Honolulu is the gateway to Hawaii and the main hub of the archipelago’s most revered surfing island, so naturally the state capital is high on most surfers’ bucket lists.
Oahu, the third largest Hawaiian island, is widely considered the birthplace of surfing, with locals having tackled the waves head on here long before surf culture developed on the US mainland. Hawaii has had a long and ever-changing history, and the high-rises of Honolulu are a representation of that, but the one thing that hasn’t changed around here is the surf.
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This is a place where the water is always warm, the waves are consistently rolling in and the variety of reefs and breaks make for arguably the world’s most fertile surfing grounds.
Honolulu is the wider world’s gateway to Hawaii, so it makes sense that a lot of travellers look for good surf near the capital. Luckily for them, and you, it’s really not that hard to find.
Best Beaches for Surfing Near Honolulu
On the southeastern side of the city is the area of Waikiki, one of Hawaii’s most popular stretches of coast and, in many ways, one of the most important places in the history of surfing. Father of modern surfing Duke Kahanamoku grew up riding these waves, and the Waikiki Beach Boys came to define what it was to be a surfer.
The beach is supre beginner-friendly, with consistent and gentle waves offering an ideal climate to learn. There are breaks to the left and the right and, when the conditions rumble up, some intense swells invite the seasoned pros to come put on a show.
This is very much the hub for Oahu surf, so you can expect plenty of surf schools and shops, as well as lifeguards keeping an eye out. More importantly, this is the beating heart of surf culture in Honolulu, so it’s the place to be to experience the buzz, the crowds and the friendly, sociable culture that defines the surf community. It’s a great place to meet people, be it fellow beginners learning alongside you, or the occasion poster-boy icon popping down to ride the Waikiki waves.
This patch, right in the middle of the city seafront, is where the real aficionados come to play. Aided by the manmade dredging done for the harbour, the Ala Moana Bowls is home to locally famous long left, which attracts the best surfers in town all year round.
This is a wave you only ride with experience and ability, but even if you’re not at that level just yet, it’s worth heading down to Ala Moana just to see the pros in action. It’s a truly thrilling sight, and an inspiring experience. You might even get the chance to chat to some top class surfers, who can share their tips on how to get to Ala Moana Bowl level.
Further down the Ala Moana Beach there are further surf spots, ranging in difficulty and style. These still aren’t especially beginner-friendly, but can be a great place to step up your game at the intermediate level.
Further to the southeast, right on the outskirts of Honolulu, is the large chunk of land jutting out in the ocean, known as Diamond Head. This is an obvious and natural place to catch some seriously good surf, although conditions are a little more seasonal here, with enough exposure for the area to become more of a wind surfing spot at certain times of year. This is also a pretty high performance area, particularly around the lighthouse, so don’t tackle Diamond Head until you know you’re ready.
Oahu is one of the surf capitals of the world, so don’t be afraid to venture further out than Honolulu. If you’re staying in the capital it is amazing to have so much good surf right on your doorstep, but there’s an awful lot of amazing stuff to discover all over the island. Read our guide to surfing in Oahu to discover more.
Surfing Lessons in Honolulu
As you can imagine, Honolulu is home to the most densely populated collection of surf schools and lesson providers in Hawaii. There are options all the way from Ala Moana to the southern reaches of Waikiki Beach, near Diamond Head.
Booking a lesson may sound daunting but the instructors in this part of the world are so friendly, patient and knowledgeable, that the experience is almost always an enriching one. It is remarkable how much your ability can be improved over a session or two, particularly when it comes to foundational techniques that apply to an expert as much as they do an amateur. Lessons are particularly recommended for newbies, but even if you have some experience, or are new to Hawaii surf, we think it’s worth checking out a surf school or two.
You can always book a private session for a really hands-on, tailored learning experience, but group sessions are the most affordable, as well as being a good way of meeting like-minded enthusiasts at a similar stage of their development journey.
Just on the relatively short stretch of beachfront in Honolulu there is so much to choose from when it comes to booking your lessons. Most of the providers here are very good, but always check reviews and ensure instructors are certified. We can vouch for Stoke Drift Surf School, Kahu Surf School and Sparky’s Surf School in particular.
Surf Shops and Rentals in Honolulu
Just like with schools, there is no shortage of surf shops in Honolulu, be it directly on the beachfront or a little deeper into town. If you’re new to surfing, or even just new to Hawaii, then you’re most likely going to be looking for a board. Most shops offer rental services if that’s more convenient than buying outright, and the staff who tend to work in these places are passionate surfers themselves, so are likely to be extremely friendly and helpful when it comes to picking out the perfect board for you.
Most shops also offer extra gear like wetsuits, fins and leashes, while others also bring in the fashion side of surfing, so you can really look the part on the Hawaii surf scene. As well as a place to buy and rent, these shops tend to act as little hubs for the local community, making them a great place to meet people and get chatting. Find out about lesser-known surf spots, other things to do in the city and surf events coming up in the area.
Again, there are a lot of shops to choose from, and we recommend popping into every one you see. But, when it comes to the most reliable spots to spend your money, we recommend looking at Hawaiian South Shore, Blue Planet Surf Shop and Moku Hawaii.
For beginners Honolulu is without doubt a year-round surf destination. The water temperature always remains pleasant, while there are surfable conditions pretty much 365 days a year. Things are at their tastiest in Waikiki during summer (June-August) when the waves are at their highest. This part of the island relies on summer’s south swells, so this is when the seasoned surfers come to town. Don’t worry though, there should still be waves to cater for all levels in summer.
Spring (March-May) and Fall (September-November) offer some really pleasant wave sizes for beginners and early intermediates, while the smaller shoulder season crowds might also attract you at this time of year. In winter the south swells fade away and experts head to other parts of the island in search of surf but, if you’re a proper beginner, this can be a great time to work on your basic techniques.
This is an AI assisted article produced by Gethin Morgan.
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