Explore Oahu > Oahu Surf Spots
As the birthplace of surfing, there’s no better place on earth to surf than Hawaii. Oahu has killer surf breaks and easily accessible beaches close to one another. From beginners to groms, novices to experts, there’s a wave for everyone.
Surf is always up on Oahu but some breaks are seasonal and more local than others. We asked our surfer friend Taylor Clark to breakdown the best Oahu surf spots on the island.
Oahu’s South Shore
Oahu’s South Shore featuring Honolulu and Waikiki beaches is the most crowded part of the island. This should be no surprise since it’s where the majority of locals live and tourists stay. There are waves year-round, but they’re best in the summer south swells (May-Oct).
Located right behind the Duke Kahanamoku statue, Canoes is quite possibly the ‘drop-in’ capital of the world. It’s very crowded with a mix of professional and first-time surfers. Rights and lefts, from ankle-high to overhead, and slow smooth waves especially during the summer south swells.
Find Queens across the channel from Canoes. It’s an iconic longboard break with rights and lefts. The crowd is more local and can be a little ‘testy’ compared to other breaks along Waikiki Beach. While it’s best in the summer south swells, you can surf it any time of year.
There are waves at Diamond Head year-round, but they’re often blown out. Get to the beach via a walking path just past the lighthouse on Diamond Head Road or take the steep ‘goat trail’ at the last scenic parking lot, and try not to ding your surfboard. The current is stronger here and rights and lefts break all over the place. You can kiteboard and windsurf in heavy trade winds.
Oahu’s North Shore
Oahu’s North Shore is famous and known among the surfing community as the proving grounds. The ‘seven-mile miracle’ from Haleiwa Beach Park to Sunset Beach consists of world-class surf breaks. The swells produce an insane amount of power in winter (Nov-Apr), not for the beginner or novice. Be aware it can go from flat to triple overhead without warning.
Sunset Beach is the heaviest wave on the North Shore, it’s renowned for long hold-downs. It breaks in any type of winter swell, but it’s very temperamental and the peak can be shifty. It has a strong rip when big, and is shallow and reefy on the inside. Experts only, please.
If you aren’t about to go pro, I’d sit back and enjoy Pipeline/Backdoor from the beach. If it’s firing, you’ll see barrels bigger than your hotel room! One of the great things about this wave is that it’s close enough to see, a rarity for barrels this perfect. For those brave enough to paddle out be aware of the pecking order, the local Uncles have priority and the pros and photographers will block you from catching waves. If you’re lucky enough to catch a wave, it’ll be the ride of your life.
In west swells, Haleiwa might be the best place to learn to surf on the entire island. It’s perfect for longboards and shortboards, however, there’s always a rip current pulling you out past the break. When it gets overhead, this wave breaks all the way to the ‘toilet bowl’ (a shallow closeout that has claimed many surfboards). It features steep ledges when the swell is more north with shorter rides. There is a fair amount of parking at the beach park.
Oahu’s West Side
Oahu’s West Side probably offers the most consistent surf year-round. It sports bigger waves in the winter (Nov-Apr) but also picks up some summer swells (May-Oct). It’s arguably the least crowded of anywhere else on the island, with the exception of Makaha. This area is intensely localized so make sure you surf with aloha!
White Plains is a great place to learn, albeit crowded. If you are staying in Ko Olina, this is your best bet to surf, as long as it’s not blown out. It breaks a little bit like Canoes in Waikiki until it gets overhead, and then it can be more challenging. It’s very easy to access with a lot of parking.
Look out for Tracks just north of the power plant. It is best throughout the winter on a west or north swell. The waves usually hit any size up to head height. This is a nice beach that’s suitable for beginners and all types of surfboards, long, short or bodyboard.
The most famed break on Oahu’s west side is Makaha and it’s very localized. All sorts of boards wade in these waters long, short, boogie boards and body surfers. It breaks in all kinds of swells but the peak will shift with direction of the swell. Recommended for intermediate to expert surfers. Be respectful in the line-up and don’t drop in on anyone here. It offers some parking.
Oahu’s East Side
Oahu’s East Side has a few surf spots with some really long paddles but it’s blown out most of the time. If there are tradewinds, which there usually are, you might be better off with a bodyboard, kiteboard or a sail. Some of Hawaii’s most beautiful white sandy beaches are on Oahu’s eastern coastline. If there’s no surf, they’re the consolation prize.
Surfing is allowed at Makapuu until 5pm. It has a very steep shore break, so grab a bodyboard or some fins because this is one of the most fun waves Oahu has to offer. It can get extreme, but if you hit the bottom at least its sand, a nice change from all the reef breaks on the island. It’s hard to find a better-looking beach. There is a small parking lot with additional parking along the road (read the signs). This, combined with Sandy Beach around the corner, account for the most surfing-related accidents in all of Hawaii. Please, be extra careful.
Bellows is military property open to the public and a fun shore break. It’s a better-known break for kids bodyboarding and bodysurfing. It’s super fun for adults, too. It’s situated on the beautiful Waimanalo Beach, Oahu’s longest stretch of sand with the Koolau mountain range as it’s backdrop.
Flat Island (Popoia Island)
Flat Island is suitable for all sorts of surfers, especially beginners and longboarders. It works best in summer and when the winds are not too strong. The island is a bird sanctuary, so it’s top sightseeing from the board. Don’t go on the island, or you’ll likely encounter a hefty fine. Did I mention how gorgeous this beach is? Tons of parking and full beach facilities.
Vans Triple Crown of Surfing
If you want to have an unforgettable experience, come to Hawaii during our professional surf competitions to watch the best of the best. Vans Triple Crown of Surfing is three-part series of professional surfing events held every year on Oahu’s North Shore at the beginning of Hawaii’s winter (from Nov). The first competition, Hawaiian Pro takes place on a precarious reef at Alii Beach Park in Haleiwa. The second stop, Vans World Cup, is set in the deep waters off Sunset Beach. The third and final event, Billabong Pipe Masters, unfolds across the big waves at Ehukai Beach Park on the surf spot known as Banzai Pipeline.
It’s important to end on a safety note, please be careful when you’re surfing on Oahu. The swells change quickly and most breaks are on shallow reefs.
READ NEXT // Oahu Beaches
Contributor: Taylor Clark
Image Credit: Ryan Tishken