Perhaps no word is more associated with Hawaii than surfing. Every year the best of the best gather here to have their Super Bowl: Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. The pros dominate the waves for a month, but the rest of the year belongs to people like us, just trying to have fun and get a little exercise.
Oahu is unique because it has so many famous spots: Banzai Pipeline, Waimea Bay, Kaiser Bowls, and Sunset Beach resonate in young surfers' hearts the world over. The renown of these spots comes with a price: competition for those waves. The aloha spirit lives in many places but not on premium waves. As long as you follow the rules of the road and concede waves to local riders, you should not have problems. Just remember that locals view these waves as their property, and everything should be all right.
Makaha Beach Park. If you like to ride waves, try Makaha Beach on Oahu's west side. It has legendary, interminable rights that allow riders to perform all manner of stunts: from six-man canoes with everyone doing headstands to bully boards (oversize boogie boards) with whole families along for the ride. Mainly known as a longboarding spot, it's predominantly local but respectful to outsiders. Use caution in the winter, as the surf can get huge. It's not called Makaha—which means "fierce"—for nothing. 84-369 Farrington Hwy., Waianae, HI, 96792.
Sunset Beach. If you want to impress your surfing buddies back home, catch a wave at the famous Sunset Beach on Oahu's North Shore. Two of the more manageable breaks are Kammie Land (or Kammie's) and Sunset Point. For the daring, Sunset is part of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing for a reason. Thick waves and long rides await, but you're going to want to have a thick board and a thicker skull. Surf etiquette here is a must, as it's mostly local. 59-104 Kamehameha Hwy., 1 mile north of Ehukai Beach Park, Haleiwa, HI, 96712.
Ulukou Beach. In Waikiki you can paddle out to Populars, a break at Ulukou Beach. Nice and easy, Populars—or Pops—never breaks too hard and is friendly to both newbies and veterans. It's one of the best places to surf during pumping south swells, as this thick wave breaks in open ocean, making it more rideable. The only downside is the long paddle out to the break from Kuhio Beach, but that keeps the crowds manageable. Waikiki Beach, in front of the Sheraton Waikiki hotel, Honolulu, HI, 96815.
White Plains Beach. Known among locals as "mini Waikiki," the surf at White Plains breaks in numerous spots, preventing the logjams that are inevitable at many of Oahu's more popular spots. It's a great break for novice to intermediate surfers, though you do have to keep a lookout for wayward boards. From the H1, take the Makakilo exit. Off H1, Kapolei, HI, 96707.
Equipment and Lessons
Hans Hedemann Surf School. Hans Hedemann spent 17 years on the professional surfer circuit. He and his staff offer surfing, bodysurfing, and stand-up paddleboard instruction, four-day intensive surf camps, and fine-tuning courses with Hedemann himself. One-hour group lessons begin at $75 per person, and private lessons are $150 per person. There's a second location at Turtle Bay Resort in Kahuku. Park Shore Waikiki, 2586 Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu, HI, 96815. PHONE: 808/924-7778 or 808/447-6755. www.hhsurf.com.
Hawaiian Fire. Learn how to surf from some of Hawaii's most knowledgeable water-safety experts at this school, owned and operated by Honolulu firefighters. Lessons include two hours of surfing time (with a lunch break) at a secluded beach near Barbers Point. Transportation is available to and from Waikiki or Ko Olina. Two-hour group lessons begin at $109 per person, while private lessons are $159 per person. 3318 Campbell Ave., Honolulu, HI, 96815. PHONE: 808/737-3473 or 888/955-7873. www.hawaiianfire.com.
Surf 'N Sea. This is a one-stop shop for water-sports enthusiasts on the North Shore. Rent a shortboard for $5 an hour or a longboard for $7 an hour ($24 and $30 for full-day rentals). Lessons start at $85 for three hours. Surf safaris for experienced surfers, which can last between four to five hours, are $220 per person. 62-595 Kamehameha Hwy., Haleiwa, HI, 96712. PHONE: 800/899-7873. www.surfnsea.com.
Aloha Beach Services. It may sound like a cliché, but there's no better way to learn to surf than from a beach boy in Waikiki. And there's no one better than Harry "Didi" Robello, a second-generation beach boy and owner of Aloha Beach Services. Learn to surf for $40 in an hour-long group lesson, $60 for a semiprivate lesson, or $80 with just you and an instructor. You can also rent a board for $15 an hour. 2365 Kalakaua Ave., on the beach near the Moana Surfrider, Honolulu, HI, 96815. PHONE: 808/922-3111. www.alohabeachservices.com.
Faith Surf School. Professional surfer Tony Moniz started his own surf school in 2000, and since then he and his wife Tammy have helped thousands of people catch their first waves in Waikiki. The 90-minute group lessons are $60 per person and include all equipment and transportation. Semiprivate lessons with up to three people are $100 per person, and private lessons are $125. For $500 per person you can book an all-day surf tour with Moniz, riding waves with him at his favorite breaks. Sheraton Waikiki, 2255 Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu, HI, 96815. PHONE: 808/931-6262. www.faithsurfschool.com.
Hans Hedemann Surf School. Get professional instruction in stand-up paddleboarding right in Waikiki, where the sport originated. This school offers group lessons for $75 per person, semiprivate lessons for $125 per person, and private training for $150 per person. Lessons are also offered through the second location at Turtle Bay Resort in Kahuku. Park Shore Waikiki, 2586 Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu, HI, 96815-6614. PHONE: 808/924-7778 or 808/447-6755. www.hhsurf.com.
Surf 'N Sea. With stand-up paddling lessons for every skill level, Surf 'N Sea is a great place to start. Beginners can take the introductory lesson for $55 per person and learn proper paddling technique. A two-hour session that focuses on honing your skills is $85 per person. More advanced paddlers can book surf trips that take you out to several North Shore breaks. 62-595 Kamehameha Hwy., Haleiwa, HI, 96712. PHONE: 808/637-3008 or 800/899-7873. www.surfnsea.com.
Paddle Core Fitness. Paddling is a way of life for Reid Inouye, who now shares his passion for the sport with students. (He's also the publisher of Standup Paddle Magazine.) His company offers introductory classes as well as fitness programs for serious paddlers. Lesssons are held in the flat waters of Ala Moana Beach, where there's a designated area for paddling. Prices range from $50 for group lessons to $75 for private lessons. Ala Moana Beach Park, Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu, HI, 96814. PHONE: 808/723-5357. www.paddlecorefitness.com.
Rainbow Watersports Adventures. When you spot this company's rainbow van you'll know you're in the right place. A two-hour group lesson on Oahu's North Shore costs $79 per person. Semiprivate lessons—two paddlers, one instructor—are $89 per person. One-on-one lessons cost $99. A two- to three-hour coastal-adventure trip costs $197. Haleiwa Beach Park, Kamehameha Hwy., Haleiwa, HI, 96712. PHONE: 800/470-4964 or 808/372-9304. www.rainbowwatersports.com.
Hawaiian Watersports. Paddle in the picturesque Kailua Bay or in the waters off Waikiki with Hawaiian Watersports. Two-hour lessons are $99 for groups and $179 for private sessions. If you book eight hours of lessons you get a discounted rate, and there are deals on the website. Rentals start at $49 for a half day. There's also a branch in Kailua. 415 Kapahulu Ave., Honolulu, HI, 96815. PHONE: 808/262-5483 or 808/739-5483. www.hawaiianwatersports.com.