It is a quintessential Hawaii experience: Rent a surfboard long enough to double as a buffet table. Waddle awkwardly into the surf. Churn water fruitlessly to the point of frustration. Then, just as hope is all but lost, a final burst of paddling power (or a helpful push from an instructor) propels the neophyte surfer into their first wave. Shakas are thrown and post-surf cocktails are shared. Wave riding addiction sets in.
For now, the Aloha State is all but closed to trans-Pacific visitors, who must undergo a 14-day quarantine upon arrival. Currently, a pretravel testing program that will allow visitors to forgo the quarantine if they test negative for coronavirus within 72 hours of arrival is slated to start Sept. 1, but has already been delayed once.
When tourism does resume in earnest, surfing is likely to not only maintain its position as a popular island activity but could see a boost since, by nature, the sport lends itself to social distancing. While Hawaii beaches have been closed for gatherings and sunbathing during the pandemic, surfing has been one thing that has gone largely unimpeded.
Additionally, even after a pretesting travel program does begin, tourism is expected to be far below normal levels, meaning smaller crowds at surf breaks. Winter is the prime surf season in Hawaii, when the swells grow and professionals flood the islands for a series of events, but there are waves suitable for beginners all year long.
For those looking to get their feet wet with surfing in Hawaii, here are ideal spots on each of the four most visited islands for beginners.
Surf spots are peppered along Waikiki beach's 2-mile stretch, and given the typically large volume of tourists, other surfers are accustomed to beginners here, and there is a plethora of surf schools and rental shops. There is the added bonus of learning to surf in the spot where the sport was first popularized (after likely starting among Polynesian cultures elsewhere in the Pacific). Located in front of the Royal Hawaiian, Populars or "Pops" can get crowded but offers easy, rolling waves breaking on a sandy reef and a forgiving atmosphere. The paddle out is a little long for beginners, but not particularly challenging and the wave breaks over a large area, giving surfers room to spread out.
Also try: Among the North Shore's wealth of world-class surf breaks is Chun's Reef, which hosts many surf lessons and novice wave riders on days with smaller swells.
Novice wave riders come to the Cove for welcoming waves over a sandy, gentle shore break. This Kihei spot is excellent for learning the basics, from paddling into position to popping up from stomach to feet. This is a very popular location for beginners, and the short paddle out to the break will leave your arms with plenty of energy for getting into waves.
Also try: Frequented by surf schools, Thousand Peaks in west Maui offers several areas of breaking waves for surfers to find their little piece of the ocean to enjoy. The waves here are relatively easy to read and predict, and can generate exceptionally long rides.
Off the Garden Isle's south shore in the Poipu resort area, Lemon Drops beckons to surfing freshmen. The break near Kiahuna Plantation mostly attracts beginners, offering a supportive and relaxing environment for getting the hang of the sport. Once surfers have mastered the easier location closer to shore, they can paddle out farther to PK's (Prince Kuhio's), which is better suited to intermediate-level surfers and above.
Also try: On Kauai's north shore, the sandy-bottomed Hanalei Bay is a picturesque and inviting place to learn surfing with a handful of breaks for all levels. Most newcomers to surfing stick to the area adjacent to the Hanalei Pier.
As the youngest island in the chain, Hawaii Island has fewer sandy beaches than the others and not as many established surf locations. Kahaluu Beach Park south of Kona is one of the most popular spots for surf schools and beginners on the island. The deep waters here help surfers avoid the sharp corals below, and one side of the bay is shielded by an ancient Hawaiian breakwater. Even if you don't catch any waves here, the stunning scenery and local population of sea turtles will make an outing worthwhile.
Also try: Pine Trees north of Kona is a step up in level of difficulty from Kahaluu, but the exposed reef break dishes out super-consistent surf in all seasons.