Visitors and residents of Maui can’t help but heed the call of the sea. Whether you live here or are coming to this beautiful island for a vacation, the experience of surfing is one that should not be missed. For a beginner on what we like to think of as the spiritual path to becoming a surfer, Maui has a great deal to offer. Not only does the island have beautiful beaches that are ideal for learning, but it also offers a wealth of expertise and a welcoming spirit to students of this ancient art.
Surfing, or he‘enalu as the sport is called in the Hawaiian language, is the technique of sliding on a wave. It was recorded by Captain James Cook in 1777, before he made his first arrival in the Hawaiian Islands. Cook wrote about Tahitian canoes riding the waves, and of Tahitians body surfing. When Captain Cook arrived in the Hawaiian Islands, he noted in his ship’s log the practice of wave riding on longboards. Hawaiian chants dating even further back to the 15th-century honor the art of surfing. There are chants that speak to the existence of Hawaiian surfing contests, surf competitions between Ali‘i chiefs, as well as surfing wagers and memorable big waves.
Beginning Your Surfing Safari
Finding the right beach for a new surfer is critical. As a beginner, it’s best to start your surfing adventures on waves that under three feet tall and avoid surfing during times of high wind or storms. Avoid large crowds as much as possible and know basic surfing etiquette for right-of-way in the water.
Maui boasts more beginner surf breaks than any other Hawaiian Island. The hallmarks of a good beginner surf spot include accessibility to a newbie, a non-competitive and friendly vibe in the water, and lack of dangerous underwater obstacles like reef, rocks, and rip tides. Winter is the best time for surfing “up north” on Maui and the waves get larger as you head further north. 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. You’ll be looking for good waves, not mushy, not big, in a protected area where currents are not overwhelming. As you will no doubt be with your friend and teacher the first few times you go out; take some guidance and begin at the beginning so you can learn the techniques necessary to become a strong surfer.
West Maui Surf
Lahaina or West Maui beaches are usually more active during the winter months, but great surfing can be found by beginners any time of the year. The white sand beaches, black volcanic reefs, and beautiful mountain views lure the surfer into long and mellow days enjoying the benefits of life on Maui. The following 10 spots won’t always work for a beginner, but it’s likely that at any given time, at least a few will be viable and fun options. Beaches are listed from South to North as you travel up the Hoananapili road towards Lahaina.
South Lahaina Papalua Beach or “1,000 Peaks”
Also known as Papalua State Wayside Park, or “Grandma’s”, this beach park has a long and narrow sandy beach located right next to a busy highway. It is also known as 1,000 Peaks, referring to the many surf breaks (or peaks) that are located offshore. During high surf, thousands of peaks form on the shallow reef, attracting bodyboarders and longboard surfers. When the ocean is calm, the snorkeling conditions are good here. The beach is lined with kiawe trees. Portable toilets, fire pits, and parking are all located on the Hoananapili road that connects Maui’s West Side to Kahului and Kihei areas.
South Lahaina “Launiopoko”
Welcome to Launiopoko Beach Park, located along Honoapiilani Highway in Lahaina. It’s the beach park of all beach parks. It boasts both a surf break and a beach, offering an inviting stretch of lawn, soft white sand, and gentle waves. Outside the reef, beginner surfers will find good longboard rides. From the long sliver of beach, you can enjoy superb views of the neighbor islands, and onshore, of deep valleys cutting through the West Maui Mountains.
One of the most popular family beaches for locals, longboarders, stand-up paddle boarders and beginner surfers in West Maui, Launiopoko comes recommended by our team of resident Maui real estate agent, who love it for it’s beauty, as well as it’s beginner-friendly vibe. There are plenty of different peaks at the park, so the crowd can spread out. When looking out to the ocean, the peak farthest to the left in front of the beach is a great place for beginners since they won’t need to worry about “being in the way,” which is what I think most beginners are concerned about.
Central Lahaina “Breakwall”
Located in Central Lahaina, an area long known for its great waves, tourist destinations, and surfing culture, the Lahaina Breakwall is located on the south side of the Lahaina Harbor’s boating channel. Many local surf schools conduct their lessons on the inside right. When the swell is small, this inside right is known for more breaks than any other surfing beach in the area.
The Breakwall is known as the larger wave that breaks on the outside. The outer wave is a larger left that will peel for quite some distance during a good swell and occasionally when the waves get up to about two feet. We recommend this break is for surfers that have a bit more experience, who have been out a number of times and who feel comfortable on their board. When the swell is just right, the break can actually wall up quite nicely and peel from the far outside down the entire length of the Breakwall.
However, as a beginner, you should note that the Breakwall can get gnarly when the waves are up. They will first break on the outside left and then will reform on the inside and break again. If you decide to paddle out please do not the let the abundance of beginner surfers lull you into a false sense of security, as the reef here is quite sharp.
North Lahaina – Kāʻanapali Beach
As you travel north of Lahaina Town, you’ll come to Kāʻanapali Beach Park. Revered by the Ali‘i, Kāʻanapali Beach served as a playground for Hawaiian royalty. This 6-mile span of coastline is considered the premier beach of West Maui, declared “America’s Best Beach” in 2003. During calmer months, beginning and intermediate surfers can also enjoy the soothing waves here. Though the paddle out can be long, the effort is definitely worth it.
Beginning surfers particularly like Kāʻanapali beach because of its location, with its gentle winds and great weather. The unique combination of white sand beach, good waves, and top-drawer resort amenities are beyond compare when it comes to planning a beautiful day of ocean activities.
North Lahaina – Kapalua, Napili & Honokawai “The S-Turns”
Located north of Kāʻanapali, the break commonly known as the “S-Turns” is perfect for beginners. The break is close to the shoreline and an excellent place to find your balance while learning to surf. The waves are small and consistent.
Also known as Pohaku Park, this area often has the calm ocean necessary for beginners to learn confidently. The waves generated at S-Turns generally arrive in the winter months when the north swells are happening. The wave is located some distance from the shoreline and requires a bit of a paddle to get to the break. The shape of the wave at this location is often reminiscent of larger, mushier, and less sculpted waves found at Makaha on O‘ahu, and thus S-Turns on Maui is often referred to as “Little Makaha”.
Regardless of your skill level, all surfers share a common love of the ocean wave. In Lahaina, as you travel up the Hoananapili Road, you will find an unparalleled world of adventure. As your surfing skills increase, your appreciation for Native Hawaiian culture and your love of the islands will also grow. Welcome to the Lahaina surfing adventure! We look forward to seeing you on the water. Aloha!