Surfing would have to be the only sport with such a wildly variable playing field – the ocean is an unpredictable entity. The sea of Oahu’s North Shore proves to be an exception, as every winter predictably huge waves are guaranteed to be an enormous five stories high. This is why you will find the world’s top surfers here every year for the Triple Crown surfing competition. During the rest of the year, Oahu enjoys the most notorious surf in the world. Here are ten of the best places to ride a wave.
An unruly, wild, wintertime break that picks up pretty much any north or west swell. A split-peak with a better right, it breaks from two feet to 12, and can either be a lot of fun or one of the scariest places you will ever surf. The current out of the Haleiwa Harbor's relentless, so make sure you are in good paddling shape. Also, both Tiger and Great Whites have been seen lurking along the outer reefs, so if the surf conditions were not frightening enough, there is always that aspect to consider. That being said, it is one of the more dependable, consistent breaks on the North Shore.
The ultimate big-wave arena. In the summer, "The Bay" is as placid as a lake, but come winter when the northwest swells are really pumping it is a whole different ball game. Starting to break at 12-15 feet, Waimea can hold upward of 30-foot sets before it starts closing out. The Waimea lifeguards are kept busy all winter fishing tourists out of the shorebreak, and are some of the best in the business. Even if you are not out to tackle triple-overhead surf, just to sit and watch the power of the Pacific is entertainment enough.
One of the heaviest tubes on the planet, Pipeline's the crown jewel of the North Shore. It stands up on a series of shallow reefs and is as dangerous as it is spectacular. It has taken many a surfer's life over the years and has a reputation as the world's deadliest wave. As if that was not enough, it is also one of the most crowded, with an unforgiving local scene. It is definitely not for the faint-hearted, but should you be lucky enough to get even one wave, you will see what all the fuss is about.
Located at the eastern-most point of the North Shore, Sunset Beach is a classic Hawaiian big wave. Before surfers started braving Waimea Bay in the late 1950s, Sunset Beach was the pinnacle of heavy-water surfing. It has a wide-open, expansive line-up, so finding the right take-off spot can be a challenge - you had better be in top paddling shape. It definitely requires a bigger board, and can take years of experience to figure out. But drop in on the massive West Peak and you will see why some have dedicated their lives to surfing the place.
Located at the mouth of the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor, Ala Moana, or "Bowls", as it is often called, is the go-to spot for locals in the summertime. Picking up south swells, it is primarily a left-hander that can be hollow and somewhat heavy when it is really pumping. There are a host of other notches in the surrounding reef that are a lot of fun and have a considerably mellower vibe. Over the years the parking lot has developed into an interesting scene. If you roll up in a rental car, make sure it is without valuables: they are obvious targets for break-ins.
The birthplace of modern surfing, Queens is where the original Waikiki beach boys like Duke Kahanamoku and George Freeth revived the "Sport of Kings", teaching the likes of famed author Jack London and a host of other travellers and transplants the ins and outs of riding waves. While Waikiki's grown up considerably since the turn of the century, the aura is still very much there. A new generation of beach boys continues to offer surf lessons in the gentle, rolling waves. No matter how much surf experience you have, going down to Queens for a day of longboarding is a must.
The reefs under the shadow of the iconic extinct volcano are definitely worth a look if you are hoping to escape the madness of Waikiki. Because it is one of the more exposed points on the island, conditions can get a bit blustery, which is why it is also a great place to windsurf. But on a clean day, thanks to a multitude of reefs facing in varying directions, there are a lot of different places to surf and the crowds are considerably mellower than the other spots in "Town".
Located on the east side of the island, not too far around the corner from Diamond Head, Sandy's is one of the most renowned bodysurfing spots in the world. The shallow shore-pound is not for the beginner, but if you have a good pair of fins and a little experience, you can have a lot of fun getting thumped. Its emerald green tubes offer what is basically a glorified close-out that allows just enough time to take off, pull in and get a heck of a view before washing up onto the sand. Just be careful: because of its power and shallowness, neck and back injuries are a risk here.
The article 'Top surf spots in Oahu' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.