Surfing in Kauai: A Visitors Guide

Surfing on the island of Kauai is one of those places that doesn’t get much hype. The movie companies have known this fact since the golden days.  Movies ranging the genre gamut like South Pacific, Jurassic Park, and Tropic Thunder have been filmed here, albeit always representing another location. Which is nice of Hollywood to not blow the lid off this place entirely.

One thing that doesn’t get much recognition here is the Surfing. Usually when you think of surfing in Hawaii, images of Pipeline and Waimea Bay, or even Waikiki on Neighboring island Oahu come to mind. The breaks of Kauai are mostly off most people’s radar. To a surfer, the lack of hype is music to their water-logged ears.

But the fact is there. Kauai is home to some of the best surfing on the planet, period. Many of the greatest surfers ever grew up here. From the great Titus Kinimaka to the late Andy Irons and current tour pro Sebastian Zeitz. there is a long line of surfers who can attest that the waves here are as good as they get.

But there are still places that you would go where just paddling out can get you in a lot of trouble.  Even me writing this article saying how good it is might be enough for me to be asking for trouble. But I’m hoping that the right people will be reading this.  Those who are respectful of the planet and the people who make it so amazing. If that person is you, I say welcome. Just be respectful and you’ll get a smile and a shaka out in the lineup.

Kauai’s Surf Spots

There are more surf spots to count on Kauai. When you factor in different swell direction, wind, and tide situations, you are pretty much guaranteed to find waves somewhere on the island at any given moment.  Not only that but since the island is circular shaped, you’ll always find offshore wind somewhere. To a surfer that is definite music to the proverbial ears of your feet, dancing on a board that rides the energy of the ocean. But I digress. Off to the spots!

North Shore

The North Shore is surf central, at least in the winter when the consistent swell lasts pretty much a full six months. Offshore trade winds used to be as predictable as the sunrise, but climate change has created different patterns that have caused a more inconsistent wind situation.  Still, it’s one of the best places to get guaranteed waves.

Hanalei – This spot is heaven on earth. Two miles of beach wrap around to ensure that you can get swell from WNW to ENE, which encompasses most of the waves for over half the year.  Even when most of the north shore is flat in the summer, you can usually find a few fun waves for longboarding.  A Kauai surf trip simply isn’t complete without paddling out in the bay. Get to town, turn right at Kalypso, then right again at the T-intersection.  Drive to the end of the road to the parking lot, and you’re at the pier.  You should be able to see where to go from there.

Kahili (Rock Quarries) – This wave is great in most situations.  In the summer months it can pick up the trade wind swell with offshore wind conditions in the early morning.  It’s also a great spot for both beginners and more advanced surfers alike.  Camping here is not officially permitted, but enough people do it where you shouldn’t get hassled as long as you aren’t there for months on end. There is a right and a left to enjoy, and the beach breaks can sometimes be surfable if a good sandbar forms.


The Eastside can be tricky because most of the time the wind is onshore. But on the same hand there is always swell, so if the wind isn’t too nasty you can score some amazing rides.

Kealia- This is the best beach to paddle out at although it can get crowded.  Stick to looker’s left of the beach and you can score some good sandbar waves.  It’s usually short-period windswell, but it also makes a great surfer out of you if you can line yourself up in the perfect spot.

Kalapaki- This, along with Hanalei, is an ideal place for beginners.  The waves are protected and come from only one direction.  They are usually small and easy to deal with.  Sometimes it gets crowded with tourists, but if you come early enough, most tourists aren’t yet out of bed. The bonus is that after your surf there are a host of options for food and drink, giving yourself a nice well-rounded experience.

South Shore

Poipu – This beach is tourist-heavy, but most just end up wading or snorkeling the shallow waters close to shore.  If you paddle out 100 yards you’ll find a really fun wave with both a left and right-hand break.  FYI the right is much more forgiving, the left can lead to trouble. But it’s definitely worth a trip down to Poipu. It’s also close to the spouting horn blowhole, a fun water feature that looks like what you think it would.

West Side

Pakala’s- There was a bit of a dilemma in posting this one because it’s already a bit crowded.  But if you stick to the sides there is still room for you.  Just be careful about paddling all the way to the back – even though it provides legendary waves, it’s heavily localized.  But it’s one of the longest lefts on the island and is pretty reliable most of the year. One caution though, because of the murky waters it’s a also a favorite haunt for sharks and has been home to several shark attacks in recent years.

Kekaha – Kekaha is the last town on the island heading west, and so the crowds are smaller than usual. The beach breaks here can be really fun or really terrible.  It all depends on how the sand is moving.  But the shoreline is perfectly set up to get offshore trade winds, so if you time it right and get a good sandbar, you can have some really fun waves here.

The Best Surf Shop on Kauai

My favorite surf shop is Tamba, located in Kapaa. They have another shop on the south side but I’ve always gone to the Kapaa location and had a great experience. Everyone is super knowledgeable and friendly, and will help you get the perfect board for whatever your ability from brand new to pro. They also have a great used selection. Check ’em out and tell em braddah Steve sent you!