Oahu has a wealth of watersports opportunities, whether you're a professional surfer braving giant winter waves on the North Shore, or a recreational water-skier enjoying the calm waters of Hawaii Kai. You can kayak from Lanikai Beach to the Mokulua Islands or float above Waikiki on a parasail as a speedboat tows you blissfully through the air. If you have something of an adventurous spirit, you might scuba dive the walls of Kahuna Canyon, swim with clouds of ta'ape (bluestripe snapper), or view an occasional shark from the comfort of a passenger submarine. No matter what your aquatic interests are, whether you're a beginner or an expert, you can find the right sport on Oahu.
If you want to rent beach toys (snorkeling equipment, boogie boards, surfboards, stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, and more), check out Snorkel Bob’s, on the way to Hanauma Bay at 700 Kapahulu Ave. (at Date St.), Honolulu (www.snorkelbob.com; tel. 808/735-7944), or Aloha Beach Service, in the Moana Surfrider, 2365 Kalakaua Ave., in Waikiki (www.alohabeachservices.com; tel. 808/922-3111, ext. 2341). On Oahu’s windward side, try Kailua Sailboards & Kayaks, 130 Kailua Rd., a block from Kailua Beach Park (www.kailuasailboards.com; tel. 808/262-2555). On the North Shore, get equipment from Surf-N-Sea, 62–595 Kamehameha Hwy., Haleiwa (www.surfnsea.com; tel. 800/899-7873).
A funny thing happens to people when they come to Hawaii: Maybe it’s the salt air, the warm tropical nights, or the blue Hawaiian moonlight, but otherwise-rational people who have never set foot on a boat in their life suddenly want to go out to sea. You can opt for a “booze cruise”—jammed with loud, rum-soaked strangers—or you can sail on one of the special yachts, all of which will take you out whale-watching in season (roughly Jan–Apr), recommended on this website. They are: Captain Bob's Picnic Sail, Holokai Catamaran, and Wild Side Tours. If you're interested in renting your own set of sails, we recommend trying one of the online marketplaces to keep costs in line. Try such sites as www.getmyboat.com or www.rentaboat.com.
Body Boarding (Boogie Boarding) & Bodysurfing
Good places to learn to body board are in the small waves of Waikiki Beach and Kailua Beach (both reviewed under “Beaches,” earlier in this chapter), and Bellows Field Beach Park, off Kalanianaole Highway (Hwy. 72) in Waimanalo, which is open to the public on weekends (from noon Fri to midnight Sun and holidays). To get here, turn toward the ocean on Hughs Road, and then right on Tinker Road, which takes you to the park.
Ocean Kayaking/Stand-Up Paddling
For a wonderful adventure, rent a kayak or a stand-up paddle (SUP) board, arrive at Lanikai Beach just as the sun is appearing, and paddle across the emerald lagoon to the pyramid-shape islands called Mokulua—it’s an experience you won’t forget. On the windward side, check out Kailua Sailboards & Kayaks, 130 Kailua Rd., a block from Kailua Beach Park (www.kailuasailboards.com; tel. 808/262-2555), where single kayaks rent for $59 for a half-day and double kayaks rent for $69 for a half-day. SUP boards rent for $59 for a half-day.
If you’re staying on the North Shore, go to Surf-N-Sea, 62–595 Kamehameha Hwy., Haleiwa (www.surfnsea.com; tel. 800/899-7873), where kayak rentals start at $10 per hour and go to $60 for a full day. SUP board rentals start at $20 per hour and go to $60 for a full day.
Oahu is a wonderful place to scuba dive, especially for those interested in wreck diving. One of the more famous wrecks in Hawaii is the Mahi, a 185-foot former minesweeper easily accessible just south of Waianae. Abundant marine life makes this a great place to shoot photos—schools of lemon butterfly fish and taape (blue-lined snapper) are so comfortable with divers and photographers that they practically pose. Eagle rays, green sea turtles, manta rays, and white-tipped sharks occasionally cruise by as well, and eels peer out from the wreck.
For non-wreck diving, one of the best dive spots in summer is Kahuna Canyon. In Hawaiian, kahuna means priest, wise man, or sorcerer; this massive amphitheater, located near Mokuleia, is a perfect example of something a sorcerer might conjure up. Walls rising from the ocean floor create the illusion of an underwater Grand Canyon. Inside the amphitheater, crabs, octopuses, slippers, and spiny lobsters abound (be aware that taking them in summer is illegal), and giant trevally, parrotfish, and unicorn fish congregate as well. Outside the amphitheater, you’re likely to see an occasional shark in the distance.
Because Oahu’s greatest dives are offshore, your best bet is to book a two-tank dive from a dive boat. Hawaii’s oldest and largest outfitter is Aaron’s Dive Shop, 307 Hahani St., Kailua (www.aaronsdiveshop.com; tel. 808/262-2333), which offers boat and beach dive excursions off the coast. The two-tank boat dives start at $130 per person if you have all your gear or $129 including gear, and transportation from the Kailua shop is provided. The beach dive off the North Shore in summer or the Waianae Coast in winter is the same price as a boat dive, including all gear and transportation, so Aaron’s recommends the boat dive. Price includes pickup in Honolulu.
In Waikiki, Dive Oahu, 1085 Ala Moana (www.diveoahu.com; tel. 808/922-3483), offers everything from shipwreck dives in Waikiki to exploring the sunken wreck of a World War II Corsair plane for just $149 for a two-tank boat dive (friends or family members can tag along for just $35 each to snorkel). Captain Brian, who has been diving for a couple of decades, loves to help beginners feel comfortable, as well as show experienced scuba divers what the Waikiki coast has to offer.
On the North Shore, Surf-N-Sea, 62–595 Kamehameha Hwy., Haleiwa (www.surfnsea.com; tel. 808/637-9887), has dive tours from the shore (starting at $75 for one tank) and from a boat ($140 for two tanks). Surf-N-Sea also rents equipment and can point you to the best dive sites in the area.
Experiencing Jaws: Up Close & Personal
Ocean Ramsey and her crew at One Ocean Diving (www.oneoceandiving.com) are on a first-name basis with some of the sharks they swim with. That’s right, swim with, cage free. And you can, too, with little more than a snorkel, mask, and fins on your feet (this is a snorkeling trip, not scuba diving). As you ride the boat out, about 3 miles offshore from Hale‘iwa, where sharks are known to congregate, the crew educates you about shark behavior. For one, they’re really not that interested in humans. Two, most of the sharks you’ll see are sandbar and Galapagos sharks, which are not considered dangerous. And three, if you should see a potentially more threatening shark, such as a tiger shark, they teach you how to conjure your alpha shark: Stay at the top of ocean, and don’t turn your back on them. Your guides are always alert and nearby; only three people are allowed in the water at a time. Once I got used to the sight of the sharks around me, I began to admire their beauty and grace. One Ocean Diving hopes to change misconceptions about sharks and bring awareness to their plight as their numbers dwindle. A dive with them is as educational as it is exciting. Rates are $150 a person, and a snorkel mask and fins are provided; must be 4 feet or taller to enter the water.
Some of the best snorkeling in Oahu is at Hanauma Bay . It’s crowded—sometimes it seems there are more people than fish—but Hanauma has clear, warm, protected waters and an abundance of friendly reef fish, including Moorish idols, scores of butterfly fish, damselfish, and wrasses. Hanauma Bay has two reefs, an inner and an outer—the first for novices, the other for experts. The inner reef is calm and shallow (less than 10 ft.); in some places, you can just wade and put your face in the water. Go early: It’s packed by 10am. And it’s closed on Tuesdays.
Braver snorkelers may want to head to Shark’s Cove , on the North Shore just off Kamehameha Highway, between Haleiwa and Pupukea. Sounds risky, I know, but I’ve never seen or heard of any sharks in this cove, and in summer this big, lava-edged pool is one of Oahu’s best snorkel spots. Waves splash over the natural lava grotto and cascade like waterfalls into the pool full of tropical fish. To the right of the cove are deep-sea caves and underwater tunnels to explore.
Kewalo Basin, located between the Honolulu International Airport and Waikiki, is the main location for charter fishing boats on Oahu. From Waikiki, take Kalakaua Avenue Ewa (west) beyond Ala Moana Center; Kewalo Basin is on the left, across from Ward Centers. Look for charter boats all in a row in their slips; when the fish are biting, the captains display the catch of the day in the afternoon. You can also take TheBus no. 19 or 20 (Airport).
The best sport-fishing booking desk in the state is Sportfish Hawaii (www.sportfishhawaii.com; tel. 877/388-1376 or 808/396-2607), which books boats on all the islands. These fishing vessels have been inspected and must meet rigorous criteria to guarantee that you will have a great time. Prices range from $875 to $1,399 for a full-day exclusive charter (you, plus five friends, get the entire boat to yourself), from $650 for a half-day exclusive, or from $220 for a full-day shared charter (you share the boat with five other people).
In summer, when the water’s warm and there’s a soft breeze in the air, the south swell comes up. It’s surf season in Waikiki, the best place on Oahu to learn how to surf. For lessons, go early to Aloha Beach Service, next to the Moana Surfrider, 2365 Kalakaua Ave., Waikiki (tel. 808/922-3111). The beach boys offer group lessons for $50 an hour in the water; board rentals are $20 per hour. You must know how to swim.Hans Hedemann, a champion surfer for some 34 years, has opened the Hans Hedemann Surf School (www.hhsurf.com; tel. 808/924-7778) in Waikīkī at the Park Shore Waikīkī and Turtle Bay Resort. Hedemann himself gives private lessons—at $400 for a three-hour session. (He has taught celebrities such as Cameron Diaz and Adam Sandler.) If the expenditure is beyond your budget, go for a $75 2-hour group lesson (maximum four people).
Surfboards are also available for rent on the North Shore at Surf-N-Sea, 62-595 Kamehameha Hwy., Hale‘iwa (www.surfnsea.com; tel. 800/899-7873), for $5 to $7 an hour. Lessons go for $85 for 2 to 3 hours.
More experienced surfers should drop in on any surf shop around O‘ahu, or call the Surf News Network Surfline (tel. 808/596-SURF) to get the latest surf conditions. The breaks at the base of Diamond Head are popular among intermediate to expert surfers.
If you’re in Hawai‘i in winter and want to see the serious surfers catch the really big waves, bring your binoculars and grab a front-row seat on the beach at Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach, or Pipeline.
Windward Oahu’s Kailua Beach is the home of pioneer windsurfer Robby Naish; it’s also the best place to learn to windsurf. The oldest and most established windsurfing business in Hawaii is Naish Hawaii/Naish Windsurfing Hawaii, 155-A Hamakua Dr., Kailua (www.naish.com; tel. 808/262-6068). The company offers everything: lessons, sales, rentals, repair, and free advice on where to go when the wind and waves are happening. Private 90-minute lessons start at $100 for one; you’ll need about three lessons to be up and happening. Naish also has kitesurfing rentals (boards only) for $30 a day.
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.