home | back

Stormrider Guide to surfing Kauai


Hanalei Bay, Sylvain Cazenave


+ Year round swells - Mostly "experts only" surf
+ Hawaiian power and quality - Protective locals
+ Super-scenic island - High local prices
+ Variety of coastline - Sharks

Known as the ÒThe Garden IslandÓ, Kauai is an ancient and deeply eroded extinct volcano, rising 5000m above the sea floor. Kauai regulations state that no building may exceed the height of a coconut tree, preventing development from scarring the breathtaking scenery. There are more sandy beaches than many other islands and nearly 45% of its coastline is virtually deserted. Despite having over 300 surf spots, underwater topography is, allegedly, not as ideal as Oahu. The North Shore high volcanic cliffs hold few spots and the inaccessibility of the Na Pali coast makes it very dangerous to find and ride the few spots that face the brunt of the winter swells.

When to Go

Between October and March, 3-30ft W to N swells hit Kauai with periods around 15-20 seconds! From April to September, the South Shore gets long distance 2-8ft SW groundswell from the South Pacific. Year-round, 3-8ft constant NE windswell can be ridden on the windward side. Because the island is round, many swells refract around the coast. Stable NE-E trade winds vary from 27% (Dec) to 58% (Aug), with winter turning more SE. Occasionally kona S/SW winds provide perfect conditions for the North Shore. Tide ranges are slight but the coral reefs are particularly sharp.

Surf Spots

Tunnels is typically North Shore, where the wild, localised and sharky rights can be totally epic, breaking over sharp, live coral a long way from shore. Hanalei Bay is the focus of Kauai surfing, providing a range of waves in a small area. Below deluxe Princeville Resort is the righthand pointbreak that everyone wants to ride, crowding the sections of Impossible, Flat Rock and The Bowl on all sizes of board. Well-protected from the wind, it handles size but itÕs a very long paddle and of course, the locals are aggressive. Further round the bay thereÕs average beachbreaks and some good reefs like Waikoko, Middles and Chicken Wing, or Hideaways further out in Princeville. The latter sits at the base of high cliffs and holds fun, scattered reefbreaks when small and not windy but has had a shark attack. Nestled beneath impressive cliffs is Kalihiwai, where even the best surfers can get thrashed by misjudging the elevator drop take-off or the intense, disproportionately massive barrels. Few people are permitted to partake. The Kilauea lighthouse marks entry to the rainy, onshore east coast, with low cliffs and extended valleys, aka the Coconut Coast. Unreals at Anahola is a right pointbreak working consistently on the regular E windswells and kona winds blow offshore. KealiaÕs small, powerful (but predominantly onshore) waves can be a fun session and check Horners in Wailua, a traditional surfing locale for centuries. Wealthy beginners or longboarders might enjoy KalapakiÕs gentle reefbreak whilst staying at the Marriott right on the beach. Poipu is the best place to stay with lots of cheaper condos and close to several always offshore breaks. ItÕs bodyboarding only at Brenneckes, but PKÕs lefts, Acid DropÕs short barrelling rights and CenterÕs treacherous righthand reefbreak are for experts only. The SW corner cloaks a few secrets plus the long perfect lefts of Infinities at Pakala. Will handle the bigger summer S swells while sharks, locals and sharp reef help regulate the crowd. Various quality reefs straddle the coast near Kekaha like Davidson Point. The Pacific Missile Range Base dominates the long and empty west coast beaches through Barking Sands up to Majors Bay and beyond to Polihale. Incredibly powerful beachbreaks with terrifying rips to match where one ride can equate to a long walk down the beach. On the horizon is Niihau, where only full-blooded Hawaiians are permitted to live a traditional existence with no electricity, no phones, no cars, no roads, no hotels...but there is surf!


dominant swell NW -NE NW -NE NW -NE NW -NE NW -NE NW -NE
swell size (ft) 7-8 6-7 3-4 4 5-6 7-8
consistency (%) 90 80 60 70 80 90
dominant wind NE -SE NE -E NE -E NE -E NE -E NE -SE
average force F4 F4 F4 F4 F4 F4
consistency (%) 63 66 76 88 77 77
water temp (C) 24 24 25 26 27 25
wetsuit boardshorts boardshorts boardshorts boardshorts boardshorts boardshorts

Travel Information

Though Kauai's climate is tropical, it consists of seven micro-climates ranging from dry, desert, sunny areas, lush river valleys, balmy foothills and high mountain rain forests. Temps range in 20-25°C (68-77°F), with winter night lows above 15°C (59°F). Summer brings day temps in the 25-30°C (77-86°F) and night lows KauaiÕs seven micro-climates range from dry, desert, sunny areas, lush river valleys, balmy foothills and high mountain rain forests. Winter temps range 15¡C (59¡F) nights to 25¡C (77¡F) days, while summer is 20¡C (68¡F) and 30¡C (86¡F) respectively. The North Shore is 3-4¡C (6-8¡F) cooler than other parts. Trade winds bring rain to the eastern slopes, while the Waialeale summit is the wettest spot in the world, with a record of 11680mm (467Óin) in the Ô60s! Boardies all year!

Lodging and Food
First timers may prefer package deals. The Marriott at Kalapaki starts at $480/dble and the prestigious Princeville Resort in Hanalei also costs as much as a surfboard per night. On the North Shore, try Hale HoÕo Maha in Kalihiwai: from $220/dble. Sheraton in Poipu ($315/dbl) or rent the condos. Expect $30 for a meal. Princeville is reportedly the most expensive supermarket in the USA.

Nature and Culture
While the nightlife canÕt rival HonoluluÕs, the natural beauty is unbeatable. Visit Waimea Canyon or Kokee State Park, kayak along the Wailua River, take a Na Pali Cruise or walk the Kalalau trail, fly in a helicopter above Niihau or Na Pali cliffs.

In the Shop..