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5 Places To Watch Maui’s Huge Surf

November 23, 2012

It’s no secret the North Shore of O’ahu is a mecca for big wave surfers. Regarded as the proving ground for some of the world’s best wave riders, surf breaks such as Pipeline and Waimea Bay hold such a mythical status among the global surf community that surfers and spectators flock to the area by the tens of thousands. From the safe vantage points of the cliffs and shorelines visitors watch as the world’s best throw themselves into warm-water barrels which break on the reef like an aquatic thunder.

Oahu isn’t the only place in Hawaii to watch nature’s fury come crashing ashore, however. Although the heavily-populated island boasts the Triple Crown surf contests and is idolized in popular culture, the neighboring island of Maui sees surf that is just as good—if not bigger—than the world-famous waves on Oahu. Furthermore, among the next generation of professional surfers coming out of Hawaii, a disproportionate number of the young guns making headlines have been raised on the island of Maui. The sport of tow-surfing was invented in Maui. The sport of kitesurfing was cultivated on Maui. So too, was stand-up paddleboarding. Now, in 2012, the limits of traditional paddle-surfing are being pushed to the limits off of Maui’s north shore by professional waterman who find themselves paddling into waves so large that even attempting to do so without the assistance of a jet-ski was unthinkable even two or three years ago. Maui, in many ways, is leading the charge in the progressive big-wave surfing arena, and should a large swell happen to hit the islands during your visit it’s quite a sight to behold.

Want to watch some of the world’s best during your time on the island? Here are five spots on the north shore of Maui perfect for viewing these “men who ride mountains”.

Peahi (Jaws)

A deep water trench which roars to life on the largest of northwest swells, Peahi is THE place to be for big wave viewing in Maui. Waves at Peahi can regularly be over 60 ft., and at one point surfer Pete Cabrinha set the world-record here for largest wave ever ridden by dropping into a towering, 70 ft. monster in January of 2004.

Watching the waves at Peahi, however, entails a bit of an undertaking. Drive east on Hana Highway through the town of Haiku, and when you reach Peahi Rd. (just after a large cemetery on your left), take a left, and then another left until the road becomes dirt. If you are in a rental car or a low-clearance vehicle you should consider parking at the top of the highway and simply walk down. Often times anyone with a large truck will offer free rides to the bottom of the hill for anyone who needs a lift. Once at the bottom throngs of spectators line a cliff in the middle of the pineapple fields which offers the best vantage point for looking out over the thundering surf. Visiting Jaws is a Maui experience entirely unto itself, although it’s important to understand that the wave only comes alive on a handful of days during the winter months of October and March.

Ho’okipa Beach Park

More accessible than Jaws and nearly as awe-inspiring, the surf at Ho’okipa can regularly reach over 20 feet on large winter swells and is frequented by intrepid local surfers and world-class windsurfers. Located off of Hana Highway about three miles past the town of Paia, the best vantage point for watching the surf at Ho’okipa is either from the lookout on the east end of the park or from the turnoff near the park’s exit. Occasionally the surf can get too rough here for any surfers to paddle out, but even when there are no people in the water the waves continue to crash against the shoreline like galloping white stallions exploding into the rocks. When the late afternoon light reflects off of the towering spray of the waves it creates a panorama worthy of watching for a few minutes—even if you have someplace to be.

Honolua Bay

Not only was the Honolua Surf Company clothing line named after this legendary bay, but the final stop of the women’s professional world tour of surfing was held here for a number of years. Like Ho’okipa the surf at Honolua can regularly reach over 20 feet in height, with the difference being that Honolua sits tucked inside of a cove that is protected from the offshore tradewinds. Consequently the wave is frequently clean and glassy, and on the best of days when all of the sections connect this spot offers up a peeling right-hand wave that is classified as one of the best in the world. Watch from the cliff top as large, barreling sections swallow some of the island’s best surfers only to see them reappear out of the foamball a solid ten to twelve seconds later.

To reach Honolua Bay, drive north on Honoapi’ilani Highway three miles past the resort complex of Kapalua. While there is a paved pullout on the side of the road which can get crowded, a better vantage point is to continue towards the other side of the valley and pull off on a dirt road into the pineapple field. This is where all of the surfers park, and the views from here sweep across the entire northwestern tip of the island.


Only located about a mile from Honolua Bay, Windmills is somewhat of a secret spot which is only accessible to the island’s most advanced and competent surfers. Dubbed by many as “Maui’s Pipeline”, the moniker is in reference to the large, barreling left-hand wave that does its best impression of the famous Oahu surf spot. Though waves here can also reach over 20 feet in height, unlike Oahu’s Pipeline surfers here must scramble down a sketchy goat trail and time their entry off of jagged rocks. The consequences of a wipe-out at Windmills can often be severe, and many a surf movie has been shot at this instantly recognizable and tucked away location. Luckily for those standing along the cliff the thrill of watching these death-defying waves doesn’t come with the same set of consequences.

To reach Windmills continue a mile past Honolua Bay and keep an eye out for a dirt pullout on the left side of the road which is about five cars wide. Multiple vantage points line the cliff here, and if the surf is up and the waves are really pumping you’ll know this is the spot by simply passing it.

D.T. Fleming Beach Park

While Kapalua’s D.T. Fleming Beach Park doesn’t see the same surf heights as some of the larger spots listed above, the waves can still reach well over 10 feet in height and the sandy shoreline makes for a comfortable vantage point from which to watch the waves roll in. There will usually be some surfers scattered among a horde of bodyboarders here, but occasionally the swell direction can be just right to offer some remarkable rides which you can witness from the comfort of one of Maui’s nicest beaches.

To get to D.T. Fleming Beach Park either drive half a mile past the Kapalua entrance off of Honoapi’ilani Highway, or simply walk down the beach path from the Ritz-Carlton hotel.

While the surfers themselves will always have the greatest vantage point of all involved, even spending a day watching the surf in Maui is another way this island provides adventure around every turn.

Kyle Ellison is a freelance writer based in Maui, Hawaii who frequently finds himself in obscure international destinations. Over the course of traveling through 60 different countries, he has taken part in everything from climbing mountains in Borneo to eating clams while scuba diving in an underwater Vietnamese cave. Despite his penchant for novelty and adventure, the beautiful island of Maui will always be the corner of the world where he calls home. All of Kyle’s writing and adventures can be found by visiting his website,  Kyle is also an ambassador and contributor to VacationRoost

Photo Credits:

Ho’okipa: LuxTonnere on Flickr (

Honolua Bay: surfglassy on Flickr (

Jaws: Jeff Rowley Big Wave Surfer on Flickr (

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 14, 2014 7:05 pm

    Wonderful blog! I found it while searching
    on Yahoo News. Do you have any suggestions
    on how to get listed in Yahoo News? I’ve been trying for a while but
    I never seem to get there! Thank you

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