What’s your gut reaction when you think about summer swell in the Hawaiian Islands? When we think about summer and the craziness of Town, (everything from Aiea to Makapu‘u), the following comes to mind: slow, dense traffic; millions of cars hustling for thirty parking spots; massive, unaffordable condos; the bustling Ala Moana Mall; tourists, tourists, and even more tourists… which all adds up to no parking – or very expensive parking. What a mess. But what a beautiful mess it is! Town is like Manhattan, but with warm water waves and tropical weather year-round. Town is fast-paced, heavily over-priced, with impossible rents, but it’s all so worth it when you take a look at the big picture (if you dare). If you are one of the million wave-warriors who have decided to live in Town and deal with all that hustle in order to go out and catch a few waves with other humans with identical interests, here are our top five summer spot recommendations where you can have fun and enjoy the aloha spirit that only Hawai‘i has to offer.
Ala Moana Bowls
Quintessential, iconic, historic, and world-class: there’s so much to be said about this man-made piece of reef. Explosions by the US Army Corps of Engineers decades ago created one of the weirdest, most unique “bowl” waves on the planet. This wave has deep history in Hawaiian surf culture, and the regular uncles who frequent it often have a 30 to 40+ year relationship with her… so it’s best to sit back and wait your turn. The pecking order at Bowls is one of the most established in the world. However, if you show real aloha and wave skill, even the heaviest uncles will yell at you, “Go, brah!” and you better go, do something, and come back and humbly say ‘thanks’ to the whole gang. Respect and you will be respected; that’s the only real motto at big Bowls.
The wave is really mechanic and obscure in nature. When the swell is big enough and SSW enough, the thing will bend all the way from Bambooras then open up for a few seconds with a crazy bowl section in which only the best know how to stall and enjoy properly. It is the stuff of dreams, but you have to pay your dues to get one of those. They only come a few times a year.
Queen’s is the epicenter of true longboarding in Town. The queen of waves, it represents a community, a lifestyle, a cult, and the addictive practice of nose riding. This is the stretch of reef where you’ll see the top longboarders perfecting their seamlessly elegant nose rides. Plus the smiles out there are just too much. It’s a party where soul surfing still exists. Depending on your vibe, you may or may not be invited into a good one: it’s up to you. Only aloha vibes are welcomed out on this A-frame.
Sandy Beach Park
Our most sacred summer playground and the spot where competitive bodyboarding started, Sandy Beach is the leading neck-breaking shorebreak in the nation (the lifeguards will inform you, no worries). It is a very deceiving and crowded beach where chaos can happen in the blink of an eye if you are not careful. The waves powerfully explode on shore and it takes some time to understand its roughness, flow, and rhythm. Sandys accepts a bunch of swell direction, and the vibe is nice. During summer it provides hours of play to the younger generation while out of school. The rest of the year, Sandys can get good a few times a month depending on the swell energy and wind direction.
Big Island’s Top Summer Spots
by Tyler Rock
As the southernmost island in the Hawaiian chain, the Big Island is the first to see southern swells hit Hawaiian shores. And with more coastline than all the other islands, you’d think the surf would be aplenty. But truth be told, the rugged and raw shoreline does not translate into a multitude of surf spots. However, there are waves to be had if you know where to go.
Up until last summer, before the Leilani eruption on the southeastern shore, the zone of Pohoiki boasted a number of quality surf breaks from beginner to advanced waves. This was the main go-to when south swells popped up in the forecast. But as the cycle of earth continues, the living lava eruption reclaimed nearly all of the surf rich coastline of this lower Puna oasis. What it left behind was a newly formed black sand beach over the reefs in Pohoiki’s bay. The potential for surf is still there, but the waves are definitely not the same. Only time will tell if the bottom contours will reform to bring back some of the glory of Pohoiki’s past.
While the southeastern shore of the Big Island has lost it’s surf luster, the western Kona side holds a number of zones that can flair up on any southern swell.
The go-to zone is Banyans, the heart of surfing in Kona Town. With a shallow reef and open exposure to both northwest and southern swells, the wave will break year round, bringing with it a year round crowd. While the winter swells can provide sizey hollow rights, the summer south swells tend to produce shorter rippable lefts. Be wary when the tide is low, the unforgiving bottom can leave a souvenir on you or your board. And as you should do anywhere you go, always respect the locals.
South of Banyans, near the end of Kailua Kona’s Ali’i Drive, lies Kahalu’u. With a protected bay for swimming and snorkeling and hotel butting up to the water, this is a popular spot for tourists. But when south swells flare up, the northern end of the bay off the natural rock barrier can produce lefts and rights with plenty of wall to carve. For the less experienced surfers, a reforming wave farther in from the main peak can provide a mellow transition into wave riding and lessons are also available from nearby shops.
Farther North, near Kona International Airport, lies the spot known as Pine Trees. Ridable year round, this zone holds several different peaks along its reef bottom. A popular spot for local families, Pine Trees can get crowded on the weekends and is also a go-to zone when swells are running. On the right tide with light east winds, hallow and rippable rights and lefts can light up the outside peaks. The main bay break can accommodate younger and novice surfers as well.
As the youngest island of the Hawaiian Chain, the Big Island as its name states is truly a Big Island. Despite the limited access along its shores, the potential to find southern swell waves is definitely there. An adventurous spirit and good attitude is a must if you want to score. And with any luck you can find some fun summer juice on the Big Island.
Maui Summer Spots
By Jud Lau
Summertime and the livin’s easy… As temperatures climb, the incentive to get in the ocean and ride some waves increases accordingly. Every weekend, families load up their trucks with anything and everything that floats – plus the typical tent, umbrellas, chairs, and grill – and head down Honoapi’ilani Highway to one of the many roadside breaks between Ma’alaea and Lahaina to set up camp for the day, or even the entire weekend. The gentle reef breaks here are great for longboarding, foiling, SUPing, SUP foiling, kayaking, tandem surfing, etc. The sandy beaches and grass parks along the shorelines are perfect for cruising and enjoying beautiful sunsets.
While the families head that way, you’ll probably find the younger generation at Oneloa—also known as Big Beach – in Makena on the far southern side of Maui. This is a vast, gorgeous, white-sand beach with crystal clear water and a ferocious shorebreak mostly suited to bodysurfing, bodyboarding, and skimboarding, although, some still attempt to surf “third entrance” on the far southern end of the beach. Climb over the bluff on the northern end and you will find Little Beach, a.k.a. Nude Beach.
Whatever your preference, when a solid swell is hitting, there is something for everyone. Waiting for the waves is the tricky part. With Maui’s geographical location on the far eastern end of the state tucked behind the Big Island, Lanai, and Kaho’olawe, the direction and the swath of swells have to be just right for the Valley Isle to start delivering.
Ma’alaea Bay features several breaks, the most famous of which is an amazing right-hander named Freight Trains due to the way it steams down the line with a consistent speed and shape. It also gets its name for the sound the sections make as they pitch out and land in the flats with a loud and rhythmic chuga-chuga-chuga. Sitting in the lineup as a set rolls by, you would swear an actual train was rushing by!
Freight Trains breaks just adjacent to the Ma’alaea Harbor entrance where many charter fishing boats, Molokini dive tours, and whale watching boats launch. The Maui division of the US Coast Guard is stationed here as well. The first cattle to arrive on Maui landed at Ma’alaea in 1793. Centuries later, in 1929, Maui’s first airport was established here. About a decade ago, the Surfrider Foundation Maui Chapter successfully prevented the Army Corp of Engineers from extending the break wall, which would have negatively impacted the reef and the magnificent waves.
Back in the day, I remember uncles calling Freights the “Eighth Wonder of the World” and if you are ever lucky enough to see it in all its glory, you would probably agree. But you need to have luck on your side and be willing to drop everything when it happens, as it is one of the most fickle waves on the planet. It breaks a few times nearly every summer, usually in the 2-4 foot range (Hawai’ian scale), but every once in a while, the real-deal train arrives! I’ve been surfing Maui for over 35 years and have only seen it happen three times: once in the mid-80s, then in 1999, and the last time was in 2005. The ’99 and the ’05 swells were both solid 6-8 foot plus and freight training for 200 yards straight down the reef. Barrel rides of 15-20 seconds are possible at this size and not the type you are stalling for – we’re talking high speed, flying down the line, trying to keep up with what’s been frequently referred to as “the fastest wave in the world”.
If we get tired of sitting and waiting for Freight Trains to break, we head over to Lahaina Harbor. Located right in the heart of Lahaina Town, the harbor is where the Lanai ferry station is located as well as a slew of charter fishing boats and a few private yacht slips. The surf break is right beside the harbor channel entrance and when a good swell is running, the current gets quite nasty pulling into the channel. You have to scramble to paddle out of the way to avoid the boat traffic! The reef break here features a short but punchy right that has a nice inside double-up on bigger swells and a speedy down-the-line lefthander that offers up some fairly long rides on the right swell and tide.
The mana (energy) in this area is strong and tangible. In 1802, King Kamehameha made Lahaina the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom and built his brick palace directly in front of the surf break. Lahaina then served as the center of the Hawaiian government for over 50 years. There is a metal staircase over the boulders to enter and exit the water, and about 20 yards away is the Hauola stone. This partially submerged, large boulder is shaped like a recliner that is an ancient ali’i (royal) birthing stone. Maui’s first hotel built in 1901 and, recently renovated, the Pioneer Inn is situated right in front of the Harbor as well.
This high-performance wave hosts several HSA and NSSA competitions every summer, beneficial to the development of many young surfers from all over Hawai’i. It is surfable at any tide but is at its best on an incoming or high tide. The winds in Lahaina are usually very calm in the morning, so glassy dawn patrols are almost a given. Somewhere between 9:00-11:00 am, winds typically blow light onshore, becoming quite unpredictable through the afternoon. Lahaina sits on the lee side of the West Maui Mountains which block the predominant tradewinds, but at certain speeds and directions, tradewinds will wrap around the mountain and curl back in towards Lahaina. Sometimes they even blow over the mountains creating a stiff, offshore wind. The effects of land heating and convection influencing the winds adds significantly to their unpredictability.
Like most of the breaks on this side of the island, Lahaina Harbor features sharp reef with plenty of wana (sea urchins) and is quite shallow at low tide. Still, the Harbor is one of the most consistently shortboard-able breaks in the summer, and on any given day you will find a large handful of Maui groms out there enjoying the waves. Many of Maui’s top surfers call the Harbor their home break, including Clay Marzo, Wes and Granger Larsen, Kevin Sullivan, Kala Willard, and Eli Hanneman. Although we have fewer summer breaks to choose from on Maui, it has resulted in a close-knit surfing community with most (if not all) of our young surfers training at the same spot day in and day out, pushing and inspiring each other to bring out the best in each of them!