Hawaii surfing has long been part of Polynesian culture. A sport reserved for royalty, the ancients would move from their winter homes in the north shore to their summer retreats in the south of the islands to pick up the best waves all year round. The sport was popularized by Olympic swimmer Duke Kahanamoku in the 1920's, whose statue claims prize position on Waikiki's waterfront.
Hawaii surfing waves have two distinct seasons. The biggest hit the north shores of all the islands between November and March, generated from winter storms around Alaska. The first landmass the resulting waves hit to the south are the Hawaii Islands, a distance of over 5000km, by which time the waves can be massive. The lie of the land and ocean floor on Oahu's north shore are particularly favourable to receiving monster waves and endless barrels. The north shore of Maui (Hookipa Beach) receives the best of the wind-surfing conditions.
By summer, the waves on the north shores are as flat as glass and unimaginable for surfing. But things are different on the south shores. Tropical storms in the south pacific send waves northwards and reach the exposed south shores of all islands between June and October. These waves are not as intense as the winter waves that hit the north shores, but the south coast of Oahu (including Waikiki Beach) and Kauai (Poipu Beach) have particularly favourable conditions for surfing and excellent boogie boarding.
Oahu surfing is fabled for its monster waves between October and March and its world surfing championships. The small town of Haleiwa is a mecca for travelling surfers with several large surf board rentals and good breaks at Haleiwa Beach Park where there are camping facilities. The biggest breaks are along Sunset Beach to the east of Haleiwa. The Banzai Pipeline is probably the best known surfing break in the world with its excellent tubes and surging crest. Sunset Rip is another notorious break and is the venue for several international competitions. The surf at Sunset Beach is summer is remarkably calm and placid and is ironically a good scuba diving and snorkelling area. Other good winter surfing sites are along the west coast, especially around the small village of Makaha where international surfing competitions are held.
Waikiki Beach has excellent year round surfing for beginners and is the best place to ride the waves in the summer months when the north shore waters become tame. Waikiki Beach has numerous surfing schools and board rentals. The best boogie boarding and body surfing beaches are along the south east corner of Oahu, including the best and most dangerous spot at Sandy Beach. Waikiki Beach also has great boogie boarding breaks.
Kauai is an excellent surfing spot for beginners with reliable waves on the south coast at Poipu most of the year as well as at the protected bay at Kalapaki Beach on the south east coast. The winter months can bring on monster waves to the north east coast where the surf is at its roughest and experienced surfers will be seen challenging them at Kealia Beach. Wind-surfing and kite-boarding are excellent around Kailua on the east coast.
Big Island surfing has the least appeal of the Hawaiian Islands, although there are several excellent breaks at Waipio on the north coast and at Papeekeo just north of Hilo on the east coast. There are several reasonable breaks also at Keauhopu just south of Kailua Town on the west coast.
In Maui, the best spots for surfing are off the north shore between Hookipa Beach and Baldwin Park (summer surfing is good) and Napili Bay. Beginners will find Kealia Beach in Kihei (west coast) a great place to learn. Winds pick up in the afternoons so if you are not experienced, go early. Body surfing is good at Lahaina harbour. Maui also has the very best wind-surfing spot at Hookipa Beach on the north shore and is the location of several world championships between March and May.