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Hawaii's 9 Best Waves

Updated: Apr 27

Hawaii is where the global surfing world — past and present — meets.


Surfers of all walks of life dream of surfing the big waves of Pe’ahi, the performance tubes of Pipeline, and even the slow-rolling waves of Waikiki.


With so much good surf spread across the Aloha State, it can be tough to narrow down one spot to surf.


In this article, we’ll break down some of Hawaii's best waves for surfers of all abilities, whether you're a beginner or a seasoned pro.


Hawaii’s 9 Best Waves


Pipeline

Of course, our list of Hawaii's best waves starts with the famed Pipeline.


The mecca of the surfing world, Banzai Pipeline is located on the North Shore of Oahu at Ehukai Beach Park.


Once thought unsurfable when discovered by surfers in the 1960s due to its extremely hollow and large tubes breaking over a shallow razor sharp reef, Pipe has become known as the one of the best waves in the world.


Pipe’s three reefs usually turn on during a West or Northwest swell forming a perfect A-frame tube.



Surfers like Gerry Lopez to John John Florence have made their names out at Pipe.


Pipe holds multiple contests throughout the winter including a stop on the WSL Championship Tour.


Despite the glory that Pipe holds throughout the surfing world it’s still an extremely difficult and dangerous wave to ride.

It has a left simply known as Pipeline and then an extremely hollow right known as Backdoor.


Dropping in is anything but easy at Pipe. The reef sucks so much water and the wave ramps up so quickly that one is practically dropping in non-vertically.


If you can make the drop, which is a big if, you’re usually awarded with one of the best, most powerful tubes of your life.


In addition to the extremely hazardous conditions Pipe is home to very strict pecking order in the lineup, making it all the more difficult to get a wave.


Haleiwa

Also on the North Shore of Oahu, Haleiwa is the start of one of the best stretches of surf in the world.


Although Haleiwa is a chaotic reef break during the winter, some of the inside reefs are perfect for groms to cut their teeth.


Haleiwa takes North and Northwest swells best. Its main break is just in front Ali’i Beach Park and during the winter it can get extremely intense.

Photo: WSL


The currents at Haleiwa are pretty tricky and can either leave you paddling in place or send you straight out to sea. It takes a very experienced waterman to navigate the reefs and rips at Haleiwa.

Some surfers elect to use the rip to their advantage using it to paddle out to the lineup.


The closeout section at the end of the wave at Haleiwa is known as the Toilet Bowl and can be extremely dangerous for both the surfer and their board.


The Toilet Bowl is extremely shallow and very powerful and is not a place where you want to fall at Haleiwa.


Photo: WSL


Crowds can get pretty heavy when it's pumping in the winter but there's usually plenty of waves to go around if you’re respectful and know what you’re doing.


Sunset


Along the 7 mile miracle on the North Shore of Oahu is the famed Sunset Beach.


Why is it one of Hawaii's best waves? Visit Sunset Beach during the winter, and you'll quickly see why.


Known for its difficult conditions and extremely strong currents, Sunset Beach is a wave for only the most skilled surfers, especially during the winter.


Sunset needs a north or northwestern swell to turn on and when those swells hit, Sunset is no joke.

There’s quite a few reefs out at Sunset, the most frequently surfed is Val’s Reef, the most mellow among the group.



Then there’s West Peak, which gets going on those NW swells. Sunset is known for being a paddle heavy wave and being increasingly unpredictable.


A gnarly rip current can easily get you caught inside until Sunset eventually just spits you back out on the beach.


Sunset is full of stories and legends as well. Legendary surfer Herbie Fletcher lost his board at Sunset and a friend found it washed up on Kauai, displaying the unforgiving currents at Sunset.

Along with boards Sunset has claimed many lives over the years and should be taken incredibly seriously.


Makaha


On the West coast of Oahu is Makaha Beach. Before Waimea Bay was conquered Makaha was where early surfers would try their luck in real big waves.


Widely considered the birthplace of big wave surfing, Makaha is home to some serious legends — and that's what makes it one of Hawaii's best waves.

It’s here where Greg Noll conquered a huge storm in 1969.


Much of the North Shore was too big and stormy to ride so Noll headed down to Makaha where it’s said that he rode one of the biggest waves ever ridden. This pushed both Noll and Makaha into legend status. In terms of swell, Makaha works best on a northwest swell but it tends to provide surf year round for longboards to guns.


Wave height usually reaches up to 25 feet during the winter and they are usually composed of mostly right handed waves.


The crowds can get pretty bad and waves are usually reserved for west side locals who have been known to be pretty rough around the edges.


If you surf Makaha, be respectful and know it’s history.


Makaha also holds Buffalo’s Big Board Surfing Classic once a year named after legendary Makaha lifeguard Buffalo Keaulana.


Honolua Bay

Located on Maui is one of the best right handed point breaks in the world.


Honolua Bay is tucked away on the northwest shore of Maui and is capable of fun two to four foot waves or terrifying double to triple overhead surf depending on the time of year, making it one of Hawaii's best waves.

Surfers at Honolua are awarded nearly a quarter mile long rides and stand up barrel sections.


It usually lights up on a NW swell and a NE can sometimes bring in some surf as well. Winter usually provides Maui surfers with plenty of pumping surf.


Summer through early fall is usually pretty lackluster for surfing and Honolua usually becomes a better snorkeling spot rather than a surf spot.


That being said, Maui locals are protective of this spot — especially when it’s pumping.


Crowds can also be heavy as this is one of the most popular point breaks not only in Maui but in the world.


Honolua also boasts a final stop on the WSL Women’s Championship Tour, and has crowned many women WSL champions over the years.


Pe’ahi

Hawaii’s premiere big wave spot, Pe’ahi or Jaws is a ferocious big wave located on Maui.


Photo: WSL


Surfers once thought Pe’ahi was simply too big to paddle into and it was. That was until Laird Hamilton and a crew of big wave surfers pioneered tow-in surfing at Jaws, allowing surfers to get into bigger waves earlier. Hamilton eventually became the first surfer to tow-in at Jaws.


Pe’ahi usually lights up on a north or northwestern swell and is only the pristine big wave seen in magazines a couple of times a year.


It’s no doubt that Jaws is reserved for only the best and most experienced watermen with wave sizes reaching up to 60 feet in winter months.


Pe’ahi holds the Red Bull Jaws Big Wave Challenge competition once a year in between the months of November to March.

Photo: WSL


It’s rare to see Pe’ahi breaking perfectly but when it does it is one of the best big waves in the world.


Waikiki


Waikiki is considered the birthplace of modern surfing.

It’s here where Waikiki beach boy Duke Kahanamoku introduced surfing to the world.


The turquoise blue water, white sand, palm trees and easy going waves all provide for a dreamy Hawaiian surf day, making it one of Hawaii's best waves.



Today, it’s a perfect beginner wave, providing tourists and locals alike with fun slow rolling longboarding waves.


It usually gets going on a south swell making it an ideal summer wave.


There’s quite a few breaks all along Waikiki beach, including

  • Queens

  • Canoes

  • Kaiser

  • Threes

  • Publics

  • and more


Queens is a pristine longboarding wave and one of the best waves in Waikiki.


Waikiki is also home to some longboarding icons, including Kaniela Stewart, who finished second last year on the WSL Men’s Longboarding Tour.


Unfortunately, Waikiki can often be a mirage.

The crowds can be unbearable, especially during the summer months.


You can usually sneak in a couple of long rides but you’ll usually have to dodge a plethora of tourists who are way in over their head.


Ala Moana Bowls

The South Shore of Oahu’s best performance wave, Ala Moana Bowls is a great wave that really turns on in the summer months on a south swell. Ala Moana is a reeling left reef break with numerous tube sections. It’s also worth noting Ala Moana is a man made wave.



In the 1950’s construction crews connected Kewalo Basin and the Ala Wai Small Boat Yacht Harbor, the construction led to creation of the bowl as we know it today.


Not too far from Waikiki, Ala Moana for most of the year is a perfect wave for surfers of all abilities looking for a great high performance wave.

However, in the summer, when it catches a bombing south swell it becomes a playground for only the best surfers from Oahu’s south shore.


Locals here can be pretty territorial, so it’s important to know your place in the lineup and know what you're doing.


Hanalei Bay

Located on the secluded North Shore of the Garden Isle, Hanalei Bay is a great spot for beginners and advanced surfers alike.


Tucked away in the lush Hanalei Valley on Kauai are some legit big waves and fun beach breaks. The Iron brothers hail from Hanalei and helped put it on the map.

The entire bay usually needs a north swell to get going, meaning winter months are most plentiful for waves at Hanalei.


The main break is a right reef break on the eastern side of the bay known simply as The Bowl.


During the winter this wave can get tow-in big but for the most part it's set aside for advanced surfers who have local knowledge.


Patience for non locals and beginners is very thin out at The Bowl.


Pinetrees is a fun beach break that can also get big during the winter months but for the most part this wave is perfect for intermediate surfers and groms.

Pinetrees can be a great longboarding wave in the spring and summer months as well.


Then, on the western side of the bay, is Waikokos, another fun reef break going left.


The Bottom Line: Hawaii's Best Waves



Surfing is embedded in Hawaii’s culture, and it’s a one stop shop for any kind of wave that a surfer desires.


There are plenty of waves to go around in the Aloha State as long as you respect the culture and locals who were there before you.

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