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As any local will tell you, your first taste of surfing, or hee nalu in Hawaiian, is something you never forget. From the gentle, beginner-friendly waves of Poipu and Kalapaki to the wild North Shore breaks that attract world champions in the winter months (and should not be attempted by inexperienced surfers because of their extreme danger), Kauai is a surfing paradise set against some of the most majestic scenery on earth.
Believed to have originated in ancient Polynesia, surfing was once reserved for Hawaiian alii, or royalty—giving it the nickname “the sport of kings.” In the 20th century, surfing surged in popularity, spreading from Hawaii’s shores around the world.
You can feel the exhilaration of catching a wave by taking a lesson at surf schools and resorts around Kauai. Experienced instructors will take you to safe breaks and get you on your feet during lessons that last 1–2 hours. If you’re not quite ready to brave the waves yourself, watch seasoned surfers charge massive swells on the North Shore during big wave season (November–February) from the safety of the beach.
Kitesurfing, body surfing and stand-up paddleboarding are other popular activities, and outfitters can be found on many of Kauai’s more popular beaches.