Surf Travel & Destination Guide
North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii - Surf Travel Guide
When you get to Oahu and head up to the North Shore, you will understand why they call it the country. There is not a whole lot of development on the North Shore. When you get there you will see mostly just small places to eat, lots of homes, one sick skatepark, and seven miles of some of the most famous surf spots and in the world. Haleiwa however, is right at the entrance to the North Shore, and is a great little surf town with plenty to keep you busy and entertain you as you vacation on the seven-mile miracle.
How to Get to the North Shore of Oahu - Travel Tips & Driving Directions
Well it's an island, so you are going to start by flying into Honolulu obviously. From there you want to get on the H1 East leaving the airport. You have two different options to get up to the North Shore from here, and both take about an hour. It is probably quickest to take the H2 North through Mililani. Its really simple to follow the signs to make sure you stay on the highway through the little towns you pass through; they all say North Shore with arrows pointing where to go. When you come down the big long hill past the pineapple fields you'll be looking at the North Shore and Haleiwa will be coming up shortly on your left.
The other option is to take the H3 through the mountains and go up the east side of the island. This is definitely recommended if you want a more scenic route. The east coast mountains and shorelines are beautiful. Simply take the H1 west to the H3 North, go through the tunnel, and follow the signs to get to Kamehameha Highway, and follow that road all the way around the island up to the North Shore. Going up the east side you can also take the H1 east to the Likelike Highway, from there get on the Kahekili Highway after the tunnel, and then Kamehameha highway from there. This route is also very scenic as you exit the mountains.
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Oahu Car Rental
Since Hawaii is part of the United States, car rentals are pretty straightforward. Your best option is to rent a car through one of the agencies right at the airport. It is definitely important to have one reserved well in advance, as Oahu is a huge tourist destination and they can run out of vehicles if you are trying to get it last minute. There are often vehicles available through other agencies that are specific to tourism on the island.
North Shore Surf Report
From Ali'i Beach Park in Haleiwa to V-land, you have seven miles of incredible waves to surf around every bend in the coastline. Sounds better than it is, because surprisingly there are actually enough surfers to fill all those spots on a daily basis. Nonetheless, you can always find somewhere fun to get some epic waves. There are a ton of surf spots along this stretch of coast and you'll have to go explore it for yourself to find out about them all. Here is an abbreviated list of the main surf spots:
Ali'i Beach Park
Ali'i gets crowded, but don't let that turn you away. It is the place where many of Hawaii's top surfers first learned to surf. There is often a ton of groms on the inside and a large pack of every sort of person imaginable on the outside. It is a pretty easy crowd to deal with, and the wave is very forgiving most of the time. Ali'i is mainly a right that can get hollow and fast. Anyone who saw the first event of the Vans Triple Crown here in 2008 knows how perfect this place can get. There is also a left that tends to be a little more mushy and slow, but can change its temper periodically and throw something fun at you.
Laniakea (Lani's), Chun's Reef
Lani's and Chun's are what you see from some of the first openings on the highway (where you can actually see the ocean) traveling from Haleiwa towards Turtle Bay. They are both mainly right reef breaks. They tend to be pretty rippable on big days, and not so fast and hollow as some of the further up north surf spots. They can get really heavy though with a big swell. Lani's actually holds up pretty well in big waves, and is ridable during most swells.
The premier big wave spot on Oahu, Waimea Bay only breaks when it gets really big, and is home to the only ASP sanctioned big wave surf event, the Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau, known locally as just "the Eddie". It is a big right that pitches hard and steep off the take off and then mushes out on the inside. The waves here can hold up to over 50 feet. Some crazy locals like Mark Healey are known to take the left straight in front of the rocks on the point. On medium sized days there can be a slow and mushy right called pinballs breaking further inside.
Log Cabins, Rockpiles, Off-The-Wall
As you continue up the North Shore from Haleiwa, Log Cabins is just past Sharks Cove, and just before the next opening where you see the ocean from Kam Highway. The sand bars shift over the reef throughout the winter here, so sometimes it will be sand bottom and other times it will be reef. It gets pretty shallow and can have huge freak sets that take out the whole line-up. Mainly a right, but good lefts frequently are found too. Rockpiles is about 50 yards North, right in front of the big pile of rocks. It peaks in front of the rocks and goes left and right. Try not to fall straight off the take off or you might be sitting somewhere you'd rather not be. Off-The-Wall is just North from Rockpiles and is mainly a closeout right barrel. Sick photos are captured here all the time as it gets really hollow.
Pipeline is the legendary left barrel and Backdoor is the right that can get even gnarlier. Pipe is probably the most famous surf spot in the world; the place where every pro surfer needs to come prove themselves if they want to go on with their career. To get there turn in at the Ehukai Beach Park parking lot and walk a little bit south down the beach. You'll definitely see the line-up. Backdoor is Pipe's intimidating right hand barrel that often opens up and spits surfers out way down the line. This wave is heavy, and the crowd is relentless. Don't go out unless you really know what you're doing, and even then, Pipe will probably humble you.
Ehukai Beach Park, Pupukea, Gas Chambers, Rocky Point
From Ehukai Beach Park going north you have Pupukea, Gas Chambers, and then Rocky Point. The first three often have sand bars built up during the winter months, and this can transform the spots into all kinds of perfect barreling waves. Even without the sand though, they can be very fun places to go, especially if you're ready to get some good waves and skip the beatings that much of the North Shore can give you. Rocky Point however, is another one of the gems of the North Shore. It has rights and lefts, breaks over a shallow rock shelf, and gets super rippable and also hollow. The wave does not hold up in really big surf, but works during most swells in the mid to late season.
Kammieland, Sunset Beach, Backyards
Kammies is mainly a right, just South of Sunset Beach, accessed from the same shoreline. It also gets a good left on bigger days. Sunset Beach is one of the most famous surf spots on the North Shore. There is nearly a 200-yard takeoff zone, with three main spots: The Point, The Main Reef, and Backyards. It is generally a hollow, fast, powerful and ledgey right reef break, with some lefts at Backyards. Sunset takes in all the swell and holds itself up in the biggest of days. You may need to bring your big wave gun down for this surf spot.
Named after legendary surfboard shaper Dale Velzy, this wave is an amazing right-hander that will give you rippable walls and long barrels. When it gets really big, there is a left called Freddies on the south side of the same bay, and behind them both is a big wave spot called Phantoms. V-Land is a pretty localized surf spot, so be sure not to get in anybody's way and don't be too aggressive and you should be fine.
Turtle Bay probably shouldn't be listed along such great waves, but since many of you will probably be staying at Turtle Bay, its worth a mention. There is a right and occasionally some lefts on the west side of the hotel. You can see people out surfing them from the pool. They work best on medium sized swells, as anything to big just washes right through and makes for some pretty chaotic conditions out there. On the east side of the hotel there are some harder to surf spots that can get really good called Rainbows and Baggers.
For more information about these and other breaks check out our Oahu surf spots page.
Oahu Surf Lessons:
There are a lot of surf lessons available in town on the South Shore and the waves are more suitable to learning. But if you really want to learn on the North Shore, there are some surf schools that can help you out. For more information about contacting an Oahu surf school, check out our Oahu Surf Schools page.
Haleiwa Surfboard Rentals
Here is a list of shops that rent surfboards and should be able to help you out.
- Hawaii Surfboard Rentals: (808) 672-5055, email: info@HawaiiSurfboardRentals.com, P.O. Box 75571, Kapolei, HI 96707
- Hale Nalu Surf Company: (808) 696-5897, email: mail@halenula, 85-876 Farrington Highway, Waianae, HI 96792
- Surf n Sea: 1 (800) 899-7873, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, 62-595 Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa HI
- Surf Bruddahs: (808) 226-2228, (808) 227-1099, email: email@example.com, 1217 Palolo Avenue, Honolulu, HI 96816, www.surfbruddahs.com
- Barnfield Performance: (808) 637-7797, email: RagingIsleSurf@hawaii.rr.com, 66-250 Kam Hwy. Bldg. B, Haleiwa, Hawaii 96712
If you just drive into Haleiwa and look around you will find that there are surf shops all over the place. A ton of them have rentals, or can at least help you find out where you can find some.
Haleiwa and North Shore Hotels and Rentals
There is not a lot of development on the North Shore, so likewise there are not a lot of hotels. In fact, there is only one, so if you can't afford a stay at Turtle Bay or plan to spend a long time on the North Shore, then your best options are hostels and rentals. Besides the ones listed below, you can find rooms for rent through searching on Craigslist.
Hostels and Vacation Rentals:
Haleiwa and North Shore Restaurants & Bars
What Haleiwa and the North Shore lack in terms of places to stay, they definitely make up for in places to eat. There are so many great places to eat both on the North Shore, and in Haleiwa. This is the truly the place for waves, and for food.
- Shark's Cove Grill: Great sea food, Right across from Shark's Cove.
- Ted's Bakery: Awesome sandwiches and pastries, and even better stuff off the grill. Incredible pies. In between Sunset Beach and V-Land.
- Kava Roots: Fresh fruit smoothies and Acai bowls, across from Three Tables Beach.
- Cholos Homestyle Mexican: One of the few good Mexican places around. 66-250 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI 96712 (808) 637-3059
- Breakers Restaurant & Bar: 66-250 Kamehameha Hwy Haleiwa, HI 96712 (808) 637-9898
- Haleiwa Joe's Seafood Grill: One of the nicest places to eat in the region. 66-011 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI 96712 (808) 637-8005
- Spaghettini: 66-200 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI 96712 (808) 637-0104
- Kua Aina Sandwich: Amazing burgers. 66-160 Kamehameha Hwy # C, Haleiwa, HI 96712 (808) 637-6067
- Haleiwa Eats: The best Thai food on the Island. 66-079 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI 96712 (808) 637-4247
- Grass Skirt Grill: 66-214 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI 96712 (808) 637-4852
- Cafe Haleiwa: 66-460 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI 96712 (808) 637-5516
- Rosie's Cantina in Haleiwa: 66-165 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI 96712 (808) 637-3538
- Storto's Deli & Sandwich Shop: 66-215 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI 96712 (808) 637-6633
- Killer Tacos: If you don't have time for Cholos, then this is the place. 66-560 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI 96712 (808) 637-4573
- Pizza Bob's in Haleiwa: 66-145 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI 96712 (808) 637-5095
- Banzai Sushi Bar: 66-246 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI 96712 (808) 637-4404
- Kono's: 66-250 Kamehameha Hwy # G110, Haleiwa, HI 96712 (808) 637-9211
- Ray's Kiawe Broiled Chicken: 66-160 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI 96712 (808) 479-9891
- Opal Thai Food: 66-460 Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa, HI 96712 (808) 381-8091
- Jameson's by the Sea: 62-540 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI 96712 (808) 637-3225
If you are on the island of Oahu then you shouldn't worry about other things to do besides surfing. You can go hiking, snorkeling, scuba diving, skydiving, skateboarding, horseback riding, site seeing, and more. Check out the flat spell activities for Oahu post on The Surfing Blog. for some ideas of what to do if the waves go flat. Here are some things that were not mentioned on that post, for some additional ideas.
Take your first jump out of a plane at Skydive Hawaii. They take you up around 15,000 feet and you free fall for about 1 minute, down to 3,000 feet. Tandem jumps give you the thrill of skydiving while maintaining the safety of being strapped to an experienced instructor and skydiver. On clear days, you can see the whole island and some of the other islands on your freefall down.
Horseback riding tours are available at Kualoa Ranch, Gunstock Ranch, and several other places on the island. Experience the beauty of the Hawaiian mountains and forests from the back of a horse. Kualoa Ranch also offers ATV tours and a variety of other activities.
Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay is an amazing experience. Lots of sea turtles and tropical fish frequent this area. Another really cool place to snorkel is Electric Beach on the west side of the island. There are underwater pipes that shoot out warm water attracting lots of sea life.
Visit Pearl Harbor for a trip back in time to learn about the WWII history of this island. There are several different tour packages to choose from, for a memorable experience.