side of the Ala Moana Beach Park, and frequently hosts the Quiksilver Surf Shop Challenge. It’s a popular spot for intermediate surfers, offering fast-breaking waves that are typically between 4ft and 6ft high (between 1.2m and 1.8m). Hazards to be aware of include sharp reefs, sea urchins, crowded barrels (especially at weekends) and tiger sharks, which have been sighted in the waters between Point Panic and Kakaako. It all adds to the adrenaline rush.
Queens Beach is located in the Waikiki area, to the left (if you’re looking out to sea) of where Kapahulu Avenue meets the shoreline. It’s a great spot for beginners or those traveling with kids, offering tranquil, turquoise waters that lend themselves to paddle-boarding and bodyboarding. There’s also some great snorkeling to be enjoyed here, especially on the reef that’s found close to the Waikīkī Aquarium. Free films are shown on a giant screen on Queens on many weekends during the year.
Experienced and novice surfers looking for a fun wave away from the crowds head to Tonggs Beach, a small stretch of stand in the Diamond Head neighborhood (there’s a narrow access path near the junction of Coconut and Kalakaua Avenues). Although it’s not the secret it once was, it’s still often quieter than other beaches in Waikiki and typically offers waves of about 4ft (1.2m) that are perfect for the beginner. Be aware that sharks occupy the clear, deep waters beyond the reef from fall through spring.
Waimea Bay is found just south of Sunset Beach on the northern shores of Oahu. Every winter, it readies itself for the world’s greatest surfing event — the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational, named after the Bay’s first lifeguard and a legendary surfer, and only held when the waves are consistently over 20ft (6m) high. If the waters are too wild and the beach is sealed off (not uncommon), simply relax in the nearby picnic area and watch them roll in. During summer, Waimea’s much calmer waters are ideal for swimming and snorkeling.
Makaha Beach Park
Makaha Beach Park is located on Oahu’s eastern shoreline, a 45-minute drive north from Honolulu. It can get crowded during winter, when huge swells of up to 25ft (7.6m) on the northern end of the beach attract experienced surfers from all over the world. Strong shorebreaks and rip currents can make for dangerous conditions, so be sure to consult the lifeguards before taking on the waves. By complete contrast, Makaha’s waters are calm during summer, making it one of the east shore’s most popular swimming and sunbathing spots.
Additional reporting by Mark Nayler