I don’t travel the world in search of the perfect wave, but after living in Florida, Oahu, Maui and San Diego, I have surfed my fair share of breaks. I decided to list my favorite spots in order. Keeping in mind, my style of wave isn’t huge, powerful and gnarly. You won’t find Pipeline or Jaws on this list. I like clean, chest to head high rights — with preferably no crowd.
1. Honolua Bay – Maui
The best wave in the world as far as I’m concerned. It’s a clean, right hand wave that can go forever. And it’s surrounded by the most beautiful environment you can imagine. When it gets big, it gets crowded, but during the summer on a chest high day you can still manage to have this incredible spot all to yourself. Those are my kinda days.
- Pros: A perfect right wave. Beautiful setting. Not easily accessed. Can find empty on small days.
- Cons: Can get crowded and dangerous on big days. Those days can bring out some angry locals.
2. “Pops” or Populars – Oahu
I was a townie. The big, powerful North Shore waves were too much for me. Pops is a Waikiki break, but the looooong paddle out there deterred most tourists and surfers. So, despite the name, it’s not terribly popular. Once you finally got there, it was pure fun, and usually double the size of Canoes and Queens (the insanely crowded Waikiki breaks). It’s the only place I ever surfed at night (late night), and probably my most memorable session.
- Pros: Super fun right or left wave. Always larger than inner Waikiki breaks. Very forgiving. Great for longboards or short boards.
- Cons: Very long paddle out. Usually a small crowd.
3. Diamond Head – Oahu
Diamond Head usually serves up the biggest waves on the South Shore, and it usually comes with a whole lot of wind. Despite the often choppy conditions, I love surfing Diamond Head. It’s a beautiful little hike down, and there’s almost always waves all year round.
- Pros: A short drive from Waikiki, but hidden from tourists. Usually the biggest surf on the South Shore. Lots of breaks, making it possible to find uncrowded peaks.
- Cons: Often windy and choppy. Usually relatively crowded.
4. Hot Sands – Maui
My “go to” spot in Lahaina. It was a short 3 minute drive down the hill, and then a 5-10 minute walk along the beach through the community of Puamana. Don’t park in Puamana, it’s gated and they’re really strict about surfers parking in their community. Another clean, right handed break. Hot sands is a very short and easy paddle, and usually uncrowded. I’ve had countless fun days surfing a longboard at Hot Sands with only a few regulars in the water.
- Pros: Really short paddle out. Super fun right longboard wave. Usually only a few people out on the weekdays.
- Cons: A long walk along the beach to the spot. Supposedly somebody spotted a shark while I was surfing here, I still think it was a dolphin. I’ve encountered some unfriendly locals here — luckily their aggression hasn’t been directed towards me.
5. Tonggs – Oahu
When Diamond Head was too blown out and windy to surf, Tongs was just around the corner — sheltered from the wind. It’s probably the only left, goofy foot wave on my list. Despite it’s close proximity to Waikiki, it’s somewhat hidden access in a small neighborhood near Kapiolani Park kept it from becoming too crowded. I did have my bike stolen while surfing this spot with a friend. It was later found by the cops and returned — looking like a piece of crap, but it wasn’t an expensive bike to begin with. This is completely off topic, but don’t buy an expensive bike on Oahu if you plan to chain it to palm trees.
- Pros: Usually clean and sheltered from the wind. Fun left that works well for longboards and short boards. Mellow crowd.
- Cons: I had my bike stolen that was chained to a palm tree while surfing this spot. Occasionally crowded.
6. Rainbows – Maui
When Honolua was too big for my taste, Rainbows was the place to go. When first moving to Maui, it was my most frequented break. With more power than the south shore spots, but less power than the north shore, Rainbows was great for a shortboard or longboard. Luckily, when Rainbows was breaking, most people forgot about this awesome spot and were surfing further up north.
- Pros: Super fun short board wave. Mostly a right, but has a closing out left. I had the spot all to myself countless times. Usually a fun crowd, if any.
- Cons: Really shallow reef at low tide. I was attacked by a little fish here (like 5 inches) — jumped out of the water and latched its teeth on to my back. It was more funny than anything. I have seen the spot crowded a few rare times when it was bigger.
7. Woody’s – Maui
If this spot broke more often it would have ranked higher on my list. Located between Launiupoko and Guardrails on the west side of Maui, Woody’s needs a sizable South swell to start breaking. When it does, it’s a long, forgiving, chest to head-high plus wave that is super fun. It breaks right and left, but the left is more popular since the right (eventually) closes out and pitches a little more. There is a crowd of regulars that shows up when this spot breaks, but they’re all friendly and fun to surf with.
- Pros: Super fun right or left wave perfect for longboarders. Long rides. Fun drops. Friendly crowd. Easy paddle out.
- Cons: Doesn’t break often.
8. Canoes and Queens – Oahu
Chaos. This isn’t the place to go for a great time of actual “surfing.” It’s a great place to go surfing with friends and watch pure insanity ensue. Despite everything so wrong about these well known Waikiki breaks, it can be a blast. You have to surf these spots in the right mindset. If you’re looking for a wave to yourself, don’t go here. This is party wave central. Surfers of every skill level and attitude pollute these waters. It is actually a great wave, but you’ll never have it to yourself. The closest I had was surfing a large south swell during a rain storm, and there were still a number of people in the water.
- Pros: Loads of entertainment. After being lucky enough to catch a few waves and not get run over by a kook or punched by a local, you can grab a drink at Dukes and watch the chaos from shore.
- Cons: Just about everything except sharks, they’re too scared to enter these waters. I’ve seen people punched in the water, chased to shore, verbally assaulted (constantly, and I’ve been on both ends), collisions (about every second), broken boards (including my own), bloody wounds, people hit by canoes, snorkelers and inner tubes mixed in the lineup, the list goes on and on. It’s also what makes this place so great — sometimes.
9. Bird Rock – La Jolla, CA
So far, this is one of the few spots I’ve found in La Jolla that is comparable to the types of waves I like to surf in Hawaii. It’s a fun, long right that’s usually uncrowded on the weekdays.
- Pros: Long right wave. Great for a longboard or short board. Starts breaking well at about 4 feet. Small weekday crowds.
- Cons: Cold water. Long paddle. Kelp beds.
10. Playa Linda – Titusville, FL
Most surf spots in Florida are shark infested with sloppy mushburger waves. On rare occasions throughout the year, with a hurricane in the Atlantic, offshore winds and Mercury in retrograde, the surf can become epic. During those times, Floridians would argue the best spots are Sebastian Inlet and New Smyrna. I beg to differ. Playalinda goes largely unsurfed because it has a reputation as a nude beach, and the town is mostly known for its one attraction, NASA. Now that NASA is kaput, Titusville should advertise its other export before becoming a ghost town. The waves are usually bigger and better than anywhere else along the east coast during a good swell.
I’ve had many a fun day surfing here in college. I’ve surfed this spot in every condition imaginable. While it’s certainly not the best wave in the world, it’s the closest thing I have to a home break. My cousin Travis brought me here for the first time, and I surfed this spot with many friends and family. One of my favorite surf days took place here, on what would have appeared to be a flat day. There was some freak sand bar just off-shore, and a fast breaking, hard pitching, super consistent chest high barrel had formed. My cousin Todd and I surfed this phantom break all day until we had noodle arms and couldn’t handle getting pounded in to the shore anymore. Try as we might to find it, I’m sure this spot will never appear again.
- Pros: Nostalgia. Sometimes great, sometimes unique.
- Cons: Often choppy and mushy like most of Florida. Sharks, alligators (yup) and jellyfish.
Some honorable mentions where I’ve had incredibly fun, memorable days of surf:
- DT Flemings – Maui
- Ho’okipa – Maui
- Publics – Oahu
- Threes – Oahu
- Windansea – La Jolla, CA
- Tourmaline – Pacific Beach, CA
- Unknown Name – Maui (Between Launiupoko and Woody’s)
- The Harbor – Maui
- Ironwoods (Shit Falls) – Maui (For bodyboarding, not surfing)
- 2nd Light – Satellite Beach, FL
- Scripps Pier – La Jolla, CA