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Like palm trees and hula girls, surfing is synonymous with Hawaii. Way back in the fourth century, Polynesians who settled in the islands brought their wave-riding traditions with them. By the 1700s, kicking back on a curl was an integral part of local culture.
Today, surfing remains one of the most popular activities for Hawaii visitors, from beginners to pros. Here, four of the sport’s specialists recommend spots where newbies can take a lesson, along with tips for staying safe while hanging 10. Folks who want to surf on their own should check with lifeguards to make sure conditions are favorable for going into the water.
Hanalei Beach Park, KauaiLynn Alapa of Hawaiian Surfing Adventures calls Hanalei Bay tops for surfing lessons on Kauai at any time of year.
“Since it’s on the northwest shore, Hanalei doesn’t get the direct hit of big winter waves or the straight-on flatness of summer,” she said. “Advantages of Hanalei Bay include a sandy bottom, which means there’s no need to wear reef shoes. You don’t have to paddle out very far to catch a wave, and you can stand up easily after you finish your ride.”
Hawaiian Surfing Adventures’ instructors know the conditions intimately, and they emphasize respect for the ocean and the sport, Alapa adds.
“For our company, safety always comes first, followed by creating a quality experience for our students,” she said.
Kahaluu Beach Park, Hawaii IslandAccording to Frank Carpenter of the ocean sports shop Kona Boys, nothing beats Kahaluu Beach Park for rookie surf lessons on Hawaii Island, aka the Big Island. The park’s bay is protected on one side by an ancient Hawaiian breakwater, so it provides a sense of historical connection with surfing’s roots, along with a prime environment.
“Most of the surf breaks on the Big Island are reef breaks, meaning the waves curl over coral and lava rock,” Carpenter said. “The rule of thumb here is don’t touch the bottom.”
While Kahaluu is no exception, it’s deep enough that it’s beginner-friendly, especially if surfers are accompanied by an instructor.
“Because of the raw conditions on the Big Island, we always recommend that first-timers take a lesson before attempting to surf on their own,” Carpenter said.
Ukumehame Beach Park, MauiDustin Tester founded Maui Surfer Girls, one of the island’s longest-running surfing schools. Her favorite place for a lesson is Ukumehame Beach Park, a 2-mile stretch of untouched coastline located 9 miles south of Lahaina. The locals call it Thousand Peaks because it offers numerous spots for surfers to take off on a wave both right or left.
“Surfing here feels like an idyllic experience for visitors compared to some of the more popular areas, where dodging the other surfers can be the hardest and most dangerous part of the lesson,” Tester said.
Since the tradewinds generally kick into high gear in the afternoons, Tester recommends that clients sign up for early morning surfing lessons to take advantage of the calmer conditions.
Waikiki Beach, OahuTed Bush, owner of Waikiki Beach Services, puts Waikiki at the top of his list of surfing spots for novices. A majority of visitors stay in Waikiki, so the beach is easy to reach. Also, the area holds great meaning for fans of the sport, he notes.
“Waikiki was the playground for the royalty of old Hawaii,” Bush said. “Surfing was introduced to the world from here.”
It’s a perfect setting for newcomers, he explains, because most of the bottom is sandy and the waves are rollers.
“Rollers are gentle, allowing the novice to more easily endure this new and exhausting activity,” Bush said. “While the waters of Waikiki get crowded, it’s helpful that there is always someone close by to assist you.”