After more than 10 years living in Honolulu, I've become pretty picky about when I get into the ocean, and I don't mind admitting that I really enjoy swimming or snorkeling in the Pacific when the ocean is at its calmest.
Getting in when the water is the most warm isn't a bad idea, either.
Folks familiar with the Aloha State will tell you that, generally speaking, the summer months frequently bring remarkably calm conditions to the northern shores of the Hawaiian Islands, along with noticeably warmer ocean temperatures. As a result, locations there that might have been inaccessible due to the common, and often dangerously large, winter swells can become some of the most inviting ocean experiences on the planet.
This can be a valuable bit of insight for travel pros planning clients' vacations to the Islands, distinguishing an agent's expertise from the competition.
Frank Carpenter, the owner of Kona Boys, an ocean activity operator and outfitter on the Big Island of Hawaii, explained that most of the swells that affect the Islands in the winter are generated out at sea by storms coming from the north and northwest. In the summer, he said, those storms traditionally happen in the south, and the swells are normally not as treacherous.
"Usually, southern storms produce fewer waves, and they're a little softer," he said.
On the island of Oahu, for example, the North Shore's Waimea Bay attracts some of the world's most daring big wave surfers during winter swells — some produce waves with 40-foot faces — and the ocean there can be incredibly dangerous.
In late May, June, July, August and even September, however, Waimea Bay, which is fronted by a sprawling sandy beach, is often almost as flat as a swimming pool and a wonderful place for folks to get into the water.
A five-minute drive up the road from Waimea, Shark's Cove is one of Oahu's most popular snorkeling destinations. During a powerful winter swell, Shark's Cove is excellent for watching huge breakers crash on the lava rock formations, provided folks stay far back from the shoreline, and the area is commonly inaccessible to swimmers due to rough ocean conditions. Summer offers many more days, however, when folks can have terrific experiences exploring the underwater features and remarkable sea life while snorkeling in the cove.
"When the water is calmer during the summer, you get ideal conditions for snorkeling because the sediment all settles and you don't have any waves coming to stir things up," Carpenter said. "Your water clarity is just so much better, and on summer days on the Big Island, you'll have visibility that pushes 100 feet in places."
Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii is a popular snorkeling destination sold by a number of activity providers year-round, but Carpenter said the location often puts on its best show in the summer. Home to a dazzling coral reef ecosystem and a diverse variety of remarkable sea creatures, the location is one of Hawaii's most striking underwater attractions.
Carpenter also offered an insider's tip on when folks will likely see the most interesting behavior below the ocean's surface.
"Much of the marine life activity happens early in the morning or late in the evening," he said. "It's magic at those times because the water is calmest then."
Another of Hawaii's underwater natural jewels lies at Honolua Bay on the northwest coast of Maui, but the location is commonly too dangerous for swimmers and snorkelers in the winter.
"Honolua Bay is a marine sanctuary and an awesome place to go snorkeling," said Tim Lara, owner of Maui-based Hawaiian Paddle Sports.
"However, the high surf in the winter months often makes it impossible to access. Also, heavy rain in winter brings down a lot of brown water through the river, so summer months are much better there for visibility, as well."
Any discussion of Hawaii's most stunning natural northern-shore attractions would be incomplete without mentioning Hanalei Bay on Kauai. While it's not a snorkeling hot spot, the setting is arguably Hawaii's most beautiful, with towering waterfalls and jagged green mountains serving as a backdrop for a sprawling curve of soft sand.
A draw for expert surfers in winter months thanks to the season's large swells, Hanalei Bay is a great place to book surf lessons for beginners in the summer because of the typically tamer waves in June, July and August and the location's sandy bottom. It's also a great place for stand-up paddleboard lessons and tours in the summer thanks to a pattern of generally flatter conditions.
Agents looking to offer advice about ocean safety or live updates about conditions on any of the Hawaiian Islands can refer clients to www.hawaiibeachsafety.org
; of course, it's always a good idea to remind clients to speak with a lifeguard before going for a swim at any beach.