Oahu is famous for a long list of attractions: Pearl Harbor, pristine beaches, and paradise-like weather just to name a few. However, first and foremost in the minds of many is the surf. Dating back at least to the 1960s, surfers have been making the pilgrimage to the island chain in hopes of conquering world-class waves in one of the most beautiful places to do it.
Whether you’re a hardcore surfer along the lines of the Endless Summer bunch, or a novice looking to catch that first adrenaline-pumping ride, Oahu has you covered. Each coast of the Gathering Place, as we call Oahu, offers a variety of waves for all skill types and age ranges, regardless of whether you’re riding a nine-foot “log” or a six-foot high-performance “potato chip.” There’s something for everyone. In this series we’ll cover each side of the island, where to go and what to do in the true home of surfing.
For starters, remember that Hawaii is one of the most provincial places in the country, despite the perfect weather and seemingly heavenly nature of the place. Locals don’t take kindly to visitors—or anyone for that matter—showing a lack of respect in the ocean: Don’t drop in, don’t act as if you own the place, and be friendly while waiting your turn in the lineup. Follow these simple rules and you’ll find Hawaiian surfers are some of the nicest people on the planet.
Ample parking, a large line-up, and a glorious backdrop are just a few of the upsides to this popular surf spot. Cliffs aren’t exactly the right description but they give the right idea of where you’ll be parking, providing an ideal vantage point from which to scope out the waves.
Beginners should stay on the far left of the lineup. To get to the beach you walk down a paved path. It’s a little rough underfoot, so most people wear their slippers—our name for flip-flops—and stuff them under a bush. Assuming you don’t have especially fancy slippers, no one will take them.
Don’t start frothing and immediately paddle out when you reach the beach. Not only can the current take you far from where you want to go but you’ll also be buffeted by waves until you’re exhausted. Rather, keep walking to the left until you’re past the circular rock wall. On this side the waves are much easier to handle. Use the channel you’ll find there to make the paddle to the takeoff point easier. There’s a surf school that takes people there sometimes for that very reason. Get yourself a big board and have a blast!
More-advanced surfers can take the same walk but paddle out to the peak, where much bigger waves break and sometimes run all the way to the beach. As we mentioned, the line-up is quite large, spreading the crowds out nicely. Another option is Lighthouse. This spot is better at higher tide and produces faster, steeper waves. When it’s pumping you’ll see a group of surfers tightly packed further to the right as you face the ocean. Whether you’re surfing the main peak or Lighthouse, remember to show respect; some of the local “Uncles” don’t take kindly to rude visitors.