Much of the surf on the leeward side breaks over sharp and shallow reef, making it best suited for expert surfers. Scaling rocks and reef to enter and exit the water can be a challenge for newcomers, and the locals are quite territorial when it comes to their surf breaks. Still, with the right attitude, there’s definitely a wave to be had on the leeward coast.

Waves lap against the sand at Poka‘i Bay in Wai‘anae, Oahu.

Poka‘i Bay in Wai‘anae is perfect for beginners, with a rolling wave and a soft break. Photo © Eugene Kim, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Longboarders, stand-up paddlers, and first-time surfers can get the feel of a board under their feet at this soft break.The leeward coast basically faces west, so it is prone to waves all year long. Southerly summer swells and the northwesterly winter swells both offer opportunities for great quality surf. Winter swells can get quite big—scary big actually. When a high surf advisory is called for the coast and waves are above the 20-foot mark, it’s best to leave the surfboard at home and watch the locals who are familiar with the challenging breaks.


Ma‘ili Point

Ma‘ili Point is one of the best waves on this stretch of coastline. A predominantly left breaking point break, the wave breaks over a shallow coral shelf, which can be a nearly dry reef at low tide. On south swells, the wave is a bit slopey and sometimes rights will break off the main peak. On northwesterly swells, Ma‘ili Point is a freight train wave, with fast breaking and barreling lefts suited for experts only. Park in the parking lot on the north side of the point. Getting in and out of the water can be tricky because of the rocky shelf along the beach, so watch or ask one of the local surfers the best way to get in without getting hurt.


Poka‘i Bay

Inside the breakwater in Poka‘i Bay in Wai‘anae is a rolling wave perfect for beginners. Longboarders, stand-up paddlers, and first-time surfers can get the feel of a board under their feet at this soft break. The wave breaks over a wide reef and is small and calm, even when the surf is larger elsewhere.


Makaha Beach Park

Makaha is a righthand point break steeped in surf history. The site of the Makaha International Surfing Championships from 1954 to 1971, the waves at Makaha can range from fun and playful to massive and life threatening. Makaha breaks in summer and winter, with the largest waves occurring during the wintertime high surf advisories. The wave breaks over shallow reef at the top of the point and runs into deeper water with a sandy bottom near the beach, famous for its backwash. Makaha gets crowded and has a well-established pack of locals of all ages. If you paddle out at Makaha, smile, say hello, and don’t hassle anyone for a wave, or you’ll be on the beach before you know it. At Makaha, you’ll find people pursuing ocean sports of all kinds: surfing, bodyboarding, stand-up paddling, and bodysurfing. Parking along the road is the safest so you can keep an eye on your car.

Yokohama Bay

About eight miles past Makaha, in the Ka‘ena Point State Park at the end of the road, are several challenging, barreling surf breaks. Nestled in the beautiful and secluded Keawa‘ula Bay, better known as Yokohama Bay, swells approach out of deep water from the north and the south and detonate along the bay’s shallow reefs. The waves are very dangerous as they break on extremely shallow reef shelves close to shore. This is a favorite spot for expert surfers and bodyboarders.


Hale Nalu (85-876 Farrington Hwy., #A2, 808/696-5897, 10am-5pm daily) has new and used boards and rents bodyboards starting at $14 per day, shortboards starting at $20 per day, longboards starting at $30 per day, and stand-up paddle boards starting at $50 per day. They also have discounts for three-day and week rentals.

West Oahu SUP (84-1170 Farrington Hwy., 808/954-2091, 9am-5pm daily) rents bodyboards for $20 per day, $60 per five-day week; shortboards $25 per day, $85 per week; longboards $15 hourly, $25 full day, and $95 per week; and stand-up paddle boards with paddle for $25 hourly, $60 full day, and $215 per week.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.