Tips for Beginner Surfing in Hawaii

Surfing is a very popular tourist activity in Hawaii, particularly on Kauai and Oahu. Here are some tips for first time surfers:

To take lessons or not?

Taking a lesson is a must. Lessons cost about $75 per person for a group lesson and usually last 2-3 hours.  It takes at least 8 hours of surfing to catch up with someone who has had a lesson. Surfing is not an easy sport, but lessons reduce the learning curve. You’ll also get some valuable safety tips and intel on local surf spots.

Selecting an Instructor

Virtually all surfing instructors are expert surfers. That’s not necessarily a good thing. Having picked up surfing when they were grommets (kids), surfing and the ocean are second nature to them and they sometimes don’t appreciate how foreign an environment it is to land dwellers. Be very honest with your instructor about your comfort level and swimming ability. Don’t go into surf that you don’t feel comfortable with even if they tell you it’s safe.

Selecting the right equipment

Equipment is very important in surfing. That’s why you see some people heaping up so many surf boards on their car. The right equipment for a beginner surfer is a soft top long board. These boards have a hard foam top and plastic bottom and are generally bigger (wider, thicker and longer) than equivalent long boards. If you’re over 100 lbs go with a 10ft+ board, unless it’s too difficult to carry in which case a 9ft board will do. Don’t be fooled into thinking that these huge boards aren’t cool. They’re very versatile, paddle fast, stable, and simply the best choice. A smaller board is a complete waste of time for a beginner, no matter how athletic you are.

Surf the white water

In my experience women learn to surf faster than men. The reason: men select small boards and big waves – a recipe for looking good (out of the water) but catching nothing. Surfing the white water of small waves is the best place to start, just make sure the water is deep enough. Riding the white water is still super fun as you practice the mechanics of standing up and balancing.

Don’t overdo it

Surfing can be brutal on ones back, neck and shoulders. There’s nothing natural about the position you’re in while lying on a board. Paddling is hard work and you’ll be using new muscles. You’re probably going to want to surf again on your vacation, so stop when your muscles and back start feeling tired. If you feel any kind of tingling sensation in your lower back stop immediately! Your back is being pinched and blood isn’t flowing – a very serious situation if allowed to continue.

Hawaii’s best beginner surfing beaches

On Oahu Waikiki beach is the favored spot although there are many surfing locations on the North and West shores and instructors often move to where the best surf is that day. On Kauai, Hanalei Bay is a favorite. Kiahuna beach in Poipu and Kalapaki beach in Lihue are also popular. On Maui surfing lessons are often given in Lahaina and sometimes Kaanapali beach

Safety Tips

There are too many safety points to cover in a simple article, another reason a lesson is a good idea. Our ocean safety guide is recommended for anybody coming into contact with the ocean. In general the greatest danger to a responsible surfer is the surf board. When you fall the board with its knife like fins is going to go flying into the air. Protect your head and face, and be weary that you could be falling into shallow water. Be very careful about surfing into people around you, and be aware of other surfers. Including the leash, your surfing weapon extends for 20ft so you need a lot of room.

Finally, you need to be curtious to everybody in the water and share the waves. Surfing is like a drug and people can get ugly when it comes to getting their fix.

surfer shreds the waves in challenging conditions
Shredding the waves