Surfing in Maui: A primer

09 October 2019

For many surfers, Hawaii is a dream destination with waves of different sizes hitting its shores all year-round. It has eight primary islands, with each getting a fair share of waves. However, only Kauai, Maui and the Big Island stand out when it comes to wave quality and consistency. 

Of the three islands, Maui seems to be the best breeding ground for surfing talent. Though it’s not the easiest place to surf, if you take time to learn and understand the ocean and its mood, you’ll discover many surfing spots best described as ‘diamonds in the rough.’

If you are planning to travel to Maui and enjoy the ‘Sport of the Kings’ here is every little detail you should be prepared with.

Getting There 

Flying in 

Today, most airlines offer direct flights to Maui. Most Maui visitors arrive through Kahului Airport, which is the main airport in Maui. But there are other smaller airport options, including Kapalua Airport to the West and Hana Airport to the East. Your choice will depend on where you’ll be staying.

You can also fly into Maui through Oahu. You’ll first land at the Honolulu International airport and then take a half-hour flight into Maui. 

There is also the option of taking a ferry or a cruise from the neighboring islands.  But if you plan to do some sight-seeing and get involved in other activities aside from surfing, we recommend taking a flight.

Quick Facts 

Time to Visit

Maui’s coastal temperature is fairly consistent all year round. Because of this, it’s useless trying to decide the best time to visit Maui based on prevailing temperatures. 

Maui only experiences two seasons; winter and summer. And unlike other regions, the temperature differences between the two are minimal. But even then, the seasons affect the condition of the ocean. It can either be rough and dangerous or calm and gentle. Also, different beaches are affected differently.

Generally, the best surfing season in Maui is between January and April, and November and December. If you are a beginner/intermediate surfer, Honolua Bay is perfect for you. If you are a pro in the game, then Peahi-Jaws will serve you with big and exciting waves during the winter.

Water

Water in Maui comes from different sources before it is treated and disinfected in treatment facilities and finally delivered to homes and hotels. In East Maui, the water sources are streams, and in the west, water is sourced underground. Due to the different sources, water in East Maui is softer than that delivered in West Maui.

But regardless of the source, Maui treats its water according to the federal and state standards. The water is tested regularly for safety.

Language

Maui has many different people representing different cultures. And while English (and some Hawaiian, a Polynesian language) are the two official languages, you’ll also find people who speak French, Italian, Spanish, German, Portuguese and many more.

Internet

Even while you are on a surfing holiday, you’ll still need to stay connected. 

Luckily, Maui hotels and accommodations have high-speed internet. But in case you’ll not be staying in a hotel and need to keep in touch with your family or read and reply to emails, you can get a Wi-Fi connection in local restaurants and cafes.

Maui has a strong 4G LTE internet connection. And even better, if you are coming from the U.S, you won’t incur an additional cost of foaming charges for texts, calls, and data. Since Maui is part of a U.S state, Verizon considers it a domestic service.

There’s also the option of buying a Sim Card once you land. There are different options to explore, but you can expect to spend about $30 for 2GB of data that lasts for three weeks.

Plugs

The sockets and power plugs in Hawaii are 'type A' and 'type B.' Type A is common in Central and North America, Japan, and China, and only work with type A plugs. 

Type B plugs look like type A but with an additional point for grounding. A type B socket can work with type A plugs.

The standard voltage in Maui is 120 V, and the power frequency is 60 Hz. If your appliance has a voltage requirement ranging between 110 V and 127 V (as is the case with most electronics made for South America, Canada, and the US), you can plug them indirectly. 

If your country has a standard voltage range of between 220 V and 240 V, then you’ll need to use a voltage converter for safety.

Visa/ Immigration

Every person traveling to the US via air or water requires a show of their passport. As for visas, not everyone needs one. The US has a visa Waiver Program (VWP) that exempts citizens of specific countries from meeting the visa requirement. 

The countries listed in the program include Switzerland, Sweden, Singapore, Norway, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Japan, Ireland, Italy, France, Germany, Australia, the UK, and others. The complete and updated list is available at the http://travel.state.gov/visa. Citizens from these countries can visit the US for a maximum of 90 days without having a visa.

However, the VWP rules state that one should have a return ticket or a ticket to another foreign destination. And because of screening travelers against terror watch lists, the US requires that VWP travelers register with the ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization: https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/) 72 hours before landing in the US. The registration costs about $14.

Visitors from countries that aren’t under the VWP require a visa. To get one, you should have a passport that’s valid for six months longer than the period you intend to stay.

Visa validity varies from one country to another, but the length of time you’ll be permitted to be in Maui will be determined by the officials at the point of entry.

Cash/Payment

Maui’s currency is the US dollar. You can exchange foreign currency at Kahului airport, other island airports, and major resorts. The main credit cards are accepted, and ATMs are everywhere.

Health and Emergency

A Maui vacation is a serious investment for many surfers. Luckily, it’s worth it. However, you should invest in travel insurance even if you’ll be visiting for a week. This is because the famous Obama Care doesn’t cover foreigners, and without travel insurance, health care is expensive. Regular consultation on the island can cost anywhere between $150 and $200.

On the other hand, US citizens should check if their health insurance policy covers their treatments in Maui. 

Also, you don’t need to get vaccinated before your surfing trip to Maui. However, we recommend packing a first aid kit along with some iodine for close encounters with any reefs.

Crime

Maui is not plagued with violence and rampant crimes like other US cities. But like most cities, it has its fair share of angry drivers, drug users, and despicable people who will pick on you for just about anything.

A lot of the crime happening in the island is non-violent and include car break-ins. For this reason, you shouldn’t leave valuables in a rental car, especially when you are parked on hiking trails and beaches. Also, you need to always lock the doors to your condo and hotel room when you are asleep and don’t leave your valuables unattended.

In case you need help, dial 911 to reach the fire department, the police, or call an ambulance.

Getting around

Rent and Go

You’ll have the most freedom to explore Maui beaches and inland spots if you rent a car for about $30 a day. This is a small price to pay for flexibility during your holiday. The best car rentals in Maui include Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, Avis, Thrifty, Advantage, National, and Alamo. These rental options are available from Kahului airport. 

If you are looking for eco-friendly options, you should consider Bio Beetle, which offers electric and biofuel vehicles. 

To rent a car in Maui, you need to be 25 years or older. You also need to ensure that the car you rent has GPS or your phone has a data plan for Google Maps use. You should also consider including collision insurance since Maui has a no-fault law.

Bus

Maui has 13 public bus routes spreading across the central, south, and western sections. The numbers 1, 2, 5, 6, 10, 23, 35 and 40 are from Kahului and service the surrounding region and some points in the west, east, and south.

Six bus lines service the western and southern coast. But the most westerly region is served by a bus system in Upcountry Maui.

A bus ride will cost about $2 and day passes cost $4. The buses operate all week long from 5:30 am to 11 pm.

Taxi

Maui has more taxis at the airport than around the island. But even then, you can call one if you ever need a cab to take you from your hotel to a restaurant, the beach, or the shopping area. 

The standard rate for taxis in Maui is $3 for every mile. As such, you expect the meter to add up fast. You should therefore not rely on taxis for long-distance travel.

Bicycle

Yes, this is an option as well. But it’s not without its fair share of challenges. First, Maui has narrow roads, and the terrain is mountainous and hilly. 

Also, the persistent winds that will delight you as a surfer will be a problem when cycling. If you manage to overlook these challenges, Maui has a lot of stunning scenery and spots to enjoy.

You can rent a bicycle for between $15 and $60 a day depending on the quality and style of the bike.

Budget

Generally, Hawaii is one of the most expensive states in the US. As such, the cost of lodging and food is considerably higher than in other states. For your travel, expect to pay between $10 and $15 for your breakfast and between $15 and $30 for dinner and lunch. If you choose to have drinks and cocktails, the price of dinner increases to between $30 and $50.

The prices of hotels and lodging amenities vary greatly depending on the star rating and where it’s located. However, for a mid-range hotel, you should be prepared to pay anywhere between $200 and $300 a night for two.

If you opt for a condo, cottage, or apartment, the price is between $100 and $200 a night. The cost of accommodation reduces if you are willing to stay off the beach.

For entertainment, movie tickets cost between $25 and $35 per adult. Luckily, with all the sunbathing, swimming and surfing amenities available in Maui, you’ll always have access to free entertainment.

Where to stay and areas

When choosing hotels in Maui, consider proximity to surfing spots.  While Maui doesn’t have as many surfing spots as Oahu, it has a handful of spots complete with all surfing amenities that will blow you away.

Ka’anapali beach

One of the best beginner surfer spots in Maui is on Ka’anapali beach. The northern portion of the beach is adorned by cliffs, which make it perfect for cliff jumping and snorkeling. And the southern part of the beach is ideal for surfing as they break off the reefs. The best times to learn is between 8 am, and 9 am when the winds are not as strong.

The Lahaina Breakwall

The Lahaina Breakwall is shallow and perfect for surfing. However, it is almost always crowded. Surfers frequent this spot because it has consistent waves in all of South Maui and is protected from the wind.

The Guardrails

The Guardrails (named so because of the guardrail on the highway) is the darling of private Maui surfing schools. Unfortunately, the location is not close to rental shops.

Ukumehame Beach Park

Another spot with many surf schools in Maui is the Ukumehame Beach Park. The long waves on the beach require long paddles to ride them to the reef’s edge. The perfect times to surf on this spot is early morning before it gets windy.

The Kihei Cove

The Kihei Cove is the only surfing spot that is ideal for beginners along the Wailea coastline. Though the waves are smaller than those in other beach spots, there are many surf schools in Maui. The waves here are largest during the summer and surfers frequent this spot all year long.

Honolua Bay and Hookipa beach

Experienced surfers can catch some waves or treat themselves to pro surfing action at Honolua Bay, and at Hookipa beach close to Lower Paia during the big wave season in winter.

Top guides and operators

Maui Sport Adventures

Maui Sports Adventures takes you through the best surf spots and teaches you the tides and currents. They also show you how to surf the waves and introduce you to the best local surfers line ups. The guides in the camp are champion athletes that live in Maui and have experience with the waves. 

The Seven days of Paradise SUP & SURF Retreat surf seven days and six nights. Aside from surfing, the seven-day surf camp Maui includes diving, hiking, fishing, and swimming.

  • Language: English
  • Location: Maui
  • Surf level: Beginner, Advanced, intermediate
  • Cost: $1650

The 7 Days The WaterMan SUP & SURF Camp is also organized by Maui Sports Adventures as well. You can expect amazing private surf and SUP lessons, including a surfboard of your liking and other surfing equipment. 

You will enjoy the camp at a private getaway at the Schweitzer Family compound. This compound is adorned by a bungalow which has a surf theme and is located just one kilometer from the best surf beach in Maui.

The surf camp price includes six private sup or surf lessons, two boards that you like for a week, video coaching and an Instagram video, accommodation for six nights and dinner once you arrive. The styles covered include stand up paddling and surfing.

  • Price: $2600
  • Location: Lahaina Hawaii
  • Language: English

Soul Surfing Maui Surf Camp

This camp is the best way to spoil your colleagues, family, and friends and ignite a lasting passion for surfing. It is a five-day camp focused on shaping surfing beginners. It is a personalized surf camp where Brian (the trainer) is hands-on with the students. 

He surfs with the students daily in beautiful settings. The classes are done in less stressful surf locations where there is lots of room, and you don’t have to worry about crashing into another surfer.

Also, you don’t have to bring surfing gear as they’ll be provided as well. The best bit is that they offer you with equipment that matches your skill level.

  • Location: Maalaea Bay Pi, Wailuku
  • Level: Beginner
  • Price: Upon Request
  • Language: English

Gear and packing

Maui is a tropical island, which means that the climate is fairly mild all year-round. The coldest months are January and December, but even during these months, the temperatures are still higher than in other parts of the US. Actually, during winter in the rest of the US, it’s summer in Maui. Because of this, you should pack light clothing. And to have the best time surfing the waves on Maui beaches, you should also carry;

  • A GoPro
  • Sunglasses
  • Rashguards
  • Flip flops
  • Surfboard

Speaking of surfboards, you can rent one in Maui. The boards come in different sizes, shapes, and colors, and the renting price is about $25 a week and $90 a month. If you plan to bring your surfboard, we advise checking with your airline first as some won't allow you to carry a surfboard.

Food and drinks

Being an island, you expect to come across some uncommon dishes. But because of the different words used to describe the cuisine, it can be confusing. 

The most popular foods in Maui can be grouped into three.

Luau Foods

  • Haupia – This is a coconut custard dessert that is creamy and rich
  • Kalua Pig – This is a pork dish. However, it’s prepared differently from your common pork. Maui locals place hot rocks inside a pig and place it in an underground oven (imu). They then add salt to the imu to elevate the taste of the pork
  • Chicken Luau – This is chicken prepared in taro leaves and coconut milk
  • Poi – This is the traditional staple food in Hawaii, which is made from a plant known as taro
  • Lomi Salmon – This is a cold salad prepared with salted raw salmon, tomatoes and different kinds of onions

Seafood and Fish

  • Monchong – This is a deepwater fish that is marinated and grilled
  • Mahi-mahi – This is also referred to as dorado or dolphin fish
  • Ahi – This is tuna that is often used raw in Poke and Sashimi dishes. The Ahi can also be grilled, baked, seared or blackened

Other Island foods

  • Loco Moco – This consists of a meat patty, an egg, gravy, and rice. It’s loved by Maui natives because of its healthy qualities
  • Kulolo – This is basically steamed taro pudding
  • Manapua – This is a bun that is stuffed with meat. It is either steamed or baked

Below are some of the top drinks you should try:

  • Pina Colada – Although this drink doesn’t originate from the Hawaiian Islands, it has made a home for itself here. It is a sweet cocktail that is made with coconut cream or milk, rum, and pineapple juice. It is served blended or shaken with ice
  • Blue Hawaii – This is a cocktail of pineapple juice, rum, sweet and sour mix, and blue Curacao. At times, they add vodka to the mix as well
  • The Chi-Chi – This is similar to the Pina Colada. It is made with pineapple juice, Pau Maui Vodka, coconut milk and a tablespoon of powdered sugar

What to see and do

Road to Hana

This is a curvy road leading to Hana and hugs the northeastern Maui shore. If you have a rented car, the view of the ocean and the beach from a distance will make for memorable experiences. 

The road is 52 miles long and stretches into Hawaii. It is adorned by 56 bridges, 46 of which have single lanes.

Haleakala National Park

This is the highest point in all of Maui. It’s also one of the most visited. The Haleakala Crater found in this park has a beautiful view of the island from an elevation point of 10,000ft. 

The visitor center is ideal for customizing your adventure. Whether you are driving through with a rented car, a tour van or backpacking on the Sliding Sands Trail, you are bound to have a blast. However, layer up your clothing as things can get tricky from this elevation.

Seven Sacred Pools at Ohe’o

The Seven Sacred pools at Ohe’o aren’t actually sacred. Moreover, they aren’t seven, but twelve, and during the rainy season, they are more. However, if you are looking for a waterfall playground, then this is the best place to visit. There are several trails that you can hike on, including the Pipiwai Trail, which has an 800 feet elevation and stretches for 2 miles.

Kula Botanical Garden

This space was created as a pant reserve in 1977. Over the years, it transformed into a botanical garden. Today, the Kula Botanical garden is one of the most loved attractions that receives thousands of tourists every year. The garden is located on the slopes of Haleakala which are covered by fertile volcanic soil.

Makena Cove

This spot is hidden between several houses and is behind a stone wall. Makena Cove gives the feeling of rediscovery. And while many surfers visit Makena Beach (which is right to the north), very few take steps to this point where the sea kisses the volcanic rocks.

Go snorkeling

This is one of the most fun activities in Maui. The beauty of it is that it’s available on many beaches. You can explore the waters of Maui’s coastline and hang out with fish and turtles. It will be like you’ve visited a different world.

MauiGrown Coffee

Maui has more than 500 acres of coffee plantations. Driving through West Maui, your eyes will feast on a perfect green landscape at Kaanapali Coffee Farms. This is where MauiGrown coffee is grown and harvested before it makes its way to the company stores and café. 

You can taste the different local roasts and pick fresh beans while at it.

Explore the Lahaina Historic Trail

Lahaina Town has more than 500 years of history spread out on it. You can start the walk down memory lane at the Baldwin Home Museum (which is currently the oldest surviving house on Maui Island) and then visit the courthouse and the lighthouse before finally getting to the 

Banyan tree

The Banyan tree is more than 145 years old. It has more than 16 trunks and is 60 feet high. It’s by far the largest Banyan tree in the US.

Maui Whale Festival

In 2020, Maui Whale festival will be celebrating 40 years of whale advocacy and education. It will be doing this as it grants the public access to view these mammals during humpback whale seasons. 

You can grab a pair of binoculars and sit by the shores. The Marine Naturalists can help you spot the whales.

Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice

There are more than 50 flavors of shave ice to enjoy; it’s hard to choose just one. So rather than trying, go for at least three flavors. You can combine guava and passion or orange with mango for a refreshing taste. You can also try a mix of lime, pineapple, and coconut.

Common questions

What is the best beginner surfing spot in Maui?

Maui boasts of the best beginner surf spots in Maui than any other Island in Hawaii. The features of a good beginner surfing space include easy access, friendly, non-competitive vibe in the waters, absence of dangerous rip tides, rocks, and reefs. Examples of such surfing spots include:

  • The cove –This surf spot is located at Kalama Beach in Kihei. It is a smaller version of Waikiki. Though it’s often crowded, it gets smaller waves throughout the year. The waves break in the shallow waters.

  • Launiupoko – This is a family-friendly surf spot located in West Maui. It is accessible from the Honoapiilani Highway, which is 10 minutes away from Lahaina.

  • Puamana Beach Park – This one is located to the south of Lahaina. It experiences short and closeout waves, meaning that they break suddenly rather than from the left to the right or vice versa.

  • Grandma’s – This surf spot is close to a campground. The waves are a few feet from Papalaua Park.

What is the best surfing school in Maui?

If you visit Maui, it is expected that you will want to learn how to surf. There are more than 20 surf schools in Maui. The surf school you choose should be the best on several grounds.

First, the school should have an experienced team of staff. Most surf schools in Maui have websites that have short biographies of the instructors. The instructors should have years of experience in surfing as well as teaching. Look for proper certification, ASI or ISA.

Aside from that, the spot that the school picks to teach you how to surf should have gentle waves and a calm breeze. This makes it easier to learn and gain confidence in the surfboard.

And lastly, the class size shouldn’t be too big. The ideal student to instructor ratio should be 4:1. They should also allow you to book a private lesson.

Some of the best surfing schools in Maui include;

  • Hawaiian Paddle Sports
  • Maui Surfer Girls
  • Maui Waveriders
  • Zack Howard Surf