Updated: Jun 12
As a recent beginner surfer myself (and my partner being an avid surfer and surfboard builder), I know just how intimidating it can feel to find the right spot and join in the water as a beginner.
The first thing you need to know is unlike the other Hawaiian islands, Big Island is not known for a multitude of surf spots, but there are two main beginner surf spots where you can get your feet wet and have a good time: Kahalu’u and Kohanaiki.
Where to rent boards
When you rent a campervan with Sun + Salt, you can get an eight foot foam top surfboard included for just $40 for your whole trip. If you’re not getting one with us, there’s a couple spots nearby in Kona where you can rent.
Kona Boys is another great spot to rent surfboards while on island.
Kahalu’u Surf and Sea is right across the street from Kahlu’u bay.
Where to go to surf
If you’ve consistently surfed prior to coming to the big island, there are other spots you can find around the island, but for the purposes of this blog post, we are going to focus on the two accessible and consistent spots we recommend for beginners: Kahalu’u Bay and Kohanaiki (also known as Pine Trees).
Kahalu’u Bay is the most popular spot for beginner surfers with a consistent reef break, but the spot is a little easier to access and a few less rocks to hit than Pine Trees, which we share below.
Kohanaiki (Pine Trees) in the bay across from the bathrooms is also a great spot for beginners. Take care to watch the water for at least 10 minutes before going in and notice where the rocks are. During low tide, make sure when you fall, you don’t go head or feet first but fall flat on your back or stomach because the water can be shallow.
Surf protocol and staying safe in the water
Check the surf forecast
Mother ocean is more powerful than we sometimes give her credit, observe the water for at least 10 minutes before entering. Watch where others enter and exit the surf spot and take notice of any rip tides. If you are unsure, ask the lifeguard for recommendations. The big island has few sand bottom beaches, be careful where you step, avoid stepping on and damaging the reef/yourself.
Know your limits
Though the big island is more protected from big surf than other islands it can still produce sizable waves. Listen to your gut and when in doubt, don’t go out. As a beginner surfer, your goal is to have fun! I recommend going in before you’re “too tired.” Once you’re “too tired” all that’s left to happen is to get tumbled by waves, and if that’s your thing, go for it (right on!), but if that's not fun for you, my personal advice is to quit while you’re ahead so you want to go out next time.
Stretch your back
This might sound silly, but do NOT stay on your stomach on your board the whole time! Take breaks and sit up on your board. Stretch your back out. There is actually a physical condition called Surfer’s Myelopathy believed to be caused by hyperextension of the back. It happens when you are not used to the position and you stay on your stomach the entire time on your board.
Stay on the inside
The wave closer to the beach is the inside and the waves farther out are called the outside. If you’re just starting out, don't head straight for the outside. You can have a lot of fun and make a lot of progress with smaller waves on the inside or even catching the white wash.
If someone is already riding a wave do not take off in front of them. Keeping a safe distance from other surfers will ensure one another’s safety. If you are paddling out and someone is already riding the wave, do your best to give them plenty of room. If you cannot safely make it over the shoulder (part of the wave that’s not breaking), aim behind the surfer and head for the whitewash. A little tumble in the whitewash is much safer than a collision with an oncoming board.
Observe the Surfer’s Code
This is the Universal Surfer's Code, with a visual of the common rules and etiquette of surfing.
By doing these things, we hope you’ll stay safe, keep others safe, and have a great time! Be mindful, share the waves and spread aloha. A little bit of aloha will go a long way!