The bright sun warm on your skin. A cool breeze and the sound of waves crashing onto the white sand. What is this intense desire to surf in its clear blue waters?  

Surfing Big Island waves has been something that every person wants to do. Either for a chance to brag that you surfed the ocean or cross out from your bucket list, the thought of weaving through waves gives you an appreciation of how lucky you are in Hawaii. Whether you’re a resident or visitor, you gotta try surfing at least once in your lifetime.

With many Big Island surf lessons available, you can learn to surf in Hilo or Kona – though most surfers would agree, the best waves can be found on the leeward side of the island.

There are some general terms you should know. It’s not a comprehensive list but at least you don’t come off totally daft.

Riptides – turbulent water

Clean wave – smooth wave with no bumps

Grom – young and inexperienced surfer

Offshore – winds blowing from the shore towards the ocean

Onshore – winds blowing from ocean to shore

Swell/groundswell – surfable waves

Surf break – where coral reef, lava rock or shoal causes the waves to break, forming waves that can be surfed

For newbies interested in surfing, you want to look into beaches that have consistent waves that break gently. Luckily, being in Hawaii, there are plenty of places you can go for Big Island surfing. Most beaches will have favorable weather and ocean conditions. 

Tip from this local: Learn surfing etiquette. Give way to experienced surfers who have priority over a wave. Dropping in or burning onto another surfer’s wave is a huge no-no.

Just be patient with yourself and others while you take on this exciting challenge. You might learn something new about yourself. 

Kahalu‘u Bay in Keauhou

Perhaps the easiest beach for beginners, Kahalu‘u Bay has a massive coral reef that creates a slight offshore break. As a result, the waves are soft and smooth, ideal for groms and intermediate surfers. 

In July, the bay has light offshore winds. It’s also the most preferred time of the year for consistent clean waves coming from southwest swells.

Kahalu‘u Bay has plenty of surfing schools nearby with one just right across the street. Many other pop-up surf schools also operate from their van or truck.  

There is overflow parking at the beach park, though most surfers will park on the street closest to the little blue church north of the park. Surfers use that entrance to get into the water quickly without having to deal with the snorkelers.  

Tip from this local: Watch out for wana (pronounced as vah-na) which means sea urchins in Hawaiian. 

Also, take the time to chat with a ReefTeach volunteer. They offer reef-friendly sunscreen that doesn’t wreak havoc on the fragile coral and how to care for reef animals including honu or sea turtles in Hawaiian. 

Kohanaiki Beach or “Pine Trees” in Kona

With consistent northwest swells, Kohanaiki Beach or as the locals call “Pine Trees” is a popular hotspot. However, strong rip currents occur from large swells and there are no lifeguards on site. There are different types of waves suitable for beginners and experienced surfers depending on where you’re surfing in Pine Trees. At the south end is the bay, where you can find swimmers. It’s also where the newbies and intermediate surfers line up to catch waves.

Amenities include bathrooms and showers.

Watch out for huge reefs. They’re visible in fairly shallow waters so be careful. Inexperienced surfers have come back with nasty cuts which can lead to serious infection and scarring. 

Tip from this local: Hawaii County allows overnight camping, so parking can get a little tricky, especially during the weekends. Best to come on weekdays to get a decent parking spot.

Lyman’s Beach off of Ali‘i Drive in Kona

This beach is more for intermediate and experienced surfers, though you are welcome to watch the local pros splitting the sea with their boards. Swells do run pretty large here, especially in the summer and winter seasons. Winter swells create long breaks with offshore winds coming from the east and there are left point breaks which makes it more suitable for intermediate and experienced surfers.

No lifeguard on duty. Showers and restrooms are available and there is very limited parking. No beach either, so surfers would have to trek over rocks to get into the water. 

Honoli‘i Beach Park in Hilo

There are not a lot of good surfing spots for beginners on the east side of the island. Because of large swells for more advanced surfers, Honoli‘i Beach is a popular spot for the locals. This is a rocky beach, you have to swim quite a bit to avoid the lava rocks or risk scraping your knees.  For bigger waves, experienced surfers would venture to the point which is closer to the rocky cliff.

It’s a narrow road to get to the beach. With a lifeguard on duty, there’s not a lot of sand on this beach. 

Anaeho‘omalu Bay or A-Bay in Waikoloa

This sandy beach curves into the old Kuualii fishpond where scattered palm trees are lined between the ocean and the ancient pond.  Anaeho‘omalu Bay or A-Bay for short – consistently has clean surfable waves during the winter season. During that time, surfers must be cautious of strong rip currents,  

As for the rest of the year, the waves tend to be too small but it’s preferable for groms. Surfers would have to go a bit further out because this family-friendly beach hosts a lot of other water activities, so it might get a little crowded. There is plenty of parking and public restrooms and showers, though there are no lifeguards on duty.

A-Bay is also close to good eateries nearby. Check out Lava Lava Beach Club or if you’re looking for something quick and cheap, you can’t go wrong with Island Gourmet Market in the Queens’ Marketplace.

On this note, remember to always practice aloha – to the locals and to the experienced surfers. 

Lastly, respect the ʻāina (land). A beautiful place like this needs to be protected. 

And more importantly, aloha yourself. Surfing is a fun activity and you can learn a lot about yourself but always use caution. There are risks to any water activities on Hawaii beaches. Take heed to a valuable ocean safety tip from the Hawaii Department of Health and Hawaii Tourism Authority: when in doubt, don’t go out.