Known as the birthplace of surfing, it makes perfect sense that Hawaii is also home to some of the best places to catch waves in the world. These 13 beaches, pipelines and bowls
offer a range of conditions, from those are great for first timers to spots where more than one pro has been killed. Some are best in winter, others in the summer, and they’re scattered throughout the archipelago that is the 50th state.
Jaws (Pe’ahi in Hawaiian) is the biggest and baddest surf spot in all of Hawaii. With waves that are rumored to reach 120 feet, the reef break was largely inaccessible to surfers before the advent of tow-in surfing, led by Laird Hamilton. But the epic spot’s fame has brought an influx of inexperienced surfers, angering locals who must share precious real estate and worry about injuries.
Oahu’s North Shore is home to some of the world’s biggest waves, and Laniakea may be the best point break on the coastline. Strong currents and the nearly exposed reef bottom at low tide make the spot dicey at times. Laniakea is also renowned for the sea turtles that call it home, and the area draws about as many turtle watchers as surfers.
When waves break onto the shallow reef at Bonzai Beach, they form some of the gnarliest tubes anywhere in the world. Newbies are advised to stay well clear of what is usually simply referred to as the “Pipeline” or “Pipe,” and even pros have met their end among its waves. Tahitian Malik Joyeux is just one of five surfers killed there in the past eight years.
Originally known as Kalehuawehe, this spot was renamed for the home of Samuel Northrop, the 19th century missionary turned businessman whose “castle” was once a prominent Waikiki landmark. Castles is where Duke Kahanamoku, the Hawaiian who can be called the Babe Ruth of surfing (and five time Olympic medalist in swimming), reportedly rode a wave for more than a mile in 1917. His statue now graces the beach.
Ke’ei Beach is one of relatively few great surf spots on Hawaii’s main island, and is a surprisingly well-kept secret. You won’t Jaws or Banzai-level waves here, but the underwater reef that stretches for 300 yards can provide long, consistent rides when the conditions are right.
Considering the rough water conditions and a rocky bottom, visitors to Ho’okipa Beach Park are advised to leave the surfing to the pros, and enjoy the show from the shore. Ho’okipa is also one of the world’s top windsurfing locations.
Ma’alaea is best known as the home of the world’s fastest rideable wave, generated when the southerly swell hits Maui. In winter, migrating humpback whales visit the harbor of the small fishing village.
This bay on Maui’s North Shore doesn’t have much of a beach, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a great spot to snorkel and swim. The best time for surfing is in the winter, when swells bring the big waves.
Swimmers are advised to stay clear of Lopa Beach’s strong ocean currents and rocky seafloor, as are inexperienced surfers.
The two-mile long crescent shaped beach was named the best in the United States in 2009. It’s underdeveloped compared to Hawaii’s better known surf spots, and a view of Kauai’s gorgeous mountains is the reward for getting on top of a big wave. Surfing is best in the winter; the water is calm during the summer months.
Canoes is the endpoint of Duke Kahanamoku’s legendary mile long ride. At its best during the summer season, this spot is accessible to beginners, but can get a bit crowded as a result.
Ala Moana Beach Park spreads over 76 acres, just west of Waikiki spots like Castles and Canoes. The channel was dredged, so the waves hit especially shallow ground, resulting in big bowls and an often crowded lineup. It take a bit of work to paddle the 200 yards to the reef, but once you’re there, it’s well worth it.