The Ultimate Guide to Surfing in Kauai
Kauai is not only known for its lush landscapes, but also for its amazing surf.
Not usually acknowledged by the surf world, Kauai has a lot to offer.
The locals are extremely protective of their waves and rightfully so.
Kauai has long been protected from exposure by the surf media.
Growing up here has taught me how tight night-knit a community of surfers can be.
It was a treat to grow up on Kauai — it blossomed my adoration for surfing and showed me some great waves.
It was at Hanalei Bay where my dad pushed me into my first wave and on the south shore where I paddled out on a shortboard for the first time.
It’s hard to fully encapsulate Kauai’s surf, but in this article, I'll give you a glimpse of what makes Kauai a surf mecca, and most importantly, how to respect the island and its locals.
What’s So Special About Surfing in Kauai?
From the waves to the surf culture and more, there's nothing like surfing in Kauai.
Despite not getting very much coverage from surf media, Kauai has some of the best waves to offer in the Hawaiian islands.
It has a very diverse choice of waves.
During the winter the North Shore can house some legit big waves and pumping surf.
The north shore is home to the well known Hanalei Bay. Hanalei has many types of waves for any kind of surfer.
The summer is when the south shore of Kauai turns on.
The south shore is home to lots of reef breaks and ramp-like waves, where surfers can show off their best maneuver or air.
The Surf Culture
The surf culture in Kauai is a huge part of Kauai’s culture as a whole.
Many people take pride in local surf shops whether they surf or not.
Most people who grew up on Kauai have some basic knowledge of surfing.
If you’re an outsider it’s important that you show respect in the water.
Kauai locals take humility and respect incredibly seriously. If you want to surf a spot it’s important that you put in your time.
Once respect is earned, the tight knit community will welcome you into the family with open arms. It has also produced some world champion talent over the years.
Andy and Bruce Irons were born and raised on the North Shore of Kauai and learned to surf at Hanalei Bay and Kauai has always been behind both of them even after Andy’s untimely death in 2010.
The 5 Best Surf Spots In Kauai
On the south shore of the island is a popular surf spot called PK’s.
Named after the hotel sitting directly in front of the break, PK’s is a fun right-handed reef break that attracts a lot of kids looking to improve their high performance surfing.
As a goofy footer, I usually prefer the left directly adjacent to PK’s, Centers.
Both waves are great summer waves usually picking south and southwest swells up the best.
On small days the crowd can get heavy with longboarders but when summer comes the waves usually pick up sending the longboards home.
PK’s is pretty welcoming but like most of Kauai intolerant towards tourists and beginners.
Also on the south shore is Shipwreck Beach.
This is a heavy reef break that breaks a mere 100 feet from the shore.
Primarily a right, Shipwreck’s is a quick but exhilarating ride.
When a south swell comes through the reef, surfers can find themselves a tube and an air section at the end of the wave.
However the beach will close out if the waves get too big.
The crowd can get heavy but most days it’s full of locals pushing their wavestorm to its limit.
Despite this being directly in front of a major hotel, locals are somewhat protective of Shipwreck’s, so only surf it if you are an intermediate to advanced surfer.
On the north shore lies the beautiful Hanalei Bay.
It is home to a diversity of waves from beach breaks to reef breaks.
In the eastern corner of the bay is the most popular and well known surf spot in the bay, known by the locals as The Bowl. This wave can range from a fun longboarding right to a tow-in wave.
Then there’s Pine Trees, a popular beach break surfed by groms and uncles alike. Waikoko’s a beautiful left reef break on Western corner of the bay.
Crowds get heavier in the winter and waves are almost non-existent during the summer.
Perhaps what Hanalei is most known for in the surfing world is raising the Iron Brothers — it’s here where Andy and Bruce Irons learned to surf.
On the east coast just past Kapaa is Kealia Beach.
Kealia is a long beach with multiple peaks making crowds on fun days very doable. It’s not an amazing wave but it can be pretty reliable.
The sandbar here will usually give you something to surf during the fall and winter months.
It usually works best when it's glassed off or directly offshore and picks up northeast and east swells the best.
Since this is a very public beach park just off the main highway going north, it’s extremely welcoming to surfers of all abilities.
There’s usually something for everyone here from fun rolling waves to the occasional double overhead day.
Polihale State Park is a secluded beach nearly two miles down a dirt road on the west coast of Kauai.
Its picturesque views of the Na Pali coast are not the only thing drawing people to this beach.
Over the years it has proved to be a great beach break for Kauai surfers.
It usually catches northwest swells and has a sandbar that’s constantly shifting.
There’s no particular peak at Polihale but in the winter you can find perfect waves with no one on them.
The only thing stopping you is the extreme currents and shifting sandbars that contribute to Polihale’s unpredictability.
This wave is reserved for experienced surfers that are ready for a good beat down and relentless paddling session.
The Bottom Line: Kauai Surfing
Kauai is special indeed.
I could write pages about the beauty of the island that raised me because it is truly unrivaled.
Not only is it a beautiful place but it also offers some world class waves.
However, these waves are largely unexposed contributing to Kauai’s amazing culture.
If you do go to surf Kauai, immerse yourself in the culture.
Take the time to understand the island and its people. They are extremely welcoming and loving people if you show respect.
The Garden Island holds a special place in my heart and I hope it does for you one day as well.