Most surfing off the Big Island is for the experienced only, thanks to rocks, coral reef, and rip currents at many of the reliable breaks. As a general rule, the beaches on the North and West Shores of the island get northern swells in winter, while those on the South and East shores get southern swells in summer. You’ll also need to radiate courtesy and expertise in the lineup with local surfers, understandably territorial about their challenging breaks.

In Kailua-Kona, experienced surfers should check out the two breaks in Holualoa Bay off Alii Drive between downtown Kailua-Kona and Keauhou: Banyans near the northern point and Lyman’s near the southern point, once home to a surfers’ temple. If you don’t have the chops, don’t go in the water; just enjoy the show. Another surfing shrine, its black-lava rock walls still visible today, stands near Kahaluu Beach, where the waves are manageable most of the year and there’s also a lifeguard. Less-experienced surfers can also try Pine Trees, north of town at Kohanaiki Beach, where it’s best to avoid the busy weekends.

Surf breaks on the east side of the island are also generally best left to skilled or local surfers. They include Honolii Point, north of Hilo; Richardson’s Point at Leleiwi Beach Park; Hilo Bay Front Park; and Pohoiki Bay, home to Isaac Hale Beach Park near Pahoa.

Private & Group Lessons

You can have a grand time taking a surf lesson, especially with instructors who know where the breaks are best for beginners and who genuinely enjoy being out in the waves with you. The Native Hawaiian–owned Hawaii Lifeguard Surf Instructors (HLSI;; 808/324-0442), which gives lessons at Kahaluu Beach, has an especially good touch with kids and teens. For $125, adults and children as young as 3 can take a 90-minute private lesson (little ones under 55 pounds ride on the same board as their lifeguard/teacher). Lessons for ages 11 and up cost $75 per person for small groups (no more than four students per instructor), or $190 for a class with just two people (who split the cost). On days when the waves are tame, HLSI offers the same lessons with stand-up paddleboards. Classes are offered three times a day, Monday through Saturday.

Board Rentals

You’re never going to rent a board as good as your own, but you’ll enjoy the local vibe at the appropriately named Pacific Vibrations, 75-5702 Likana Lane, tucked off Alii Drive just north of Mokuaikaua Church (808/329-4140) and founded in 1978 by the McMichaels, a Native Hawaiian family with deep ties to surfing and the Ironman triathlon. It’s a trip just to visit the densely stocked surf shop in downtown Kailua-Kona. Surfboards rent for $10 to $20 a day, and bodyboards for just $5. Stand-up paddleboards go for $15 an hour. The staff is happy to help steer you to waves to match your skills.

In the Shops at Mauna Lani, surfboard shaper Hulakai (; (808/896-3141) rents soft-top surfboards for $20 a day ($70 a week) and offers 90-minute private or semiprivate surfing lessons ($150 or $125, respectively).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.