Surfing in Hawaii is not for the faint of heart, but certain breaks are more welcoming to those just picking up surfing or looking for a more high-performance wave.
Waikiki is on the south side of Oahu, west of the inactive Diamond Head volcano.
The Waikiki strip is hard to miss as it has been continuously industrialized and catered towards tourists and businesses.
Waikiki Surf Guide
History of Waikiki
With its mesmerizing clear water and miles of pristine sand beaches, Waikiki has been the center of much of Hawaii’s tourism since the beginning of the 20th century.
As more and more mainland Americans came to visit and live in Honolulu at the tail end of the 19th century, Waikiki began to grow exponentially.
The first hotel, The Moana Hotel, opened in 1901, and wealthy tourists would come and spend their money in Waikiki.
A handful of Hawaiians saw this as an opportunity to profit from tourism in their own way.
Kimo Makua, Ted Bush, Bob Nagatani, and Moku Kamaka founded The Beach Boys of Waikiki and began offering surf lessons, canoe rides, and lifeguarding services to those visiting Waikiki.
Duke Kahanamoku, commonly known as “The Duke,” became one of these men and helped propel surfing and swimming as it had not been done before.
Of native Hawaiian descent, Duke was a three-time Olympic gold medalist in swimming and spread surfing to the United States and Australia with his Hawaiian friend George Freeth.
The two men single-handedly launched the modern surf culture and helped surfing become what it is today.
Waves in Waikiki
Waikiki has various reef breaks and allows for all levels of surfers, although beginner surfers should stick to Queens.
When big swells come from the south, the best spots are Ala Moana Bowls, Kaisers, Rockpiles, and Populars.
It is worth mentioning that there are tons of surf spots on Oahu, and close to Waikiki, there are Diamond Head and Kewalos.
If it is overhead and firing, it will be heavy and crowded, as locals will be out all day.
Surfing in the Hawaiian archipelago has been around since roughly the 12th century.
It was introduced by the Polynesians when they came to Hawaii and was extremely intertwined with their Kapu system and religion.
It is still a major part of Hawaiian culture, and in Waikiki, there are many different surf shops and surf schools.
The surf culture in Hawaii is built on respect and gratitude.
You don’t just paddle out to any break and take whatever wave you want; this will, without a doubt, land you in the crosshairs of the locals.
I have never experienced a negative attitude while surfing anywhere in Hawaii from any locals.
This means respecting the lineup, understanding where to be, and recognizing your place in the lineup.
If you do this, you will have some amazing rides and memorable waves, all while being respectful and grateful.
Gear Needed to Surf In Waikiki
Waikiki and Hawaii, in general, are one of, if not the best places to surf in the world. Year-round, you can rock your boardies as the water always stays around 76 degrees Fahrenheit.
It truly is a surfer's paradise; the only thing you might want to consider is a shirt or rash guard, so you don’t have to lather up your chest and abs after a long session in the water.
The Best Surf Spots In Waikiki
Typically, a longboarder's paradise, Queens sits east of Kuhio Beach Park in the center of Waikiki, right near the towering beachside resorts of Waikiki Beach.
It is a long right with shorter lefts and usually has a mellow face that is rideable for hundreds of feet into the bay.
The best swell direction is southeast and southwest, with the wind blowing offshore from the northwest or east. It will be crowded, and watch out for flying boards; it isn’t uncommon for surfers to hit each other.
Called Canoes due to the abundance of outriggers that scatter the beach, it sits only a couple of hundred yards past the main Waikiki beach break.
When the wind is offshore, coming from the northwest or east, and a swell is coming from the south, it can become a fun tubing right that can be forgiving.
This punchy reef break has a mix of a mushy left with a bowly peaky right that peels in the bay.
The best tide is low to medium, with waist-high waves and holds even when well overhead.
The best swell direction is south-southeast, and the wind is blowing offshore from the north.
It can get quite crowded, as many breaks in Waikiki succumb to.
Right in front of The Pier near the Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort, it's a decently welcoming wave when it isn’t pumping.
If you are lucky enough to come out of a tube, you will likely have a mellow paddle back out to the lineup, thanks to the channel at the end of the wave.
It does get crowded with all levels of surfers.
The best swell direction is southeast and southwest, and the best wind is coming from northwest and east.
Holds very well even when double overhead, though it is a hard wave to get into when lower than chest high.
Sitting in front of Kahanamoku Beach, this shallow reef break is a more challenging wave for those begging to surf, and I would not recommend it to surfers who don’t know the rules of the lineup, as it is a little localized.
It holds chest to well overhead and is ideal on southeast and southwest swells, with the wind blowing from the northwest or east, as do most breaks in Waikiki.
The lefts will close out on shallow reefs, and there are sea urchins.... You have been warned.
In between Kaisers and Ala Moana Bowls sits Rockpiles. The best place to paddle out is from the jetty that runs along Kahanamoku Beach.
It will take some timing, so don’t be that person who dings their board before they even go out (Same paddle out as Kaisers).
Also, a shallow reef breaks right that has a peaky barrel.
Holds best on south-southeast swells and west offshore winds. It can get crowded and is not for beginners.
Ala Moana Bowls
To the right of the jetty off of the Magic Island Lagoon, this high-performance wave is a fast hollow left that is best when chest high to double overhead.
The best tide is medium, either low going high or high going low.
The best swell direction is southeast to southwest, with offshore wind coming from the northwest or east.
Hopping off the jetty or paddling from the bay are the best ways to get out to the peak, but the bay paddle is quite long.
The Bottom Line: Surfing in Waikiki
If you are looking for some mellow to high-performance surfing in Oahu and want to mitigate risk, then Waikiki is for you.
There will be various breaks throughout the bay; if you are there in the winter, it would be hard not to find one of these spots breaking good enough to grab some... tasty waves, as Spicoli would say.
Ditch the wetsuits, grab your boardies, and head out. Don’t forget to respect the lineup and locals around you.