The place where I grew up is the center of surfing. Everyone who grows up on the North Shore surfs, and from October to March you have the best waves in the world within a five to seven-mile stretch. I grew up in the center of these incredible sunsets and all these incredible waves. And then we have the Triple Crown of Surfing – John John Florence
When surfers dream about paradise and riding the sort of breathtaking waves that make their hearts beat faster as they ride out to meet them, the only place that ever appears in their mind’s eye is Hawaii.
The birthplace of modern wave riding, surfing is deeply ingrained in Hawaiian culture, and even the unusually uptight James Cook, who made first contact with the islands in seventeen seventy-eight, was mesmerized by the sight of locals riding the waves to shore.
Since then, and the rather unfortunate end to the Cook expedition, everyone from Mark Twain to Jack London and Reese Witherspoon to Cameron Diaz has ventured into the water around the island and tried their hand at riding the big waves.
While some of them have been more successful at it than others, most notably the aforementioned Ms. Diaz, it isn’t hard to see why anyone would be drawn to ride the Hawaiin surf.
Surfing Seasons in Hawaii
While other surfing hotspots around the world are subject to the whims and vagaries of the passing seasons and the tidal changes that they bring, Hawaii isn’t held captive by them.
As it’s the most isolated island (well, technically it’s part of a group of islands that are all part of the Hawaiian archipelago) on the face of the Earth, its shores face a non-stop barrage of waves and pulse-pounding surf all year round.
If you head to Hawaii, you can surf three hundred and sixty-five days a year, every year, and never have to worry about whether or not the tide will be high, as the surf is always good.
That doesn’t mean that you can set up camp and surf the same spot all the time though, as even Hawaii has to make some concessions to Mother Nature. And the main island, while always rich in big waves, needs to be navigated properly if you want to spend all of your time in the water.
For surfers, locals and non-natives alike, Hawaii has always been an island of two halves. They spend half of the year on the North Shore, and the other half of the year on the South Shore, as the passing seasons, while being kinder to the big island than anywhere else in the world, means that the surf is always high somewhere in Hawaii.
You just need to know when and where to catch it if you want to ride the waves like the professionals do, and feel the ocean move, and the world turn, under your feet.
North Shore – Surfing In Winter
In winter, the waves belong to the North Shore. From October through to March, the only place to really surf is the north shore of Oahu. The seven-mile stretch of golden shore pumps out waves that can hit thirty feet and can be a challenge for even the most dedicated, time-served surfer.
Even though the rain and the wind arrive in Hawaii in winter, just like they do almost everywhere else, it’s still more than warm enough to comfortably surf the water off Oahu.
The north shore swells reach their peak between December and February, and while there are some more sheltered areas around the coastline that everyone can easily surf during these three months, as the waves are at their highest and fiercest, if you don’t have at least a couple of years surfing experience under your belt, it can be incredibly scary out there.
It’s the reason that the Vans Triple Crown takes place in Oahu in December because the waves push even the most hardcore professionals to the limits of their ability and make it as difficult as it can possibly be for them to beat their competition.
So, even if you don’t want to ride the waves during the festive period, you can still watch, and learn a trick or two, from the best surfers in the world as they line up to take part in the Triple Crown.
If you do want to ride the waves in Oahu in winter and you don’t think that you can hang with John John Florence, you could always head into the water during September when the waves are just starting to build a little more momentum and power.
Or if you’re feeling slightly braver, and are more confident in your skillset, and have a little more faith in your board, from October to November, the waves in Oahu are still mighty, but they’re not quite mighty enough for the die-hard locals and world-famous surfers.
Surfing in Hawaii in Summer – The South Shore
Between May and October, during the summer months, the best place to surf in Hawaii is on the south shore, home to the island’s capital Honolulu.
And, like every other surfer in the world, you’ve heard of Waikiki, right? That’s on the south shore of the island too, and every surfer who heads to Oahu needs to surf the breaks and waves off Waikiki. It’s a rite of passage.
While the waters surrounding the island aren’t as volatile as they are during the winter, if you do want to catch the biggest and baddest waves that the south shore has to offer, then pack your bags and catch a flight to Oahu during July and September.
That’s when Waikiki is at its absolute best, and it’s the only time that you’ll be guaranteed to experience absolutely zero flat days, as despite the prayers of legions of surfers, sometimes the surf gods just don’t come through during the summer months.
That said, if you’re just taking your first tentative steps into the universe of surfing and you still want to try your luck in the waters of Oahu, and you like the thought of sunshine far more than you do rain, you could always hit the north shore in winter.
The waves won’t be as high, and there will be days when the ocean will be like glass, but at least it’ll be hot and you’ll be able to ride to your heart’s content when the surf does break.