Things you must know about surfing in Hawaii


Hawaii Oahu One on One Surfing Class Experience - KKday

Surfing was born in Hawaii and is deeply intertwined with its history and culture. If you dream of riding the waves, there’s no better place to learn how to surf and truly commune with the ocean. Learn about the origins of surfing in Hawaii and find out where you can watch the pros or take a surfing lesson on your visit.

The History of Surfing

The earliest written account of surfing, or hee nalu in Hawaiian, was by Lieutenant James King in 1779 just months after Captain Cook’s death. He described Native Hawaiians riding a wood plank on the swells of Kealakekua Bay on the island of Hawaii. Even he could see how fun the sport was, writing, “… they seem to feel a great pleasure in the motion that this exercise gives.”

Surfing is believed to have originated long ago in ancient Polynesia, but later thrived in Hawaii. It was once a sport only reserved for alii (Hawaiian royalty), which is why surfing is often called the “sport of kings.” King Kamehameha I himself was known for his surfing ability. With the end of the Hawaiian kapu (taboo) system in 1819, commoners were allowed to freely participate in the sport. However, when western missionaries arrived in the 1800s, they discouraged Hawaiian customs like hula and surfing.

In the late 1800s, the “Merrie Monarch” King Kalakaua, one of the last reigning monarchs of the Hawaiian Kingdom, revived the hula, signaling the return of Hawaiian cultural pride. Then in the early 1900s, surfing was revitalized on Waikiki Beach. During this era, Duke Kahanamoku, who grew up surfing the south shore waves, was a Waikiki Beach Boy who taught visitors how to surf and canoe. Duke later won multiple Olympic gold medals for swimming, and eventually became known as the “father of modern surfing.” Today, a bronze statue of Duke welcomes visitors to Waikiki, where first-time surfers are still catching their first waves.

A Brief History of Surfing in Hawaiʻi | Ward Village

When and Where to Watch Surfing

In the ’50s, surfers began to ride the big and powerful winter waves of Makaha on Oahu’s west shore and Waimea Bay on the North Shore. Big wave season in Hawaii happens roughly between November and February on Hawaii’s north shores. You can watch surfers on every island, but some of the best surfing competitions in the world are held on Oahu’s North Shore in November and December, including the biggest them of all, the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. If you’re planning to watch the pros in action during these events, be sure to get to the North Shore early because traffic can be heavy.

During the winter, the islands’ north shores generate big swells, while in the summer, the south shores enjoy a bump in size. Oahu’s North Shore is a legendary surf spot featuring viewer-friendly beaches at Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach and the Banzai Pipeline.

Honolulu Private Surfing Lesson 2021 - Oahu

Take a Surfing Lesson

Almost every island offers surfing lessons where you can learn the basics of the sport. Lessons run from one to two hours and are taught by experienced surfers in gentle breaks. Longboards are used to make it even easier for first-timers to learn, and a push from your instructor will help you get started. Waikiki Beach is still one of the best spots in Hawaii to get on your feet and ride your first wave.

Stand-Up Paddle Boarding

Stand-up paddle boarding is a variation on surfing that is becoming very popular in Hawaii. In stand-up paddle boarding (SUP), riders stand upright on wider, longer boards and use a paddle to maneuver. Great for a core muscle workout, SUP is often used more for fitness rather than for riding waves. Lessons are highly recommended for your safety and for the safety of your fellow beachgoers and surfers.

Note: Heed all warning signs when surfing or stand-up paddle boarding. Consult your instructor about changing conditions, strong currents and reefs. Use your own best judgment to determine whether a particular beach is appropriate for your ability level.


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