The surf across Hawai’i’s south shore this summer has been unusually small compared to years past. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that globally we’re coming off of the third consecutive year of the La Niña weather pattern, which causes cooler-than-normal ocean temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean near the equator. This three-peat is highly unusual and has only occurred three times since reliable weather data began in the 1950s. Or perhaps it’s just our version of a summer of weird weather. Whatever the case may be, it has been bad news for south shore surfers who wait patiently for Ala Moana bowls to barrel, or Kewalos to ramp up, but good news for beginner surfers and all you lovers of small waves. This summer we’ve been sweating the small stuff and loving every minute of it. Here are a few of our favorite small wave surf spots, where less is more.
For beginners, it doesn’t get much better than Canoe’s. Right next to Queen’s in the heart of Waikiki, it’s literally ground zero for surfing and where many of the island’s top surfers learned to surf. It’s called Canoe’s because it’s a popular spot for Canoe surfing. It breaks with even the smallest bit of swell, even in the wintertime. The paddle out is quick, and getting into the wave is easy. There’s plenty of room, and sharing waves at Canoes is common, so bring your friends and party wave! The crowd is mellow, and you’re not likely to find much localism there. You may find many surfers who are at the beginner level, so much of the danger is due to the crowd. Be careful out there.
Canoe’s breaks best on a one to three foot southwest or south swell, but can pick up swell from swells from the south east and sometimes large west/northwest swells wrap around to Canoe’s. We recommend a 10’0 or bigger Beach Boy model by Tanaka.
Populars, or Pop’s for short, is another great small wave spot located in Waikiki. It’s located on the Ewa side of Waiks right in front of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. The wave is one of the furthest from shore, making for a long paddle out. Due to the long paddle you’ll find less surfers at the beginner level there than at Canoe’s, so it’s a great place to go to get away from the crowds. Pop’s starts out kind of like an open ocean wave in deeper water than most breaks in the area. Sometimes you can catch the wave before it even breaks. It’s generally a right but also has an available left. Either way the ride is a playful roller that reforms again and again and seems to go on forever. Being that it is so far offshore, you can get a super long ride.
Pop’s breaks best on a two to four foot southwest or south swell. We recommend a 9’0 or bigger Town Model by Tanaka
Straight Out’s is located in the Kewalo Basin area. It’s straight out from the Kewalo Basin Park, hence the name. It’s a mellow left hander that works with any swell direction but tends to stay open longer with a swell from the southeast. It’s not uncommon to find short boarders at Straight Out’s, but it’s mainly a longboard wave. There’s not much of a pecking order out there. Instead you’ll find a laid back group of surfers just looking to have a good time.
For Straight Outs is best at two to four foot but still holds up on bigger swells. We recommend catching it on on a low tide and riding the Beach Boy model by Tanaka.
Kaiser’s, sometimes known as Kaiser Bowl’s, is considered one of the best waves on the south shore and isn’t necessarily known as a small wave spot, but you may find, on the really small days you can still score a fun ride on your shortboard at Kaiser’s. It’s an a-frame right and left wave. The left walls up for some high performance surfing and moves fast down a shallow reef, while the right bowls up, allowing for a couple solid maneuvers, sometimes barreling. On smaller swells you’ll find some longboards but it tends to be primarily a mid-length to shortboard zone. On the bigger swells, the pecking order can get a bit fierce and it’s advised to be aware of the local surfers there. Some of the uncles there have been holding it down for generations.
Kaiser’s breaks best on a three to five foot southwest swell but can still be the best spot in town on a one to two foot swell. For the smaller days, we recommend a Missing Link by Makani in around 7’0. For the bigger days, try the Flux model by Pang 6’0 or bigger.
Our surf shop at Ala Moana Center is conveniently located just across from Kaisers and Straight Outs and just down the road from Pops and Canoes. Stop by next time you’re down there and need wax a new leash or any and all of your ocean equipment.