When people talk about surfing in Hawaii, the waves on Oahu are usually at the top of the list. However, it would be a mistake to overlook the surfing possibilities on the Big Island.
There’s a storied history around Big Island surfing. Hawaiian royalty, including Kamehameha the Great and his wife, Queen Kaahumanu, reportedly surfed the waves that arrived at the Big Island’s leeward shores. Ancient petroglyphs on the Big Island document surfing, and heiau (sacred structures) at revered surf spots stand testament to the prominence of surfing on the Big Island. And let’s not forget: The Big Island is home to big-wave surfer Shane Dorian, who first honed his craft on its waves.
In summary, the Big Island has plenty to offer surfers. If you’re looking to paddle out, we’ll show you where to start your surfing journey on the Orchid Isle.
But first, we field a lot of questions from aspiring Big Island residents about surfing. We’ll answer those first. Then, we’ll show you the best eight spots to surf on the Big Island.
Common Questions We Hear About Surfing on the Big Island
Does the Big Island Have Good Surfing?
Although the Big Island may be a less popular surf destination than Oahu, you can still find several surf breaks to enjoy on the island. (Keep reading, and we’ll show you where to go!)
Just be aware that many of the breaks on the Big Island are shallow reef breaks. Additionally, the sheer size of the Big Island means that traveling to the right break for the day’s conditions may mean a significant investment of time. Finally, due to the Big Island’s position, Maui blocks a significant amount of winter swell.
However, if you’re patient—and respectful to the resident surfers in the line-up—you can catch your share of waves on the Big Island.
Where Can You Surf on the Big Island?
It all depends on the day’s conditions! If you’re just starting out, Kahalu’u can be a great place to get some experience under your belt. If you’re an experienced surfer, Banyans is a world-class break, given the right swell and wind directions.
Below, we’ll show you eight of our favorite spots, along with the recommended swell direction, to give you some ideas on where to go.
Can You Surf in Hilo?
Yes! Richardson Ocean Park and Honoli’i Beach Park are both popular surf breaks located in the Hilo area. If you’re staying on that side of the island, these two spots are a great place to start.
Does the Big Island Have Big Waves?
Because the Big Island sits in the shadow of the other Hawaiian islands to the Northwest, it misses out on a number of the winter swells that pound the North Shores of Kauai, Oahu, and Maui. As a result, the Big Island’s waves usually don’t get much larger than ~15-20 feet. However, you’ll still find plenty of powerful waves on the Big Island when the conditions are right.
Does Kona Have Big Waves?
When the swell direction is just right, Kona can get some pretty impressive waves. However, the shadowing effect from the other Hawaiian islands means that Kona doesn’t see the same number of big waves that you might see on the shores of Oahu, Maui, and Kauai.
What’s the Best Place for Beginners on the Big Island?
Kahalu’u is our favorite surf spot if you’re just learning how to surf. There’s easy entry to the bay, and the waves closer to shore are perfect for beginners. In fact, many shops take their students to Kahalu’u for their first surfing experience.
By the way, if you’ve never surfed before, we recommend taking a lesson from a local surf shop. Your instructor will show you the basics and help you get to your feet fast. From there, it’s all about practice, practice, practice—and that’s where the fun begins!
Now that we’ve covered the basics of Big Island surfing, let’s talk about where to go.
The Best Surf Spots on the Big Island
Kahalu’u Beach Park
Best Swell Direction: NW–SW
Kahalu’u Beach Park also made our list of best places to snorkel on the Big Island, but don’t be fooled; this spot can easily do double duty! At the edge of the reef that protects the bay for snorkelers, there’s a perfect little surf zone with a few different peaks. Beginners can hone their skills on the nearshore break. When the swell is pumping, the outer breaks are best left to advanced surfers who feel comfortable navigating a shallow reef break. If you need to rent a board, check out the surf shop just across the street.
Honoli’i Beach Park
Level: Beginner & Up
Best Swell Direction: NNE–ESE
Honoli’i’s position on the eastern side of the Big Island means that it sees surf pretty much year-round. As a result, it’s one of the most popular surf breaks on the Hilo side of the Big Island. During smaller days, beginners and newer surfers can easily navigate the waves at Honoli’i. However, on bigger days, which most often happen in the winter months, Honoli’i becomes a break for more experienced surfers. Finally, because Honoli’i can be a popular spot (read: crowded on good days!), make sure to mind your surf etiquette.
Level: Beginner & Up
Best Swell Direction: WNW–W–SW
If you want to surf in the footsteps of Hawaiian royalty, Kawiahae Harbor is your wave. Rumored to be a favorite surf spot of Queen Kaahumanu, the Kawiahae area was also the traditional home for several generations of Hawaiian monarchs. Today, the area offers some pretty good surf when there’s a hint of westerly swell.
Thanks to the efforts of non-profit Pua Ka ‘Ilima Cultural Surf Park, this stretch of coastline near the harbor has been set aside to allow continued access to water. You’ll also find restrooms and showers at the park so you can clean up after your surf session.
Pine Trees @ Kohanaiki Beach Park
Best Swell Direction: S–SW
Kahalu’u is probably the most forgiving of the Big Island’s surf spots. However, if you’re looking for something a little more challenging, check out Pine Trees, another of the Big Island’s more consistent surf spots. There are a couple of different peaks to choose from, so there’s some room to spread out. When the waves are on the smaller size, Pine Trees is workable for beginners. As the size builds, you’ll find more experienced surfers in the lineup. As long as you mind your etiquette, most surfers can catch a few at Pine Trees.
Best Swell Direction: S-SW
At Banyans, you’ll find some of the Big Island’s best surfers in the line-up. If you plan to join them, bring your skills, your best surf etiquette, and your aloha. If you’re curious, yes, this wave is worth the hype: This long, glassy right is one of the island’s best. If you’re not up to the challenge of surfing at Banyans, it can be a great spot to watch skilled surfers in action when the surf is pumping.
Best Swell Direction: W–NW
Goofy-footers revel in this Big-Island left. Although you’ll see plenty of longboarders at Lyman’s, don’t be fooled into thinking this is a beginner wave. This fast wave is best for those with a bit of experience under their belts. Additionally, during big winter swells, this point break really lights up. You’ll find excellent waves and tons of seasoned surfers tearing it up.
Pohoiki / Isaac Hale Beach Park
Best Swell Direction: NE–S
Over the years, many Big Island surfers cultivated a kind of reverence for the Pohoiki area. Tales emerged of magical waves at First Bay, Second Bay, and, especially, Third Bay. However, the 2018 eruption of Mt. Kilauea changed all that. The lava flows reached the coast, created a new black sand beach in the area, and changed the underwater landscape dramatically. As a result, all previous bets are off. This isn’t the first time that surfers have lost a spot to Madam Pele, and it probably won’t be the last.
If you’re the adventurous type who revels in the search, feel free to check the area. Just remember that the bottom is mostly sharp, volcanic rock, so proceed with care—and surf with a buddy.
Richardson Ocean Park
Best Swell Direction: N-NE
If you’re traveling with a mixed group of surfers and non-surfers, Richardson Ocean Park—often called simply “Richardson’s”—can be a great place to set up for the day. The park has plenty of facilities plus ample grassy areas where you can spread out. Non-surfers can enjoy swimming and snorkeling in the areas protected by the reef, and kids can scour the surrounding tide pools for its unique marine life forms.
Because the surfing area is located outside the protected reef—and the breaks can tend to be shallow—we’ve marked this break as “beginner to intermediate.” Although the wave size varies depending on the swell, Richardson’s probably isn’t the best place for surfers with zero water experience.
Dive into Your Big Island Surfing Adventure
Finding the perfect spot to surf on the Big Island might take a little more work than on, say, Oahu. Spots are more spread out, they’re harder to access in certain areas, and it can take a little while to get the shadowing effects of neighboring islands wired.
However, as most surfers will tell you, there’s plenty of fun to be had in the search for waves. Use these eight spots as your starting point, explore on your own, lead with respect toward the other surfers you meet in the water, and you’ll have a great time surfing on the Big Island.