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Stormrider Guide to surfing Maui - Northwest


Honolua Bay, Sylvain Cazenave


+ World-class spots - Swell shadows
+ Thinner crowds than Oahu - Strong trade winds
+ Wind and kitesurfing heaven - Difficult access to some spots
+ Amazing volcanic scenery - High prices

The legendary rights of Honolua and Maalaea are part of surfingÕs heritage and now Jaws, the biggest name of all can be added to MauiÕs list of insane waves. ItÕs an island of contrasts, where lush green valleys give way to arid coastline, tropical fruits and flowers meet barren lava and cactus, beneath the towering peaks that dominate the landscape. The shroud of islands that include Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe block out some swell directions and there is an element of real luck and timing to score the big names, but there is a back-up cast of consistent, quality waves just waiting to keep the locals and visitors stoked.

When to Go

Unfortunately, Maui is sheltered from many of the big SW, W, and NW swells by the smaller neighbouring islands of Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe, and the Big Island creates a very large shadow for the rare SE hurricane generated swells from Central America. Maui receives less swell and more wind than the North Shore on Oahu, but figures for swell consistency are 99% from Nov to Feb, averaging 8-10ft at 12secs. ENE-E trades are dominant and strongest from May to Aug, but winds can be much lighter in the mornings. The N coast needs ESE-S quadrant, but they only blow for 19% of the time in mid winter. Tidal range is small, but can have a drastic effect on shallow spots. Tide tables are widely available in surf shops.

Surf Spots

One of HawaiiÕs most famous summer spots is Maalaea, where a harbour breakwall has created a righthand wave thatÕs considered to be the fastest in the world, but it needs a huge S-SW swell to break and is notoriously fickle. Use an F1 fast board to make the drop, bottom turn and pump into a racetrack so crowded that there will probably be someone dropping in with that chandelier section up ahead. Lahaina breaks all suffer from the split swell window so Shark PitÕs shallow, slabbing lefts like the S-SW swells more and the less hectic rights prefer the N swells. Lahaina Breakwall is an excellent, swell-sucking reef that squeezes snappy left walls and tubes from a S-SW pulse and high performance rights when winter N penetrates the narrow gap between Maui and Molokai. At Lahaina Harbour SW or N swells awaken either low tide rights into the busy boat channel or rapid lefthand, high tide walls. Mala Wharf is a popular longboard and intermediate spot on both S or N swells, as it spokes around a reef opposite the disused concrete pier and shoulders off into deeper water. Roping rights skirt the reef at Rainbows on winter pulses from the north, serving up some barrel action and grunty hooks, plus a shorter, bonus left barrel. Just south is Osterizers, another crisp A-frame that will always have some takers.ÊS-Turns clutch of lava and coral reefs offer some nice peaks in less than perfect conditions and away from the heavy crowds of the surrounding well-known spots. Little Makaha can do a fair impression of its Oahu namesake, with sharp drops into bowly sections down a long point-style reef on the right N swell day when E-SE trades groom the mid tide sessions. A combination of length and ultra-round cylindrical sections set in the beautiful, cliff-lined amphitheatre of Honolua Bay make it the most coveted of Maui spots. The first section, Coconuts, breaks in front of the cliffs with the most size, accompanied by the most wind as the trades are funnelled down the valley. It then hits Outside, a classic barrel before propelling the lucky towards Cave, the hollowest and most crowded section, where it loses size leading into the inner Keiki Bowl. The Bay works on NNE, N, NNW and W swell, while NW swells are blocked by Molokai unless it is big enough to wrap. Honolua is definitely a wave for only the most experienced surfers. The intensity of the crowds matches the North Shore. The clue is in the name andÊWindmills is very exposed to all wind and swell at this due north-facing set of reefs. Long lefts and a couple of rights pound the rocky shoreline and really need calm winds or light S quadrant. Good check on small windswells, but still for advanced riders only, especially at size. A track runs down to a steep and deep bay at Honokohau, where a righthand boulder-strewn reef to the east and some lefts on the other side, will both break on any N swell. By no means perfect and maxes out when above double overhead, but a fun and changeable line-up without the thick crowds of other waves. Watch out for rocks and strong rips at size. Waihee is a broad amalgam of reefy peaks just off the golf course north of Kahului. Aspect means the trades mash the waves so early or kona winds required. Intermediate spot. The built-up area of Kahului has some basic boulder beach peaks at Waiehu, but just to the south, a brace of heavy localised reefs take plenty of N-NE swell, but need S-W winds. If the trades are blowing and the swell is maxing, there just might be a clean wave inside the Kahului Harbor, just a mile south. Water quality not great in this area. Kanaha is the start of the wind corridor, attracting kite and windsurfers to this north-facing stretch of coast near the airport. Usually messy wild peaks roll onto the cross-shore outside reefs for the wind crew, but kona winds can transform both Kanaha and the better reefs up at Sprecklesville into picture perfect left and right walls with tube opportunities. Cleans up a treat in S-W kona winds and gives intermediates a real run for their money. All tides, but higher will see less tubes and close-outs. Baldwin Beach is a real assortment of waves for all types of crafts and abilities ranging from mushy longboard peaks to crunching shoredump. Absorbs plenty of crowd and wind, continuing to break during moderate trades. Consistently breaks through the tide up to headhigh, giving the beginners a chance over the sand and patchy reef foundation. ThereÕs more easy options next door at Paia Bay.ÊKuau is a proper all out barreling left that will challenge most accomplished surfers and often win, thanks to its shallow, unpredictable nature. Easily blown-out and lashed by currents, the long paddle keeps the local crowd down a bit. The sort of break where keeping your feet up seems a good idea.ÊHookipa is home to some of the best wavesailing in the world, so expect strong cross-shore trade winds on most days after 11am. Hookipa is the centre of kite/windsurfing activity in Hawaii, but on windless mornings, this clutch of quality reefbreaks is always rammed. Furthest west is Lanes lefts, then thereÕs shallow rights and lefts at the Point, just next to the main peak of Middles. The sailors are usually forced downwind on the rights, leaving plenty of long, roping lefts for packs of surfers to fight over. Hookipa is super-consistent, year-round, evidenced by the constantly jammed car parks of the Hookipa Beach Park off the Hana Hwy. Rips, rocks and windy-rigs falling from a great height are all part of the deal. The Pavilions section runs down the eastern point, crouched out of the wind and walling up beautifully into the defined channel, making the paddle back out easy. Ultra-performance walls that can barrel off on low, over a well-covered reef. WonÕt handle above double overhead, when Middles starts motoring, and its fun, ripable nature makes it super-popular with the locals, to the exclusion of all others, including the windsurfers. Finally, Peahi Ð Jaws qualifies as the biggest hot spot on the planet! The most notorious spot on Maui is a wave most surfers are extremely unlikely to ride. With the development of tow-in surfing in the early 90Õs, Jaws burst onto the scene, amazing the world with the sheer magnitude of the waves that were being ridden there by a select group of windsurfing and surfing hell-men. As big wave surfing has developed, Jaws has maintained the biggest and baddest tag, providing numerous winners for the XXL awards in almost every category. Takes any N swell, with more W favouring the long lefts, but it is the perfect, house-sized right tubes that most people associate with Jaws. Other waves have been discovered that challenge Jaws on height supremacy, but few can match its steroidal perfection. If you are thinking of tackling this wave, you will need far more knowledge of the spot than we can fit here and proper big wave experience so as not to be a liability in the increasingly zooed line-up. A few of the hazards include trade wind cross-chop and large speed-bump ribs that traverse the face, swatting surfers like bugs on a windshield. The impact zone is a washing machine all the way to the cliffs, regularly pulverizing boards, skis and bodies. Then thereÕs launching at Maliko Gulch, where punching in and out of the closed-out bay is a game of Russian roulette. Take binoculars, a long lens and watch from the cliffs.


dominant swell NW -NE NW -E NE -SW NE -SW NW -E NW -NE
swell size (ft) 7 5 3-4 2-3 4-5 6
consistency (%) 80 60 50 60 50 70
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

Between day and night, winter and summer, temps vary little from a near perfect 25¡C (77¡F). ItÕs the same story in the water, which hovers around 24¡C (75¡F) year-round. The winter surf season has rainy periods, especially on S winds. When NE-E trades blow, skies are usually clear. The west shore is much drier than the easterly windward coast.

Lodging and Food
Accommodation prices are generally higher on Maui than Oahu. Good bases are Haiku or Paia near Hookipa in winter or Lahaina will have plenty of options in summer like Nani Kai Hale (fr $135 dbl). There are a couple of County Parks for camping near Hookipa. Avoid the low surf, tourist resorts on the SW coast around Kihei. Food is also pricey ($35+ per meal) so self catering is a good idea.

Nature and Culture
Haleakala Crater is the worldÕs largest dormant volcano - see the sunrise from the summit. Flat-day activities include mountain biking, windsurfing, diving, and whale watching. For nightlife, head to Lahaina or Kaanapali.

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