Catch the Wave: Surf Culture on the Big Island
But it all began here, and the local scene is thriving. Truly, it is a way of life for the most fervent adherents. You will bump into it even if you’re not trying. And you will be happy you did regardless if you are a participant or a spectator. It’s a fun, easygoing crowd, welcoming and eager to share their experiences with onlookers and fellow travelers alike.
While the history of surfing on the Big Island is key, let us not forget what preceded it. The local geological and oceanographic conditions are ideal for the pastime. Currents break against the massive lava upheavals in just the perfect way to generate the best waves. So it’s not just about cultural traditions. Being blessed with these ideal circumstances means that surfing is etched into the land and sea surrounding Hawai`i. It’s in the DNA of the location just as much as in the hearts of the people who invented the activity in the first place. And from here, we will start our exploration of the Big Island surfing scene.
The Where and the When
In real estate, the old saying when it comes to finding the choicest place to buy is “location, location, location.” And so it is when it comes to surfing on the Big Island of Hawai`i. Some parts of the shore are ideally suited for generating the best waves while others can be almost lagoon flat. If you’re looking for the most epic swells, there are a few places to check out first. Pine Trees, north of the Kona airport, is probably the most well-known spot. It’s very popular, so expect crowds, but it’s worth wading through for those awesome waves. Banyans in Kona is also awesome—but more suited for experts. Beginners should head on over to nearby Kahalu’u, as the sea is more forgiving there.
Timing is also key when it comes to surfing. Seasonal swells transform ho-hum shores into fantastic spots to paddle your board out to. And in places where the waves are always massive, they can become downright monstrous at the right time of year. Winter brings the biggest swells, with the north shore consistently seeing dangerous surf that only masters of the sport should try. The summer is milder but can really raise the bar on the south shore of the island. In these situations, it may be best to arrive not as a participant, but as a fan. Watching experts from the beach can be just as thrilling—and a lot safer!
Blending in with the Locals
There’s a lot more to surfing than the actual activity of taking on ocean waves with a board. For many people, this way of life is all-encompassing. And one of the best parts of it is how they not only welcome outsiders to share some time but also are eager to talk about what they do and why they love it so much. Surf shops are common hangouts where you can step in and overhear conversations about equipment, the latest weather reports and the close calls the experts have sometimes faced! You can also purchase your own gear to sport back home in the form of hats and shirts. And, naturally, if you’re taking the plunge yourself, you’ll have every accessory to purchase on hand as well.
Check your calendar for the big surfing events, too. Several international competitions occur every year, including global championships that are as big a deal to the culture as the World Cup or the Super Bowl! Another interesting way to connect to the sport is by following the traditional Hawaiian path to surfing. Stone temples known as heiau are strewn throughout the island’s shores, their mysterious history not fully understood, often associated with the original surfers. There are even ancient petroglyphs of surfers found all over Hawai`i, a visual testament to the importance of the ritual dating back centuries. Whether you seek to make your spiritual connection to the sea by delving into surfing’s distant past or its living presence, you will feel it in the salty air itself however you spend your time here.