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).
One of the best things about Hawaii? The ocean. There are a million ways to enjoy it, but to get far from the shore and see the incredible beauty of the sea, hop on a boat.
Body Boarding (Boogie Boarding) & Bodysurfing
Good places to learn to bodyboard are in the small waves of Waikiki Beach ★★★, Kailua Beach ★★★, Waimanalo Beach ★★ (reviewed under “Beaches”), 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.
See the introduction to this section for a list of rental shops where you can get a boogie board.
Ocean Kayaking/Stand-Up Paddling
Revel in amazing views both above and below the water on the Windward Coast with Holokai Kayak and Snorkel Adventures ★, 46-465 Kamehameha Hwy., Kaneohe, at Heeia State Park (www.holokaiadventures.com; 808/781-4773). Sign up for a 4-hour guided tour and you’ll see the majestic Koolau Range from your kayak. Then, as you head to Coconut Island (aka Gilligan’s Island), you’ll stop to snorkel and admire the fish and turtles in the almost-always calm Kaneohe Bay. Or, you can go at your own pace with the self-guided kayak or stand-up paddleboard option—they’ll point you in the direction of the disappearing sandbar Ahu o Laka, as well as the good snorkel spots. What’s even better? Proceeds go to Kamaaina Kids (which runs environmental education programs for children) and improving He‘eia State Park.
For a wonderful adventure, rent a kayak or a stand-up paddleboard (SUP), arrive at Lanikai Beach just as the sun is appearing, and paddle across the channel to the pyramid-shaped islands called Mokulua, or the Mokes, as locals call them—it’s an unforgettable experience. On the windward side, check out Kailua Sailboards & Kayaks, 130 Kailua Rd., a block from Kailua Beach Park (www.kailuasailboards.com; 808/262-2555), where single kayaks and SUP boards rent for $59 for a half-day and double kayaks are $69 for a half-day. Note that paddling to the Mokulua Islands is not allowed on Sundays.
If you’re staying on the North Shore, go to Surf-N-Sea, 62-595 Kamehameha Hwy., Haleiwa (www.surfnsea.com; 800/899-7873), where kayak rentals start at $10 per hour and go to $60 for a full day. During the summer months, you can start in Haleiwa and kayak to Waimea Bay. SUP rentals start at $20 per hour and go to $60 for a full day. You can paddle in the bay behind the shop or in Anahula Stream, passing under the iconic Rainbow Bridge.
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. Living Ocean Scuba ★, 1125 Ala Moana Blvd. (www.livingoceanscuba.com; 808/436-3438), offers dives for both first-time and certified divers. Living Ocean takes divers to south shore sites such as the Sea Tiger, a former Chinese trading vessel that was confiscated for carrying illegal immigrants to Hawaii, then sunk in 1999 to create a dive site. Divers can penetrate the wreck, which also teems with marine life: whitetip reef sharks, turtles, eagle rays, and plenty of fish. The two-tank boat dives start at $100 per person. While Living Ocean dives primarily from the south shore, they can also help set up dive trips on other sides of the island.
Experiencing Jaws: Swim with the Sharks
Ocean Ramsey and her crew at One Ocean Diving ★★★ (www.oneoceandiving.com; text: 808/649-0018) 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. For details, see “Beaches”.
On the North Shore, head to Shark’s Cove ★★, just off Kamehameha Highway, between Haleiwa and Pupukea. In the 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.
If you want to rent snorkel equipment, check out Snorkel Bob’s on the way to Hanauma Bay at 700 Kapahulu Ave. (at Date St.), Honolulu (www.snorkelbob.com; 808/735-7944).
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; 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, find Hans Hedemann Surf School (www.hhsurf.com; 808/924-7778) at the Park Shore Waikiki (and, if you’re on the North Shore, there’s also an outpost at Turtle Bay Resort). Hedemann, a champion surfer for some 34 years, gives private lessons—at $400 for a 3-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 (4-person max) taught by other friendly instructors.
Surfboards are also available for rent on the North Shore at Surf-N-Sea, 62-595 Kamehameha Hwy., Haleiwa (www.surfnsea.com; 800/899-7873), for $5 to $7 an hour. Lessons go for $85 for 2 to 3 hours.
More experienced surfers should drop into any surf shop around Oahu, or call the Surf News Network Surfline (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 Hawaii 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; 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.