Not only is Hawaii known for its incredible beauty, Hawaiian culture, warm waters and sunny days, but also its big wave surfing. As island locals and Oahu tour guides, we’ve seen the power and force that nature produces.
In fact, the island of Oahu is a well known Big Wave surf spot by professional surfers and home to many famous Big Wave competitions. Although you can definitely surf in Hawaii all year round some months are better than others. These months are part of the two best surfing seasons – The Winter Season and the Summer Season. While they differ in overall wave size, they both other killer surf sessions to pros and locals alike.
What makes Hawaii’s winter & summer surf seasons different?
Changes in the wind and the storm patterns found at sea cause different size swells hitting different facing shores.
- Winter Surf Season – A.K.A BIG Wave Season and when most, if not all, of the surf competitions are held. The winter surf season usually begins at the end of October/early November and continues on through March. Large swells generally hit the North, West and North-West facing shores. Pipeline, Waimea Bay & Sharks Cove, all found on the North Shore, are home to some of the largest waves you can see on the island of Oahu or even in the entire state of Hawaii. Most big waves average about 6-12 feet, with the really big waves reaching 30-50 feet.
- Summer Surf Season – While you can still find waves during the months of May thru September, they are often quite smaller than the winter swells that hit the island. Most of the summer surf season can be spent on the South and East facing shores of Oahu.
The Quicksilver Surf contest, held in memory of Eddie Aikau, kicks off it’s opening ceremony on November 29th. However, this big wave surf classic is only able to be held when surfing conditions allow. In fact, over the past 28 years the competition has only been able to be held 8 times due to the size of the waves and other hazardous surfing conditions on Oahu’s North Shore.
While most of us probably won’t be going into the treacherous waters on the North Shore beaches when surfing conditions are rough and the waves are enormous, there are still safety precautions to follow even as spectators. Another word of advice for those wishing to get a glimpse of these incredible ocean waves, do not try to plan part of your vacation around when to see the waves. While we know that big wave surfing conditions are prevalent in the Winter months, conditions and storms at sea often occur without warning changing the size and dynamics of the waves, so you never know what the waves will be like. Instead opt to check the weather and surfing reports while on vacation, and stay updated on when you might get a glimpse of the Pacific’s winter time giants!
Big Wave Safety Guidelines
- Dry Sand – Should you be a big wave spectator on the beach, make sure to stay where the sand is dry. This will ensure your safety and keep you out of harms way. Where the sand is wet is considered a high water marker. The higher the water, the bigger the waves are when they break and of course it has to do with the tides as well.
- Sharks Cove – Sharks Cove is one of the most dangerous beaches during big wave season. Visitors should plan on staying on high dry ground to ensure safety.
- Sets – Waves come in sets and often take about 20 minutes to roll in completely. Meaning if there is one big wave there is sure to be others following quickly behind, so beware and be careful.
- Current/Rip-Tides – Currents and rip-tides can be quite unpredictable, very strong and very hazardous. Should you be in the water when the current is strong or a rip-tide occurs, DO NOT panic! Instead go with the flow and try not to fight the current. This will take your energy and your oxygen putting you in more distress.
- The Ocean – The ocean is very powerful and has a mind of it’s own, kind of like that of a wild animal. The crash of a giant wave can literally crush a person or even break bones. Never underestimate the power of the ocean!
- Buddy System – Should you be out surfing or swimming for that matter, NEVER go alone! Have a friend with you and practice the buddy system.
- Size Doesn’t Always Matter – You can’t necessarily know how powerful a wave will be from size alone. Sometimes the biggest waves can create the most white wash water rushing at you and do little harm. Other times smaller waves can pull you under and flip you around taking your oxygen and disorienting you. Remember to NEVER UNDERESTIMATE the ocean!
- Marine Life – Believe it or not, you still have to be aware of the marine life should you be out surfing. Think sharks, jellyfish, sea urchins and the coral reef. All of these can cause harm and severe injury to a surfer.
- Beauty – Big waves are mesmerizing to look at and often appear far less powerful than they are especially as an onlooker from the shore. Being in the water with these salt water giants is a completely different story! In fact big waves can pack an even more powerful punch than one can even begin to understand. Should you want to try your hand at surfing, it’s best to stick with an experienced teacher and calmer waters! Trying to get a great photo? Do not go to far out on rocks etc. The crashing of a big wave can pull one into the water and put you in great danger.
Hawaii is definitely on the map and is known throughout the world for it’s incredible winter waves and Big Wave surf opportunities. Knowing your boundaries, limits and ocean safety precautions can make all the difference, even if you are just an excited onlooker from shore! Stay safe and enjoy the beauty of our Hawaiian Ocean!