Big Island surf — Probably nothing is more iconically Hawaiian than surfing! And who hasn't dreamed of riding the waves with the sun on their face on a beautiful beach in Hawaii?
From beginners to experts, anyone can surf on the Big Island. My focus here will be on first time surfers or beginners who want to try surfing in Hawaii. My best advice when it comes to learning how to surf is to take a surf lesson. I can't emphasize this enough. I am so glad that I took a lesson my first time out.
With a good instructor, just about anyone will be up and surfing on their first day. Without a lesson, most people will struggle, get frustrated and tired out before they ever experience the feeling of riding a wave.
There is a point where you just need to practice, practice and practice some more - The only way to get good at surfing is to surf a lot. But the learning curve is way more gentle if you have someone showing you the ropes.Kahalu'u Bay Surf & Sea is the perfect place to start your Big Island surf lessons. Ben & Isha offer private or group lessons for all ages and skill levels. Lessons include all the equipment you'll need and they're conveniently located right across the street from Kahalu'u Bay—the best beginner surf spot on the Big Island.
They also offer rentals, so you can keep surfing after you've gotten the hang of it in your lesson. Take it from me, you'll definitely want to keep at it once you've tried it. Learning to surf on your own can be exhausting and discouraging, but a good teacher will make sure you have fun and will give you a great start on your Big Island surf experience.
Another option for surf lessons on the Kona side is Ocean Eco Tours Surf School.
When it comes to Hawaiian surfing, the Big Island surf experience is overshadowed by more famous places like Oahu's North Shore — But don't let anyone tell you that there's no good Big Island surf. There is plenty!
The waves are bigger and more frequent during the winter. Summer waves are smaller and it can be days between when the surf is up at all. But even in summer, there are plenty of waves to be had.
Most of my Big Island surf experience is on the Kona side of the Island (the West coast). The Hilo side (the East coast) is the windward side where most of the weather comes from. The sunny Kona side has a lot of great places for beginners to enjoy the Big Island surf and some places that beginners should avoid.
Kahaluu - Kahaluu Beach Park is the perfect place to learn to surf and to practice. It's a beginner spot where you won't feel out of place if you're just getting the hang of it. Its just a few miles south of downtown Kona, a bit past White Sands Beach. You can't miss it. Locals here are patient because everyone knows it's a beginner spot. Just look out past the rock wall and you'll see where people are surfing. You can catch waves on the inside too, there's plenty of room.
Lymans - Lymans is a nice left-breaking wave just south of Banyans. Lymans Bay is just south of Kona about half way between Magic Sands and the Kahaluu Beach Park. Walk along the shore towards the house on the left of the bay, through the bushes, along the narrow path to the rocky beach and get in from there. There's a shower sticking out of the wall across the street that anyone can use.Pine Trees - Pine Trees is a little harder to get to but its a nice spot for beginners too. Its north of Kona off of Hwy 19 just before the airport. Look for signs for the Natural Energy Lab and take a left. Once you get to the end of that road, its a rocky gravel road to the left again. This drive is best done with a 4x4 or at least a vehicle with some clearance (don't take your rental!). Follow that south for a bit until you see the beach. There are plenty of breaks along this stretch. Watch out for rocks in some places.
Honls - Honls is a bit rocky but there's a sandy beach to get in at. Watch out for rocks and sea urchins. Honls is the closest spot to downtown Kona. Just follow Ali'i south its only a couple hundred yards from the Royal Kona. Look for the first sandy spot right next to the road.
Banyans - Banyans is straight out from the Banyan building and across from the Banyan Mart about three or four miles south of downtown Kona. To get a good look, drive a little further south along the empty shore to where the little bay ends. This is Lymans and you can see Banyans better from there than you can from the road right in front of it. Banyans is a spot best left to the locals and experienced surfers. Beginners might not get a warm welcome - especially if you can't hold your own. Just cruise a little further to Lymans.
It is way easier to learn on a longboard (8 ft. +) than on a shortboard (6-7 ft.). Longboards are more stable, they paddle faster and will allow beginners to catch a lot more waves. Shortboards need bigger, steeper waves to take off on.
If you're doing lessons, they will provide a board for you (and everything else you'll need). Beyond that, there are a lot of places to pickup a board on the Big Island. Surf boards can sometimes be bought at Costco at a decent price. New and used boards are available at local surf shops. I bought a new board because I couldn't find a used one that suited my surfing at the time. Buying a board is worth it if you plan on surfing more than just every once in a while. Why? Because you can sell it when you're done with it and get a good chunk of your money back. I bought my first board for about $350 and sold it half a year later for $250. So, having a surfboard for 6 months only cost me $100. That's what a few days of renting will cost. If you're gonna surf a enough, it is worth it to buy a board—as long as you don't mind taking the time to resell it.
There are some great Big Island surf shops that can help you get set up with the equipment that you'll need.
In Kona, check out Kahalu'u Bay Surf & Sea right across the street at Kahalu'u Beach Park. They usually have a decent selection of used and new boards.In Hilo, try Orchidland Surfboards, which is right downtown on the bay front.
The ocean is a living and moving thing and can be dangerous if you're not prepared. Surfing is hard work. Practicing swimming before you take up surfing is extremely helpful.
Be aware of ocean conditions. Some spots will have markers that indicate rip tides and heavy surf but most will not. Know your limits. If the surf looks too big from the shore, it will be way to big once you get in it. Don't be afraid to get into waves but don't be careless either.
When I learned to surf, my instructor told me to always remember The ABCs of Surfing - Always Be Cool. This means don't panic. You will get knocked by waves and when you're held under for 5 seconds it feels like 5 minutes. Don't panic! Always be cool and relaxed.
When you fall off your board, its better to fall off backwards than forwards. And when you come up out of the water cover your head with your hands. This has saved my skull more than once. You never know where your board might be when you pop your head up out of the water. It could be coming straight at your face. Protect yourself.
Don't be afraid of surfing with locals. 99% of Big Island surf locals are friendly if you surf with respect and stick to spots that you can handle. The most important rule when surfing is don't get in anyone's way. This means that if someone is already on a wave, its their wave. Don't take off in front of them! The person closest to the peak of the wave (the spot where the wave breaks) has that wave.
If you're paddling out, watch for people surfing. No one wants to bail on their wave because you're in their way.
Just paddle out to the line-up and be patient - You will get waves.
There is nothing in the world like the feeling of riding a wave. I've been snowboarding, skiing, water skiing, wakeboarding... Nothing touches surfing. I mean not even close. You just have to try it to see. Every time I'm on a wave I think, "I never want to do anything else!" Watch out, surfing is addictive. I definitely recommend giving it a try while you're on the Big Island.