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Surfing the North Shore: A Complete Guide

  • Post category:Hawaii

The North Shore of Oahu is a world-renowned destination for surfers and beach lovers alike. Known for its massive waves, beautiful beaches, and vibrant local culture, the North Shore offers an unparalleled experience for both novice and seasoned surfers. This guide will take you through the top surf spots, best times to surf, surf schools, accommodations, dining, nightlife, and other activities to ensure you make the most of your visit.

Key Takeaways

  • The North Shore is famous for its powerful waves and is best suited for experienced surfers, although there are spots and lessons available for beginners.
  • Winter is the peak surf season on the North Shore, offering the largest and most consistent waves, while summer provides smaller, more manageable surf conditions.
  • There are numerous surf schools and local guides available to help surfers of all levels improve their skills and navigate the challenging waters.
  • Accommodation options range from budget-friendly rentals to luxury resorts, catering to all types of travelers.
  • Beyond surfing, the North Shore offers a variety of activities including snorkeling, hiking, and exploring local cultural experiences.

Top Surf Spots on the North Shore

aerial photography of two persons surfing

The North Shore of O‘ahu is a surfing paradise known for its stunning waves and local surf culture. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or just starting out, the North Shore offers a variety of surf spots that cater to different skill levels. Here are some of the top surf spots you should know about:

Best Times to Surf the North Shore

Winter Swell Season

The North Shore gets waves from around September when early season NW swells start to churn, until about May when late-season swells still pulse through. From October through April is when the North Shore comes to life with some of the best waves on the planet. For experienced surfers looking to challenge themselves with larger waves, winter from November to February is the prime time for surfing North Shore Oahu. During this period, waves can get up to 20-30 feet, making it a thrilling adventure sports on the North Shore.

Summer Surfing

While winter is known for its massive swells, summer offers smaller, more manageable waves. This makes it an ideal time for beginners to learn and practice their skills. The beginner spots on the North Shore are accessible all year round, ensuring that North Shore Hawaii surfing is a year-round activity. Spots like Pua’ena Point or Chun’s Reef will always deliver a manageable swell for beginners.

Weather Considerations

For your safety, it’s good to know that conditions can change very rapidly. One moment you can be surfing a playful head-high wave, and a moment later you could be regretfully watching a massive double overhead set coming your way. Always check the surf forecast and be aware of the weather conditions before heading out. Local surf guides can provide valuable insights and help you navigate the ever-changing conditions.

The North Shore is home to some of the most famous surf breaks in the world. Waves on the North Shore are known for their power and magnificence, and surfing is a spectator sport. During the winter when north swells roll through, several iconic North Shore surf competitions take place.

Surf Schools and Lessons

coconut tree near shore within mountain range

Beginner Lessons

For those new to surfing, the North Shore offers a variety of beginner lessons. These lessons are designed to introduce you to the basics of surfing in a safe and supportive environment. Open group surf lessons are a popular choice, allowing you to learn alongside other beginners. Prices typically start from $140 per person for a 1.5 to 2-hour session. Private lessons are also available for those who prefer one-on-one instruction.

Advanced Coaching

If you already have some surfing experience and want to take your skills to the next level, advanced coaching is available. These sessions are tailored to help you refine your technique and tackle more challenging waves. The North Shore Surf Tour is a great option for intermediate to advanced surfers, offering a 3-hour session for $350. This tour is perfect for those looking to enhance their skills and explore Tahiti’s hidden gems with off-the-beaten-path adventures.

Local Surf Guides

For a more personalized experience, consider hiring a local surf guide. These guides have extensive knowledge of the North Shore’s surf spots and can provide valuable insights and tips. Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced surfer, a local guide can help you make the most of your time on the North Shore. They can also introduce you to some of the best surf spots and help you navigate the local surfing culture.

The North Shore is not just about surfing; it’s about immersing yourself in the local culture and experiencing the unique vibe of this iconic surf destination.

Where to Stay on the North Shore

a surfboard on the beach

For those looking to stay right on the beach, the North Shore offers a variety of beachfront rentals. Choices include Turtle Bay Resort, Courtyard by Marriott, and selected short-term vacation rentals. These options provide stunning ocean views and easy access to the surf. Many of these properties are hand-picked based on location, design, amenities, and proximity to surf breaks.

Travelers on a budget can find several affordable accommodations on the North Shore. Options include a hostel called Backpackers, camper van rentals, and campgrounds. These budget-friendly choices allow you to enjoy the beauty of the North Shore without breaking the bank.

If you’re looking for a more luxurious stay, the North Shore has several high-end resorts. Turtle Bay Resort is a popular choice, offering top-notch amenities and services. These luxury resorts provide a perfect blend of comfort and convenience, ensuring a memorable stay.

Whether you’re looking for beautiful beaches, a laidback vibe, amazing surf, or all of the above, the North Shore is a perfect place for a vacation in paradise.

Dining and Nightlife

brown-themed bar

Local Eateries

The North Shore offers a variety of local eateries that cater to all tastes. From the famous Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck to the delightful Lei Lei’s Bar & Grill at Turtle Bay Resort, there’s something for everyone. Don’t miss out on the food trucks by Kahuku Point, which serve up some of the best local dishes. For a more relaxed dining experience, head to Haleiwa Town, where you can find a range of restaurants serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Beachfront Bars

While the North Shore isn’t known for its nightlife, there are a few spots where you can enjoy a drink with a view. The Surfer Bar at Turtle Bay Resort is one of the few places that stay open until 2 am, making it a popular spot for both locals and visitors. If you’re looking for a more laid-back vibe, consider attending a North Shore house party, especially during the winter when the pros are in town.

Night Markets

For a unique evening experience, explore the local night markets. These markets offer a variety of goods, from handmade crafts to delicious street food. They are a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture and find some unique souvenirs to take home. Keep an eye on the event calendars, as these markets are often held on specific days of the week.

The North Shore may not be a nightlife hotspot, but it offers plenty of opportunities to relax and enjoy the local culture. Whether you’re dining at a local eatery, sipping a drink at a beachfront bar, or exploring a night market, you’re sure to have a memorable evening.

Other Activities Beyond Surfing

Snorkeling and Diving

The North Shore offers some of the best snorkeling and diving experiences. Discover the essence of underwater life as you explore vibrant coral reefs and encounter a variety of marine species. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced diver, there are numerous spots to suit your skill level.

Hiking Trails

For those who prefer to stay on land, the North Shore boasts a variety of hiking trails. From easy walks to challenging hikes, there’s something for everyone. Embrace the culture and natural beauty of the area as you trek through lush forests and enjoy breathtaking views.

Cultural Experiences

Immerse yourself in the local culture with a range of activities. Participate in traditional Hawaiian crafts, attend a luau, or visit historical sites. These experiences offer a unique insight into the rich heritage of the North Shore.

The North Shore is not just about surfing; it’s a destination that offers a diverse range of activities for everyone to enjoy.

While surfing is a thrilling experience, there’s so much more to explore beyond the waves. From diving and sailing vacations to cultural expeditions and luxury resort stays, the adventures are endless. Discover all the exciting activities we offer and plan your next adventure today!


Surfing the North Shore is an unparalleled experience that offers something for everyone, from beginners to seasoned pros. With its powerful waves, stunning beaches, and vibrant local culture, the North Shore is a must-visit destination for any surf enthusiast. Whether you’re looking to catch your first wave, improve your skills, or simply soak in the breathtaking scenery, this guide has provided you with all the information you need to make the most of your trip. So pack your bags, grab your board, and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime on the North Shore!

Frequently Asked Questions

When is the best time to surf the North Shore?

The best time to surf the North Shore is during the winter swell season, which typically runs from November to February. This is when the waves are the most powerful and consistent.

Are there surf spots suitable for beginners on the North Shore?

Yes, there are a few surf spots suitable for beginners, such as Puaena Point and Chun’s Reef. However, most of the surf spots on the North Shore are more suitable for experienced surfers.

Do I need to book surf lessons in advance?

It is highly recommended to book surf lessons in advance, especially during the peak season, to secure your spot with a reputable surf school or instructor.

What other activities can I do on the North Shore besides surfing?

Besides surfing, you can enjoy snorkeling and diving, hiking trails, and cultural experiences. The North Shore offers a variety of activities for all interests.

Where should I stay on the North Shore?

There are various accommodation options on the North Shore, including beachfront rentals, budget-friendly options, and luxury resorts. Choose based on your preferences and budget.

Is it safe to surf at the Banzai Pipeline?

The Banzai Pipeline is known for its powerful and dangerous waves and is recommended only for professional surfers. Beginners and intermediate surfers should avoid this spot and opt for safer locations.