The North Shore: Learning to Surf Among Legends

Published on November 3, 2022


Hang loose and ride the wave. Perfect curls do exist and they’re located on the North Shore of Oahu. Attracting both the world’s greatest surf athletes and curious surfing rookies from around the world, this seven-mile stretch is a place of legends, offering waves for paddlers of all experience levels.

When planning a visit to the North Shore, travelers will want to navigate their trip around two primary factors: skill-level and seasons.

Surfing Skill-Level
When visiting the North Shore to learn how to surf, it is important to leave the big waves to the legends. Knowing where to go based on your skill-level is imperative to staying safe. Certain spots along the North Shore are for experts only and though they can be fun for people-watching, particularly during competition seasons, they are absolutely not the place to get in the water and learn how to catch a wave for the first time. That said, for rookies, there are a few well-known spots ideal for learning, while still dipping your toes in one of the world’s most famous surfing regions.

Chun’s Reef
A popular home to many surf schools offering beginner lessons, Chun’s Reef is a perfect place for budding surfers to start their journey. Its very beginner-friendly location offers waves that break thick and to the right, guiding surfers to a nice deep channel where they can rest before heading back out.

Kawela Bay
When waves are massive elsewhere, beginners can always count on Kawela Bay to have smaller swells. The shape of the bay itself is protected from the giant waves that batter the North Shore, diffusing the power and intensity of the swells, making it an easy place to ease into the learning experience. Located near the very top of the North Shore, this spot can be found when driving on Kamehameha Highway, right before Turtle Bay.

Puaena Point
Puaena Point sits at the outermost northeast corner of Haleiwa Harbor, boasting a wave suitable for tow-teams all the way down to keikis (kids). The wave itself is fantastic for beginners, with a ride that ends in a tranquil pool of water known for being home to many green sea turtles. Due to its proximity to the town of Haleiwa, this is a go-to spot for many surf schools.

Surfing Seasons
Travelers visiting Hawaii from locales that experience fall foliage and winter snowstorms might laugh at the idea of “seasons” when planning a trip to Hawaii, but when learning to surf along the North Shore, seasons are actually incredibly important.

During the winter months (November - February), the swells are massive, sometimes going up to thirty feet or more. This is a period of the year when it is recommended that only the most experienced surfers get in the water. Waves during this time are so formidable, that the North Shore plays host to the world’s premier surfing competitions, including the biggest of them all, the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. These winter months can put on an impressive show, making it a thrilling time to visit as a spectator and watch big wave surfing.

Once spring hits (May - September), the ocean’s temperament subsides, creating an environment more suitable for surfers of all levels to paddle out.