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Surfing in Hawaii

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.


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.


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 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.

Learn About Ocean Safety in Hawaii

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Surfing in Hawaii

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Fair Wind Cruising
Hawaii
Fair Wind
78-7130 Kaleiopapa Street
Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
Summary

Snorkel with award-winning Fair Wind Cruises! Located on the Big Island of Hawaii, our snorkeling tour travels up the Kona Coast to snorkel at historic Kealakekua Bay marine sanctuary, site of Captain Cook Monument. Our family friendly tours will be the highlight of your Kona, Hawaii vacation!

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Carthaginian
Maui
Atlantis Submarines Maui
658 Front Street, Suite 175
Lahaina, HI 96761
Summary

Atlantis Submarines offers a one-of-a-kind underwater experience off the shorelines of Oahu, Maui, and Hawaii Island, giving guests a close-up view of an array of marine life, exotic tropical reefs and numerous sunken vessels. It's like swimming in a giant aquarium, but staying dry the whole time!

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Sunflower
Oahu
Oahu Photography Tours
2421 Tusitala St.
801
Honolulu, HI 96815
Summary

Best way to experience Hawaii, hands down. We are a group of high energy, exciting young locals that want you to get the best photos on your vacation. With over 2000 five star reviews, you don't want to miss out! Digital camera, Phone, Drone, or film camera. Guaranteed to capture amazing images!

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Surf Maui
Maui
Maui Surf Clinics
505 Front Street, Suite #201
Lahaina, HI 96761
Summary

We focus on the complete surfing experience. Lessons are available for beginning through advanced surfers with a special emphasis on safety and ocean awareness. Group and private surf lessons as well as specialized surf clinics.

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Skyline Hawaii
Maui
Skyline Hawaii
12 Kiopaa St.
Makawao, HI 96768
Summary

As America’s original and most award-winning zipline company, Skyline Hawaii has hosted thousands of eye-opening and memory-making eco-adventures from thrilling zipline tours over 250-foot waterfalls, to sunrises near Haleakalā’s peak to the illuminating Road to Hana tour.

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Oahu - Magnum Landing
Hawaii
Paradise Helicopters
73-341 U'u St
Kailua-Kona, HI 96745
Summary

If you can dream it, we can do it. Paradise Helicopters offers you the opportunity to create memories that will last a lifetime while here in the islands. See volcanoes, waterfalls & more on our helicopter tours, exclusive landings and custom charters departing from Kona, Hilo and Turtle Bay Resort.

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Napali Coast Snorkel Sail
Kauai
Holo Holo Charters
4353 Waialo Rd
Eleele, HI 96705-0940
Summary

Holo Holo Charters is the only Kauai boat tour company that offers daily snorkeling and sightseeing trips to the Napali Coast and "Hawaii's Forbidden Island" of Niihau. Experience unique marine life while exploring sea caves, waterfalls, cliffs, beaches, and valleys. Call 808-335-0815 to learn more.

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