Discover America Radio
Oahu, Hawaii

North Shore Surfing

Watch big-shot surfers ride the big waves


Ever since Hawaiians revived the ancient practice of surfing a century ago, and especially after Duke Kahanamoku—Olympic gold-medal swimmer and the original ‘Big Kahuna’—popularised it from Australia to California, riding the waves has been the quintessential Hawaiian sport. For surfers and spectators alike, there’s no place like the six-mile stretch of Oahu’s North Shore from Hale’iwa to Sunset Beach, where in winter, monster swells from Pacific storms rush unimpeded towards breaks in the reefs.

This area of deserted beaches, rugged cliffs and lush vegetation becomes a scene of death-defying, thrilling rides, as elite surfers come to test themselves against waves towering four to six storeys high. Cars, from basic rentals to shiny BMWs to rusty pickup trucks and SUVs crammed with children, line up bumper-to-bumper along the road to Waimea Bay, Sunset and the fabled Banzai Pipeline off Ehukai Beach Park, taking throngs to see nature at its wildest. Only the very best surfers even attempt to enter the water when the big waves come, and those who manage to ride these gargantuan swells appear as fragile thumbnail figures on a raging backdrop. When the waves break and collapse, the ground actually shakes as if in an earthquake, and the air is filled with the roar.

It’s hard to believe that during the summer months, from April to October, these same tumultuous waters settle to a flat calm, inviting swimmers, kayakers, snorkellers, divers and fishermen to come out to play. Hale’iwa, officially designated a historic, cultural and scenic district, thrives in a time warp going back to 1899, when sugarcane king Benjamin Dillingham built a 30-mile railroad to link his Honolulu and North Shore plantations. Dillingham also opened a Victorian hotel overlooking Kaiaka Bay and named it Hale’iwa, or ‘house of the frigate bird’, the tropical seabird often seen here. The hotel and railway are both gone, but Hale’iwa still draws visitors with its blend of quirky old town and upscale boutiques. There’s also a busy fishing harbour full of charter boats whose captains hunt the Kauai Channel daily for tuna, mahi-mahi and marlin.

The local tradition for a trip to the North Shore includes stopping at one of the shrimp trucks, located around Hale’iwa or Kahuku on the Kamehameha Highway, selling farm-raised North Shore shrimp. The menu usually offers shrimp prepared spicy, garlic, Cajun, coconut, buttered, lemon or just plain, and most trucks have picnic tables alongside. Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck claims to have been the first truck to serve the delicious fare, but Kahuku Famous Shrimp has a more extensive shrimp menu plus squid, shrimp and steak, and shrimp and vegetable stir-fry. The trucks generally show up before noon and stay until about sunset, when the last surfers head home.

This trip idea can be found in:

1,000 Places to See in the United States & Canada Before You Die®

Trip idea text ©Patricia Schultz. For contact information about the places mentioned and many more USA trip ideas, see Patricia Schultz's blockbuster book.

Welcome to Discover America!

Now that you have registered, you can save trip ideas to your suitcase.

Start exploring

Enter your email address and we’ll send you a link to reset your password.

Please check your email.

Start exploring

The password on your account has successfully been changed. Please use your new password to login.

Start exploring

This website is set to 'allow all cookies' for the best user experience. By continuing without changing this setting, you are consenting to this. You may change your settings at any time at the bottom of this page.

More information about cookies

Cookies are very small text files that are stored on your computer when you visit some websites.

We use cookies to make our website easier for you to use. You can remove any cookies already stored on your computer, but these may prevent you from using parts of our website.

If you choose to disable non-essential cookies, the website will:

  • Allow you to log in and remember you are logged in, while in session
  • Determine your country of origin in order to serve you the most relevant version of the site

This website will not:

  • Restrict welcome messaging to the first time you visit the site
  • Track any activity on the site for analytics purposes

More information about cookies