Good ol' stand-up surfing is alive and well on Kauai, especially in winter's high-surf season on the North Shore. If you're new to the sport, we highly recommend taking a lesson. Not only will this ensure you're up and riding waves in no time, but instructors will provide the right board for your experience and size, help you time a wave, and give you a push to get your momentum going. You don't need to be in top physical shape to take a lesson. Because your instructor helps push you into the wave, you won't wear yourself out paddling. If you're experienced and want to hit the waves on your own, most surf shops rent boards for all levels, from beginners to advanced.
Perennial-favorite beginning surf spots include Poipu Beach (the area fronting the Marriott Waiohai Beach Club); Hanalei Bay (the area next to the Hanalei Pier); and the stream end of Kalapaki Beach
. More advanced surfers move down the beach in Hanalei to an area fronting a grove of pine trees known as Pine Trees
. When the trade winds die, the north ends of Wailua and Kealia beaches are teeming with surfers. Breaks off Poipu and Beach House/Lawai Beach attract intermediates year-round. During high surf, the break on the cliff side of Kalihiwai is for experts only.
Blue Seas Surf School. Surfer and instructor Charlie Smith specializes in beginners (especially children) and will go anywhere on the island to find just the right surf. His soft-top longboards are very stable, making it easier to stand up. He specializes in one-on-one or family lessons, so personal interaction is a priority. He has also added stand-up paddling to his operation. Rates start at $65 for a 1½-hour lesson. (Transportation provided, if needed.) Marriott's Waiohai Beach Club, 2249 Poipu Rd., Koloa, HI, 96756. PHONE: 808/634-6979. www.blueseassurfingschool.com.
Margo Oberg Surfing School. Seven-time world surfing champion and hall of famer Margo Oberg runs a surf school that meets on the beach in front of the Sheraton Kauaii in Poipu. Lessons are $68 for two hours, though Margo's staff teaches more than she does these days. 2440 Hoonani Rd., Koloa, HI, 96756. PHONE: 808/332-6100. www.surfonkauai.com.
Nukumoi Surf Co.. The parents of Kauai-grown and world-famous Rochelle Ballard own this surf shop. Not that the instructors who teach surfing here these days taught Rochelle, but they are die-hard surfers, even if they never made the international scene. Lessons run $75 for two hours with no more than four students per instructor. Their primary surf spot is the beach fronting the Sheraton. Nukumoi also does stand-up rentals ($25/hour; $100/day; $300/week). 2100 Hoone Rd., across from Poipu Beach Park, Koloa, HI, 96756. PHONE: 808/742-8019. www.nukumoisurf.com.
Titus Kinimaka Hawaiian School of Surfing. Famed as a pioneer of big-wave surfing, this Hawaiian believes in giving back to his sport. Beginning, intermediate, and advanced lessons are available. If you want to learn to surf from a living legend, this is the man. He employs other instructors, so if you want Titus, be sure to ask for him. (And good luck, because if the waves are going off, he'll be surfing, not teaching.) Rates are $55 for a 90-minute group lesson; $65 for a 90-minute group stand-up paddle lesson. Customers are also able to use the board for a while after the lesson is complete. Quicksilver, 5-5088 Kuhio Hwy., Hanalei, HI, 96714. PHONE: 808/652-1116. www.hawaiianschoolofsurfing.com.
Hanalei Surf Company. You can rent boards here and shop for rash guards, wet suits, and some hip surf-inspired apparel. Hanalei Center, 5-5161 Kuhio Hwy., Hanalei, HI, 96714. PHONE: 808/826-9000. www.hanaleisurf.com.
Nukumoi Surf Co. If you're looking for convenience, this is the spot. No toting boards on your car, because this shop is located right across from the beach. Hoone Rd., across from Poipu Beach Park, Koloa, HI, 96756. PHONE: 808/742-6041. www.nukumoisurf.com.
Progressive Expressions. This full-service shop has a choice of rental boards and a whole lotta shopping. 5428 Koloa Rd., Koloa, HI, 96756. PHONE: 808/742-6041.
Tamba Surf Company. This is your best bet for surf rentals on the East Side and the biggest name in local surf apparel. 4-1543 Kuhio Hwy., across from Scotty's Beachside BBQ, Kapaa, HI, 96746. PHONE: 808/823-6942. www.tambasurfcompany.com.