The best surf spots on O‘ahu’s northern shore cater to a variety of skill levels, but the majority of locations skew toward advanced and expert surfers. The most challenging surf spots are best left to the locals, as not only are the locals fiercely territorial of the waves, they’re also extremely difficult and sometime downright dangerous for visitors unfamiliar with the breaks.
Best on north swells, Laniakea is a right point break that breaks over flat reef and sand. Depending on the direction of the swell, the wave is one of the longest on the North Shore. Expert surfers tend to sit up at the point, while novice surfers and longboards prefer the inside section off the south end of the beach. Paddle out from the south end of the beach. Laniakea is to the immediate north of a ranch, and there is a long dirt parking lot on the mountain side of Kamehameha Highway.
Just north of Laniakea, the next beach and surf spot you can see from the highway is Chun’s Reef. Chun’s is a soft breaking right point, but also has a fast breaking left at the top of the sandy point that most often closes out. Chun’s is a favorite wave for beginners, longboarders, and kids. It’s one of the most user-friendly waves on the North Shore. Keep in mind that even though the wave itself is good for learning, the shallow bottom is still dangerous, since it’s covered by a sharp, flat reef. Chun’s is one of the few breaks on the North Shore that also has very small waves in the summer.
At the next small break in homes along the highway where you can see the water you’ll find a wave called Leftovers. The wave is a left that breaks into deep water, so there is a defined channel where you can paddle out. A right also breaks off the peak on the very outside. The inside section covers an extremely shallow and sharp reef. Getting in and out of the water can also be an obstacle, as the beach is covered with rocks and large boulders that stretch out into the water.
A big wave spot that only starts to break when the waves are 15 to 20 feet on the face, Waimea Bay is the only chance for many to see waves of this size, a feat of nature that should not be missed if the bay is breaking. The shorebreak is also something to see, as huge waves barrel and detonate in spectacular fashion in inches of water. Parking at Waimea fills up quickly when the waves are big. There is limited additional parking along the highway on the west side of the bay heading west, or you can pay to park at Waimea Valley, just past the turn off to Waimea Bay. You could also park by Three Tables and Sharks Cove and walk back along the highway. Many spectators watch and snap photos from the railing above the rocks on the east side of the bay.
The Banzai Pipeline is one of the most dangerous waves in the world. Guarded closely by a territorial crew of local surfers, Pipeline is one of those waves where visiting surfers will find it more to their advantage to sit on the beach and watch its grandeur rather than test their mettle. Breaking just 75 yards off the beach, Pipeline is a spectator’s delight. Massive round and hollow lefts explode over a shallow reef, and brave surfers try to place themselves as deep as possible inside the barrel, hoping to emerge out the end on their feet. On the sand, you can feel the waves break on the beach and sense the tension and emotion in the water. Park in the ‘Ehukai Beach Park parking lot or along the highway. Pay attention to the sporadic No Parking signs.
Also accessible from ‘Ehukai Beach Park is the North Shore’s only beach break, ‘Ehukai. Depending on the sand and the swells, the waves can break right or left and range from phenomenal shape to junky and lumpy surf.
Sunset Beach offers one of the most powerful and dangerous waves in the world, breaking from Sunset Point all the way into the bay. Strong currents and closeout sets are the hallmark of Sunset, along with a dredging inside section called The West Bowl, which breaks closest to the beach. A wave for experts only, when the water is gigantic, you’ll find surfers attempting to ride the mountainous fluid walls. Bring binoculars to catch all the action way out to sea.