Surfing the Big One - Banzai Pipeline, Oahu
Catch a wave in Oahu
Many of the North Shore towns have lots filled with food trucks.
Sunset watching from the pool at Turtle Bay is a favorite pastime.
The Hans Hedemann surfing school has a branch at Turtle Bay Resort.

While a hot vacation in the tropics, with lying on the beach, napping in the sun and taking dips in the ocean, seems like the ultimate holiday, some family members may prefer action, adventure and the natural thrills that come with surfing.

The Big Waves of Surf Champions in O’ahu

Luckily, Hawaii is both a beach and a surfing paradise and nowhere more so than at the home of the Banzai Pipeline on the North Shore of O’ahu. Teenagers traveling to Hawaii — and anyone who’s a skilled surfer — can enjoy surfing the waves off the same beaches known for world-class reef breaks.

If your family isn’t experienced enough to ride these massive waves, they can enjoy watching the experts do it instead. Famed professional surfers regularly frequent this famous beach off Ehukai Park, sometimes riding the waves in competitive tournaments.

Competitions include the Hawaiian Cup, Billabong and Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, which typically take place during the winter months. They carry big purses and are widely considered to be the “Super Bowl” of surfing. Visitors can also check out the nearby Sunset Beach and Waimea Bay, two places widely considered to be the birthplace of big wave surfing. The months of November to February typically produce the wildest surf, and local surf guides can find the best breaks around the island at any time of year.

Enjoying the Pacific off O’ahu’s North Shore

If surfing’s not your thing, you can still fully enjoy an afternoon on the water by going fishing. The North Shore is home to several charter organizations that will be happy to take you out onto the Pacific for an afternoon.

Various charter companies focus on different things – for example, Go Fishing Hawaii takes you bottom fishing and will prepare some of your catch as sushi for snacks, while North Shore Sport Fishing offers a different approach, with knowledgeable guides taking passengers to catch marlin, tuna, and other game fish.

Nearby is the Malaekahana State Beach Park, a beautiful stretch of beach which is also just a stone’s throw away from Goat Island, a protected bird sanctuary and a wonderful place to swim. Visitors can enjoy wading in the shallows, sightseeing, or having a picnic on the unspoiled beaches. Be careful though, as the water current and rip tides can get very strong around this area. Since there are no lifeguards on the island, it’s probably a better idea to stay on land if you’re a novice swimmer.

Exploring More of the North Shore

Overall, the small town appeal of the North Shore’s many villages is infectious. Even for the non-surfer, this side of O’ahu attracts repeat visitors with a timeless aloha vibe to its small family ranches, ice cream shops, and produce markets. Mom n’Pop shops clustered in little strip malls sell rashers, cheap aloha shirts and tie-dye hippie garb.

Do make a stop at the Waimea Valley, a small park with generations-old banyan trees and colocasia and caladium – plants whose foliage rather than flower adds color and tropical style, like huge elephant ears and a myriad of pineapple plants. The weekly Thursday afternoon Farmer’s Market features produce, fresh baked coconut cakes, and the wares of pearl and shell artisans.

Local food trucks in Haleiwa compete for the spiciest shrimp, serving it grilled in the shell with heavy doses of garlic, Sriracha sauce or chili oil (must-trys: Giovanni’s shrimp scampi, and Titu’s garlic shrimp). Angel’s coconut and banana ice cream in Kahuku and fried oysters from Dat Cajun Guy are also worth a stop. Have a great sit down meal at lunch or dinner at 7 Brothers Burgers at the Mill in Laie, where Coconut Macadamia Nut Shrimp and Bruce Iron burgers (named for a legendary pro surfer) served on a Hawaiian sweet bread roll can feed a family for under $50.

Still thinking about the surf? Check out Kelly Slater riding a big one!



Trip Planning Details for O’ahu’s North Shore

The best place to stay, visit, or eat is Turtle Bay Resort – a paradisiacal resort so typically Hawaiian that it was the location for the TV series, “The North Shore” and the early Judd Apatow blockbuster Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The resort offers a fun bar — central to the surfing glitterati when a competition is underway — and a fine beachfront restaurant run by celeb chef Roy Yamaguchi. The recently renovated resort also provides a wide range of accommodation – from regular, run-of-the-mill rooms, to beach cottages, to luxurious ocean villas. Its location on a peninsula positioned between the setting sun and a calm sand beach is extraordinary, making it a very special place to stay despite the haphazardly casual service.

Families love it. Turtle Bay’s beach is protected by a reef shelf that breaks up the huge waves before they reached the shore, making it the safest place to swim on the North Shore. According to the hotel’s many interesting historical markers (their grounds are full of walking paths), this beach was where Hawaii’s last monarch learned to swim, in the mid 1800s, when she was a little girl. Today, seals will swim up and rest for a few days onshore while migrating elsewhere, and it’s not uncommon to see grownups practicing surfing with their kids and dogs. In low season, they do run some great family specials and rates drop to about $250 per double room.

The on-site Hans Hedemann Surf School gives beginner surfing lessons there in summer and around the point in Waleiwa Bay during the winter; reserve early. Another favorite surf school is Uncle Bryan’s Sunset Suratt Surf Academy

The Courtyard Oahu North Shore in Laie, near to the Hawai’ian style themepark Polynesian Cultural Center is about $200 per night, and several state parks across the Kamehameha Highway allowing camping. Not the amazing waterfront location of Turtle Bay but convenient to the area and surfing lessons.

For more information on attractions around the North Shore, be sure to visit the O’ahu Tourism Office or read FTF’s Guide to Oahu with Kids.



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2 Replies to “Surfing Banzai Pipeline and Oahu’s North Shore”

  • todobigo

    Oahu is famous for its surfing beach at Waikiki, and that’s where many tourists take their first lesson.  There’s calmer water as well as huge waves (if you know how to catch them) and there are many, more popular schools right there on the sand.

    You don’t have to stay at a fancy hotel ot take lessons even though some schools are affilated with them; any surf guide will take you to other parts of the island and practice safe surfing with you.

  • Anonymous

    Like you’re going to see any tourists riding the Banzai surpriseWhat about tourist friendly surf spots?