best surfing in hawaii

Test your skills in Hawaii’s epic waves. (Photo: Getty Images)


Wind, Kite, Hydrofoil or Standard? How to Tackle Every Surf Style in Hawaii

If there’s a better place than Hawaii to learn to surf, it must be in some other galaxy. Hawaii boasts crystalline, warm water (77 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit, on average) and year-round wave action.

It is, of course, the birthplace of surfing — Native Hawaiians called it heʻe nalu, literally, “wave sliding” — and this water sport may date back at least 1,000 years. In recent history, Olympic champion and ambassador of aloha, Duke Kahanamoku (1809 to 1968), resurrected and popularized it.

If surfing in Hawaii is on your bucket list, there are plenty of ways to catch a wave. Let’s compare a few styles.


Difficulty level: Novice and up.

There’s a joke, “If you don’t surf, don’t start,” but in reality, learning to surf isn’t intimidating. With a lesson, even the klutziest newbie will be up and riding (small) waves in no time.

best surfing in hawaii
Rock the waves. (Photo: Getty Images)

Expert surf instructors, available on every island, help novices have fun and stay safe, teaching beginners on large, soft boards. Expect noodle arms the next day, because paddling out requires muscles you didn’t even know you owned.

Do: Wear a rash guard to protect skin and apply reef-friendly sunscreen.

Don’t: Go out into wave conditions that are beyond your skill level.


Difficulty level: Novice and up.

Windsurfing came of age in Hawaii, with many of the sport’s early inventors and athletes, like Robby Naish, working on Oahu and Maui. Maui, especially, remains an epicenter of modern windsurfing, with world-class windsurfers making use of the stiff trade winds blowing off Hookipa Beach Park and beginning windsurfers enjoying Kanaha Beach Park.

Fun fact: Though it features a board, windsurfing is actually a form of sailing. To try this water sport, take a lesson with a qualified instructor through a company such as Action Sports Maui or The Maui Windsurf Company.

Oahu’s Kailua Bay is another great spot for windsurfers with all levels of experience, and while you’re in Kailua, make a pilgrimage to the Naish store.

Do: If you love to windsurf at home, reserve gear in advance of a trip to Hawaii. With the board, sails, boom, harness and car rack awaiting your arrival, all you’ll need to pack is your swimsuit and sunscreen.

Don’t: Push past your limits. When you start to get fatigued, it’s a good time to take a break.


Difficulty level: Moderate to advanced

Harnessing the wind to pull a board across the water — and up into the air — kiteboarding is a newer, rapidly evolving sport that uses different equipment and techniques from windsurfing.

An intro lesson with an experienced and certified instructor will start you on the path of learning, but a longer series of lessons may be a better bet. Kiteboarding isn’t about physical strength so much as building skills and coordination: figuring out the wind direction, learning how to launch and land, how to power the huge kite.

On Oahu, try a lesson with Windward Watersports, run by professional kiteboarder Jeff Tobias, or Sammy’s Aloha Watersport, founded by pro athlete Samuel Perez Hults.

Do: Talk to other kitesurfers if you are trying a new beach. Even if you are an experienced kitesurfer, you can suss out advice on the conditions and what kite size will work best.

Don’t: Expect to go soaring off the waves instantly. Kiteboarding lessons start on the beach and build skills from there.


Difficulty level: Advanced

best surfing in hawaii
Do you dare to hydrofoil? (Photo: Getty Images)

Hydrofoils are the shiny new toys in water sports. Picture an aluminum and fiberglass model plane, wings outstretched, attached to the bottom of a surfboard, kiteboard or stand-up paddleboard via a mast.

The results: Watching someone on a hydrofoil looks like a magic trick, with the board appearing to levitate above the water’s surface.

Using a hydrofoil requires a steep learning curve and can be dangerous to nearby surfers and swimmers, so it’s not something to try without qualified instruction. Wet Feet, in Honolulu, offers foilboarding lessons, and on Maui, try Action Sports Maui.

Do: Wear a helmet and impact vest.

Don’t: Use a hydrofoil at a crowded surf break.