Surfing is more than a hobby in West Maui—it’s a way of life. In Lahaina, legions of longboarders begin each morning by watching the sunrise from the water, and flotillas of surf schools operate throughout the day. Up north, Honolua is the proving ground of the island’s burgeoning surfers, and whenever “The Bay” starts breaking, a palpable buzz goes out through the community. Granted, not all breaks are suitable for beginners. Out of respect for island surfers only a handful of breaks are included in this guide. Practice common etiquette, and enjoy the serenity that comes with surfing one of the most beautiful spots in the world.

Kapalua, Napili, and Honokowai

The break, commonly known as S-Turns, is perfect for beginners.Winter is the best time for surfing “up north” and the waves get larger the farther north that you head. With the exception of S-Turns, however, most of the breaks on the Upper West Side are for experienced surfers. Beginners will have better luck at the breaks south of Lahaina.

Surf Spots

Beginning in Honokowai, Rainbows is a fickle break that is best for intermediate surfers. The wave is in front of the Ka‘anapali Beach Club. Parking can be found by taking the first left on Lower Honoapi‘ilani Road across from the Times Supermarket. There can often be some strong currents here, and Rainbows will only break on the largest of northwest swells or any swell which is north or northeasterly.

A surfer contemplates the waves at Honolua Bay on Maui.

A surfer contemplates the waves at Honolua Bay on Maui. Photo © Aussie Assault, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Pohaku Beach Park in Kahana is the epicenter of the West Side’s longboard community. The break, commonly known as S-Turns, is perfect for beginners. Travel on Honoapi‘ilani Highway until you reach the intersection with Ho‘ohui Street with the McDonald’s on the corner. Turn toward the ocean, and make a left once you reach the bottom of the hill. Drive for a quarter mile and you will see the parking lot for S-Turns on your right. When standing in the parking lot, you will notice two distinct breaks: one to the left and one to the right. The break to the left is S-Turns, and the one to the right is Mushrooms.

While Mushrooms can be a fun wave, it’s shallow on the inside section. Over at S-Turns, you’ll notice a couple of A-frame peaks a long paddle offshore. Surfing at S-Turns is as much of a paddle workout as a surfing workout, and you can be forgiven if you need to stop a couple of times to catch your breath on the way out. Beginners stay on the inside section, while more experienced surfers favor the outer peaks. Also, there have been some shark issues at S-Turns in the past, so if the water is murky and no one else is out, there’s probably a reason for that. S-Turns starts breaking on a moderate northwest swell, and on the largest of days can reach a few feet overhead.

The surf break at D.T. Fleming Beach Park is at the far northern end of the beach. The wave here is a combination of a beach break and a point break, and it can get crowded with bodyboarders during weekends. This is one of the few places on the West Side that picks up windswell, so if it’s windy and there aren’t waves anywhere else, check Fleming’s.

If you’re an avid surfer, Honolua Bay needs no introduction. The wave here is truly one of the best in the world, holding almost religious significance for the locals. Honolua is reserved for experienced surfers, but even non-surfers should come here during a large swell to watch the island’s best pull into the gaping, barreling perfection. Also, Honolua can become crowded, and if you paddle out and nobody recognizes you, your chances of getting a wave decrease significantly. Granted, on days when the surf is only about head high and the crowd isn’t too thick, there can still be enough waves for everyone—provided you know what you’re doing.

Even though Windmills is a surf break beyond the ability level of most visitors, it’s an epic spot for watching the island’s best surfers. The massive left tube barrels with such ferocity it’s been called Maui’s Pipeline. Many professional surf films have been shot here. The best vantage point is on the side of the road at the edge of a dramatic cliff. If you see cars parked on the side of the road a mile past Honolua Bay, large surf is breaking.

Rental Shops

Experienced surfers will get the best selection of boards with 808 Boards (808/283-1384), who will pick up and drop off the board at no additional charge.

Two places you can rent a board up north are at the Boss Frog’s locations in Napili (5095 Napilihau St., 808/669-4949, 8am-6pm daily) and Kahana (4310 Lower Honoapi‘ilani Rd., 808/669-6700, 8am-5pm daily). Rates are around $20/day for soft top longboards or $25/day for fiberglass boards.

For the cheapest boards you’ll find on this side of the island, little-known A&B Ocean Rentals (3481 Lower Honoapi‘ilani Rd., 808/669-0027, 9am-4pm daily) is hidden in Da Rose mall in Honokowai on the ocean side of the highway. Surfboards are only $15/day or $70 for the whole week.


Surf Spots

The only surf break in Ka‘anapali is Ka‘anapali Point, in front of the Marriott on Ka‘anapali Beach. This is where the Ka‘anapali surf lessons take place, although the wave here is tricky because it bends at a weird angle. Also, the inside section can get shallow and rocky, so surf school students are given booties. Ka‘anapali Point can pick up both southwesterly and northeasterly swells, which means there can be surf any month of the year.

Rental Shops and Schools

While the waves in Lahaina are more amenable to learning, there are still a number of operators along Ka‘anapali Beach for those who would prefer to walk directly from the resort to the lesson. Since Ka‘anapali gets windier than Lahaina, it’s important to book the first lesson of the day for the best conditions.

For the most affordable lessons, the Trilogy beach shack in front of the Ka‘anapali Beach Hotel offers two hours for $70. On the other side of Whalers Village, lessons can be booked with Island Style (808/244-6858) in front of the Westin or with Royal Hawaiian (808/357-8988) at the kiosk at the Marriott. Both places offer two hours for $75. For rentals down by Ka‘anapali Point, expect to pay in the $20-40 range depending on the length of rental. Booties are included in the price of all lessons and rentals.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.