You can’t go to Hawaii and not go surfing – right? That would be like going to Las Vegas and skipping the casinos, or going to Niagara Falls and staying in the parking lot!
Hawaii is the birthplace of surfing, and there is no better place to feel the wind in your hair and the waves beneath your feet. That is … until you find yourself washed up on the shore like a disorientated jellyfish!
No, seriously – it takes a lot of effort to make something look as effortless as surfing.
Not only does it require a level of physical fitness and technique, but also knowledge of the local area and wave patterns.
So, what is an enthusiastic novice to do? Stand on the shoreline with ice cream, watching the pros be all cool? Sure – if that’s your thing. OR, you could sign up to one of the many affordable and enjoyable surf schools that Kauai has to offer.
Expert instructors will take you to prime spots and teach you techniques that will set you on your surfing journey safely. The only thing you’ll have to stress about is which school to go to. But fear not. We have put together a list of the top 10 surf schools on Kauai, so you can take your pick and get out there!
1. Hawaiian Style Surfing
Hawaiian Style Surfing is a popular and highly rated school, located in sunny Poipu on the south shore of Kauai. Poipu is a gorgeous location with gentle but rideable waves that are great for beginners and kids.
The school specifies a maximum of 4 surfers per instructor, so it’s very safe and you will be sure to get plenty of personal feedback and advice. If you prefer more one-to-one time, they offer private or semi-private lessons for a slightly higher price.
The lessons last 1.5 hours which is the standard length and tends to be long enough for most beginners. This includes 15-30 minutes of land training to ensure you get to grips with standing and paddling before you hit the waves. Plus, you can always rent boards from the surf shop after your lesson if you wish to continue putting your gnarly new skills to practice.
The instructors are all expert surfers and lifeguard trained so you will be in safe hands, and the school provides all the equipment you require, so you only need to bring yourself.
- Location – Poipu is a beautiful beach with great training waves
- Small group size – maximum 4 surfers per instructor
- Expert instructors – all lifeguard trained and seasoned surfers
- Equipment – boards, rash vests, and leashes provided
- Very popular – so book in advance!
2. Poipu Beach Surf School
Poipu Beach Surf School is located on the south of Kauai where the waves are great for kids and beginners, but the school also offers ‘Expert Excursions’ for those who want to be challenged and see more of what the island has to offer.
There are never more than 4 surfers per instructor during the 1.5-hour lessons, so you can be sure to get plenty of personal feedback as well as practice on the waves. What’s more, the school is run by ex-pro Doug Muraoka so you really will be in expert hands!
The lessons begin with a short instructional video in the surf store situated about a 7-minute walk from the beach. The parking near the store can be limited so it is best to arrive in plenty of time to find a spot.
- Beautiful location – Poipu is a beautiful area with great beginner waves
- Expert instructors –all seasoned surfers and lifeguard trained
- Small class size –no more than 4 surfers per instructor
- Expert excursions – great for more advanced surfers
- Equipment provided – boards, rash vests, and leashes provided
- No transport provided – you have to walk or drive to the beach
- Limited parking – outside the surf store
3. Kauai Surf School
The Kauai Surf School is located on the south of the island, and is the only school to conduct both its land and water training on the beach itself, so no time spent inside a surf store whatsoever!
Class sizes are kept to 8 or under to ensure you get plenty of personal advice and time in the water. All the instructors are expert surfers and the school’s ethos is that you ‘learn best by doing’, therefore the teaching style is more hands-off to suit the bold-natured surfer who likes to get stuck in.
The school offers group and private lessons as well as three-day ‘Surf Camps’. These camps not only give you more of an opportunity to develop your surfer skills but also work out cheaper overall.
Though the beach is very beautiful it can be rocky on the seabed and the school doesn’t provide surf shoes, so be sure to bring your own if you don’t want sore toes!
- Expert instructors – all seasoned surfers who really know their stuff
- Small class size – no more than 8 surfers per lesson
- The whole lesson takes place at the beach – so no time spent inside a surf shop
- Surf camps – if you are looking to learn more than just the basics
- Rocky bottom – this can put more nervous surfers off
- No surf shoes are provided – so bring your own
4. Hawaiian Surfing Adventures
Hawaiian Surfing Adventures is one of the most popular schools on Kauai with plenty of instructors, meaning they have lots of availability.
It is situated near Hanalei Bay on the north of the island, which is one of the most beautiful parts of Kauai and the beach has a sandy bottom making it ideal for beginners. The only downside is that it gets busy during the day, so early lessons are advisable.
The school provides transport (in a cool old jeep no less!) from the surf shop to the beach, so no dragging your board along a dusty dirt track.
As well as private, semi-private and group lessons, the school offers a 3–4-hour long ‘Children of the Sea Surf Camp’, which gives kids more opportunity to gain confidence whilst giving parents longer to relax on the beach with a cocktail (not included).
- Lots of expert instructors – so booking shouldn’t be a problem
- Amazing location – Hanalei is beautiful AND has a sandy bottom!
- Transport provided – so no walking and parking panics
- Surf camp – for kids who would like more time in the waves
- Busy beach – so go early
5. Hanalei Surf School
The Hanalei Surf School only offers private and semi-private lessons, therefore you won’t find yourself feeling lost in a class of strangers. This is great for ensuring you get plenty of personalized instruction, however, it does mean that the school can’t offer the cheaper rates of a normal group session.
The school’s owner, Evan, is an award-winning surfer who guarantees that he will have you standing up by the end of your lesson! Plus, they offer the services of a professional photographer for an extra price, so your amazing experience can be captured forever!
It has been noted that the surf store can be difficult to find, so be sure to arrive early and look out for the Wishing Well shaved-ice truck if lost!
- Expert instructors – you will be leaning from the best
- Amazing location – Hanalei is beautiful and has amazing waves
- All sessions are private – or with immediate family and friends only
- Photographer – to capture all the magic!
- No group session – cheaper option isn’t available
- The office is hidden – search for the shaved-ice truck!
6. Kelly’s Surf School
If you are looking for a less commercial experience then Kelly’s Surf School could be for you. Kelly was born and bred on Kauai and is well known and loved on the island. He prides himself on giving his lessons plenty of character and “Aloha spirit”. Indeed, all the instructors at the school are native Hawaiians.
The school is located on the south of the Island and provides all the equipment necessary for you on the day. The lessons are two hours long, as opposed to the standard 1.5-hours, and are very competitively priced.
Kelly’s informal approach and laid-back personality are typically Hawaiian, however, they are not for everyone (especially if you have other plans and places to be). But if a taste of authentic Kauai surfing spirit is what you are after, then Kelly is your man.
- Kelly – lots of charisma and personality
- Support local business – all the instructors are native to the island
- Competitive pricing – cheap so great for those on a budget
- Time management – Kelly runs on ‘Hawaiian time’
7. Kauai Beach Boys
Kauai Beach Boys was established in 1983 and prides itself on being seeped in the surfing traditions of the 1950s and 60s, so if this is an era you are particularly fond of then it could be the school for you.
Kalapaki Bay, on the southeast of the island, is both beautiful and sheltered so the surf is perfect for beginners. However, some surfers have noted that there isn’t a great expanse of beach, which may seem limiting to more advanced surfers.
The school caters to all age groups and rents out beach chairs, umbrellas, and even binoculars to anyone who prefers to stay onshore and spectate.
Kauai Beach Boys offer boat tours and a whole lot more from their office on Kalapaki Bay, so you could end up ticking more than one thing off your bucket list by visiting them.
- Long established – these guys know what they are doing
- Kalapaki Bay – beautiful and sheltered with perfect ‘beginner’ waves
- Beach chairs and umbrellas – available to rent for spectators
- Other activities available – boat rides, canoeing, paddleboarding
- A small expanse of beach – less appealing to advanced surfers
8. Titus Kinimaka’s Hawaiian School of Surfing
The starry-eyed amongst you may be interested to know that Titus Kinimaka was not only a champion surfer back in the day but also a Hollywood actor!
His school has been established for over 20 years and is family-run – Titus’s wife Robin manages the business side of things and is very popular amongst locals and guests.
The group sizes are particularly small, with only 3 surfers to every instructor, meaning that you are sure to get lots of help and advice, and the moderate waves and sandy bottom at Hanalei Bay are very beginner-friendly.
Titus also offers an ‘Extreme Class’ for veteran surfers who want to experience the tow-in sensation of big wave riding, so there really is something for everyone.
- Family business – with a very personal and friendly feel
- Titus – Hollywood actor so you will go home with plenty to brag about!
- Very small groups – only 3 surfers per instructor
- Amazing location – Hanalei is beautiful and has amazing waves
- Opening hours – not open on Sundays
9. East Side Surfing School
Established in 2010, the East Side Surfing School is smaller than some of the other schools on Kauai and has a more intimate and personal feel.
The school’s owner, Ant, is incredibly popular with students, having excellent local knowledge and a very dedicated teaching approach. He has been known to give private lessons for group prices and has an incredibly down-to-earth ethos. He guarantees that you will stand up in your lesson or you will get your money back!
The school also has connections with charities like the Make a Wish Foundation and KORE, so if you are drawn to altruistic businesses then East Side is the school for you.
The school doesn’t have a working website which can make things confusing, but Ant responds promptly to phone calls and texts.
- Personal approach – Ant is a popular and highly experienced instructor
- Small class size – no more than 4 surfers per instructor
- Community orientated – with links to charities
- No website – but Ant replies promptly to phone calls and texts
10. Endless Summer Surf School
Endless Summer Surf School is locally owned and has a really authentic vibe. It is located on the beautiful south shore of Kauai where the waves are perfect for beginners.
All the instructors are expert surfers themselves, and there are never more than 4 surfers per instructor, so lessons are safe and informative.
You need to drive to Kiahuna Beach to meet your instructor but parking is plentiful so this isn’t too much of an effort.
As well as group, private and semi-private lessons, the school offers a ‘Lux Surf Expedition’ for advanced surfers who want to challenge themselves to some bigger waves. All equipment is provided, and they even throw in refreshments at the end for that extra bit of Aloha spirit!
- Locally owned – for a really authentic feel
- Expert instructors – all seasoned surfers and safety trained
- Small class size – no more than 4 surfers per instructor
- Beautiful location – with perfect waves for beginners
- Parking available – so no wasting precious surfing time
- Sells out – so book up in advance
There are a multitude of surf schools and lessons available on Kauai, and it can be a little overwhelming when trying to make a final selection. Here are a few things to look out for when choosing who to go with.
These pointers will help you make an informed decision so that you get the most out of your surfing experience.
The majority of surfing lessons on Kauai are 1.5 hours long, which is a good length for beginners whose arms might start to ache after anything longer. However, for energetic youngsters or more advanced surfers, you might prefer a 3-4-hour surf camp or expedition to avoid feeling like you have to stop just as you are getting started.
Generally, a ratio of no more than 4 surfers per instructor will ensure that you are safe at all times and get a good amount of advice and time in the water. However, if you are particularly nervous or don’t fancy learning amongst strangers, then most schools offer private and semi-private lessons for only a slightly higher price.
You can pretty much guarantee that any surf school will provide you with a surfboard and leash, and most offer rash vests and surf booties as well. The boards provided are generally soft-tops which are great for beginners, but more advanced surfers may want to bring their own hard top board.
Whether to go with a north or south shore school really depends on what time of year you are visiting Kauai, but generally, you can be sure that the instructors will take you to an area of beach with the appropriate wave size for your ability level.
What you should consider is how far away the surf shop is and whether you have to drive to the beach or not. Always make sure you investigate parking beforehand, so you don’t waste precious surfing time during your lesson.
Your instructor really will be the difference between a good or a great experience, so choose wisely and know what you like. Particularly popular instructors often get personal mentions in online reviews and, of course, there is lots to be said for good old word-of-mouth. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for recommendations and don’t be afraid to request someone specific when booking.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which side of Kauai is best for surfing?
This really all depends on what time of the year you visit, and what type of waves you are seeking. In the summer months, the south shore has the biggest swells, whereas in the winter the north shore attracts the most attention. However, both north and south shores exhibit great conditions all year round for beginners who are looking for more gentle waves.