Maui, also known as the “Valley Isle,” offers many different beaches with waves suitable for all surfing skill levels. Here, all of the best breaks are reef breaks, and the varying sizes and formations of the coral make for plenty of shapely waves. There are a few available beach breaks, although they tend to be mediocre in quality compared to the reef breaks.
Maui waters are, for the most part, crystal clear, and the reefs below will provide you with plenty of marine life to check out while you’re waiting for a wave. Be sure to wear booties or reef shoes, and watch your hands in the shallower areas during paddle out. Some other hazards include sea urchins, jellyfish and tiger sharks; if you get cut by reef or sharp coral, make sure to exit the water immediately.
On the southern and western shores of Maui, the summer waves consist of long, gently rolling sets, ideal for learning how to surf. There are some beautiful beaches along the west coast resort towns of Lahaina and Kaanapali, and a lot of good surfing schools. Many of the surfing schools on Maui guarantee stand-up surfing after the first lesson, and in some of the more shallow areas, you don’t even have to know how to swim to surf! Although tricky, as long as you’re comfortable being in the water, it’s possible to catch a long, easy wave close to shore. On the south coast of Kihei, at Maalea Beach, beginners can learn to surf at Buzz’s Wharf.
There is also plenty of experienced to professional world-class surfing on Maui, especially on the north coast and in the winter. Honolua Bay on the north shore is home to a mesmerizing right-hand point break, and Hookipa is known as the best place in the world to windsurf. Peahi, also known as Jaws, is where tow-in surfing originated, which is the only way to access this enormous wave when the right north winter swell is coming in. Surfed only by experts, Jaws is one of the biggest ridable waves on the planet, and can reach up to 50 feet overhead. During a southern swell, more experienced surfers flock to the Maalaea Pipeline, arguably the fastest right-hand break in the state.
Good surfing conditions can be found on Maui year-round. The water temperature remains in the 70’s and can reach the low 80’s in September and October.
The North Shore of Maui is where you’ll find the biggest and most consistent waves. Hookipa is a great surf spot when winds are favorable with 3-4 main breaks. This Maui surf spot is for experienced surfers only. The current can be strong and there are only 2 entrances to the surf. The reef infront of most of the spots is exposed which makes it difficult to get to shore when the currents are blazing. The entrances are at either end of the beach and narrow. The waves here are good but crowded.
Another popular spot to surf is Honolua Bay. This is one of the best waves on the island though extremely fickle. Usually only breaking a handful of times in the winter, Honolua Bay can offer a really long barreling right hand wave. Again, only for advanced surfers, Honolua surf can be treacherous. The Cave is a section of the wave, which is notorious for sucking surfers under and keeping them there. Keiki Bowls, on the inside, is super shallow and fast. This is a fun part of the wave, but you don’t want to fall here. Just kicking out can leave your knuckles scraped when paddling. There are dozens of other reef breaks around the island. The few beach breaks available are usually not very good in comparison.
Honolua Bay is not only the best wave in Maui, it is one of the best in the world. The northwestern coast of Maui is riddled with bays and crags that can produce all variety of great surf during the winter months, when the North Pacific is busy churning out storm after storm. But as any surfer knows, even a single degree change in the angle of a coastline can make the difference between a good wave and a perfect wave. Honolua Bay has just that magical angle, producing a perfect right-hander that can line-up flawlessly in a series of barrel and turn sections for the better part of a quarter mile. Like most high-quality pointbreaks, Honolua Bay is broken down into sections:
Coconuts: The outermost take-off zone on the point. As to be expected, the waves will be biggest here, but the wind will also be strongest.
Outside: After hitting Coconuts, the wave begins to gather steam and form, and will stand up into a hollow wall that offers the first of multiple barrel opportunities.
Cave: The best, most popular and high-performance, section of the wave. At Cave, wave height gives way to wave thickness as swell runs down the point, offering up the opportunity for the barrel of a lifetime. This section is named after the hole in the reef that gobbles surfers and surfboards with reckless abandon during big winter swells.
Keiki Bowl: If you’ve made it through Cave on a proper set wave, you’re probably burning off the steam of a deep barrel, which will get you into the next section, Keiki Bowl. Keiki is smaller, racy, and breaks over shallow, sharp reef — a favorite of bodyboarders and groms not quite ready for graduation to the outer take-off zones.
While wind/kitesurfing and surfing don’t usually play well together, Ho’okipa Beach Park, on Maui’s north-central coast, is the exception to the rule. With an unobstructed window to the North Pacific, Ho’okipa can pump out some serious surf in the winter months — best for surfers in the early morning hours when the predominant East-Northeast trade wind has yet to flair up. Ho’okipa consists of four different spots:
Pavilions: The most easterly spot, just below the Ho’okipa Lookout. Pavilions is predominantly a right-hander and is a better choice for surfers.
Middles: Heading west from Pavilions is Middles, the main spot for surfers. The wave breaks both right and left, though the lefts handle the wind better.
H’Poko, or Point: Located on the west end of Ho’okipa Beach, Point offers up fun right-handers in the morning but becomes the sole domain of the wind/kitesurfers in the afternoon.
Lane: Just west of Ho’okipa Beach is Wana Beach, where Lane is located. You can pick off both rights and lefts but, like Point, Wana gets blown to bits in the afternoon
Located on the north-central coast, is Kahului, Maui’s largest city and most important hub, home to the island’s main airport and largest harbor. While hardly the desolate, picturesque surf spot that hopeful Hawaiian travelers may imagine, Kahului Harbor is a worthy — and super fun (for the more experienced surfer) — place to get your feet wet. There are several good breaks inside and outside of the harbor, which all light up on a solid North swell, but the best wave is the right on the west side of the harbor. Large swells push through the wide entrance with energy refracting out of the deeper channel and crossing up with swell energy bouncing off the jetty, creating a powerful roll-in wedge over shallow water. This mini Box-like wedge is a favorite of bodyboarders and surfers adept at negotiating abrupt steps and chucking barrels. There is a left off of this same peak but it dumps into the deep water of the channel, thus not offering much. As you can imagine, Kahului Harbor is often crowded and polluted. On top of that, watch out for urchins, rocks, tricky rip currents, and the occasional shark. Despite the many obstacles, a Kahului Harbor right tube is an experience worth attempting.
Where the Hana Highway bends away from the ragged sea cliffs of Maui’s north central coast, and begins winding south and east through patches of sugar cane fields on its way to Hana, sleeps the surf spot that needs no introduction. First surfed by tow-in pioneers Laird Hamilton, Buzzy Kerbox and Darrick Doerner, Peahi, or Jaws, has become a tow and paddle mecca for big wave surfers the world over. A deep-water wave, Jaws only breaks in the biggest winter swells. If you’re a visiting surfer in Maui when such a swell hits, it’s worth the trip out to bluffs overlooking Peahi for one hell of a show. As we hope you recognize, this is a kamikaze-only surf spot — watching is frightening enough!
While not the swell magnet that fellow west coast harbor break Lahaina is, Ma’alaea is one of Maui’s most famous waves. This is in part for the rifling, perfect right-hand tubes it creates on just the right South or South-West swell; in another part for the decades-long fight to preserve Ma’alaea’s existence as a world-class, albeit rare, surf spot. (Fortunately, in May of 2012, federal and state agencies ended the project that would have expanded a portion of the Ma’alaea Harbor and effectively destroyed the wave, thus ensuring Ma’alaea will remain a jewel in Hawaii’s pantheon of incredible surf breaks.) Once considered the “fastest wave on earth,” Ma’alaea has attracted brave barrel riders from within Maui and abroad for decades, thus the crowd can become as intense as the wave itself. Because of its size, the crowd, and the reef bottom, Ma’alaea is considered an expert-only spot, though there are more manageable peaks nearby during smaller South swells.
Challenges when surfing in Maui
Hawaii is the Mecca of surfing. Although Maui is not known as the center of the sport, our island has some incredible breaks. Oahu’s North Shore is the best spot for surfing good-sized waves with good shape. Maui has many downfalls when it comes to surfing, but if you learn about them, you can score good rides.
The following will explain the good and the bad of Maui surfing and how you can get the best out of your surfing experience in Hawaii. IMPORTANT: Remember safety should always be your first priority. If you doubt, don’t paddle out!
For visitors to Maui, localism possesses a major threat to a fun surf session. If you’re inexperienced or have a tendency to drop in on other surfers, don’t paddle out. If you get in the way of others, or keep paddling around people to the peak, don’t paddle out. If you are threatening and disrespectful, don’t paddle out. The local surfers are not happy about the last 10-15 years of surfing invasion on Maui. There aren’t enough waves on Maui for everyone to be happy. Most of the times you’ll find that everyone out in the water knows each other. This can be a problem for a new face trying to get in on the lineup.
Remedy: Bring plenty of Aloha into the water. Wait your turn, and don’t bark when someone drops in on you. Be respectful and treat people the way you’d like to be treated. Some Maui surf spots are known for antagonistic local vibes. Stay clear of these spots. There are a lot of surfing locations on Maui, which means you can usually find a break that’s less crowded and less perfect. At the more popular surf spots, bring your patience and extra time to sit and get your fill.
If you’ve come to Maui to get away from crowds, think again. Almost all Maui residents surf in some shape or form. Some only go out once a year, others are out 3 times a day. Like anywhere, the better spots are the most congested. Honolua Bay, when it’s working, is the busiest surf break on the island. Even the smaller and lesser-known spots are known by enough people to make it cramped.
The Good Points
You’re surfing in Maui! The water is warm year round. It can get a little chilly in the winter with the wind factor, but a vest or springsuit can cure this. The ocean water here is also crystal clear. Maui water is really clean and free from pollutants. The clarity offers you a chance to even enjoy the flats between sets by watching tropical fish and vibrant reef below you. During whale season, you can see the humpbacks breaching the water and playing nearby. Many good surf spots are choke full of sea turtles, which can also be fun to see. If the right swells hit them, our reefs can produce the perfect waves. Maui is also great for surfing because it’s small enough to get to any shore in less than 3 hours. The Big Island is not so fortunate in this aspect. Having Oahu and Kauai so close by is also a major plus. Getting waves on these islands is worthwhile and not a long trip away.