Photo by Brenda Yun
Female surfers do not have to look far to find the source of their inspiration. Stephanie Gilmore and Carissa Moore appear to be paving a new path, reminding us that girls can be amazing surfers too.
Nevertheless, it was only fifty years ago that women began to break into the surf scene with figures like Gidget and the “Queen of the Makaha,” Rell Sun. Those women, as well as the upcoming female surfers today, demonstrate a clearly feminine approach to surfing. Gidget and Sun did just what Gilmore and Moore are doing now: showing off a kind of gracefulness that male surfers only wish they possessed.
Even if we aren’t the up-and-coming Coco Ho’s of today’s surfing world, more and more of us are taking up this sport which has so far been dominated by men. One look at any line-up illustrates how girls want to have fun in the water just as much as men do.
Just this summer during a south swell at Bowls, I observed local girls taking the biggest sets of the day from the boys, who just looked back and watched with envy. Girls are no longer intimidated by the guys; they are now the ones doing the intimidating.
Surfing is no longer an activity just for adventurous go-getters. It is something that can get you in touch with an amazing natural wonder and force. As women are finding this sport more appealing, they might not be the minority in the water for much longer.
The south shore of Oahu is really the ideal surfing playground for girls. Nowhere in the world will you find upwards of fifty different breaks on one side of a small Pacific island. Indonesia may be cheaper or Mexico less crowded, but paddling up to any lineup on the south shore you will find a combination of five things that make up the criteria for my top ten south shore spots for surfer chicks:
People — While the north and west sides of Oahu are a bit more notorious for localism, it still exists on the south shore. Girls rarely get into trouble because we tend to be eye candy for the guys and are therefore treated as such: sweetly. Regardless, it’s always nice to be around people who are friendly and can even strike up conversation with you as complete strangers.
Wave Quality — The quality of the wave depends heavily on the wind and general conditions. Girls are less competitive in the water because we’re mostly out there to have fun, but we want to have a mellow, relaxed time with very little possibility of drowning.
Shower — Who wants to be salty after a long surf session? Showers — albeit cold, particularly the ones in Waikiki — make life much easier. They also make your shirts feel less itchy when you’ve changed out of your wet bikini.
Water Quality — Let’s face it, girls prefer clean conditions, which includes the quality of the water. Unlike guys who surf in seaweed and brown water, girls want to be able to get their heads wet without stinking — or worse, being able to taste the stink in their mouths.
Sand & Beach — While it might look cool jumping off a cliff to get to your favorite break, it’s much easier having a sandy beach to paddle out from and in to.
Leave it to Hawaiians to add an ‘s’ on the names of their surf breaks. One of the first things you will learn about Hawaii is the influence of pidgin, a kind of slang that you will find on most Polynesian islands. Pidgin effects everyday talk and life as we know it, making communication and interactions casual and relaxed. In most cases, the ‘s’ at the end doesn’t mean there are multiple surf breaks. It just means they’re “cool like that.”
These spots are listed by location from east to west.
1. Toes/Secrets — This spot is perfect for more experienced surfers who are not afraid of shallow reef. The lack of major crowds and decent waves make it worth a try when you want to escape the hustle and bustle of Honolulu. This part of the island tends to have strong sideshore winds, so it’s best to go on a rare Kona wind day. Longboarders prefer to surf here.
There is free parking in the Kawaihui Beach Park, located at Kalanianaole Highway and Pu’u’ikena Drive. Looking out, Toes is the break to the left of the channel; Secrets is straight out or to the right of the channel.
2. Cliffs — You’re never alone out at Cliffs, and someone will always be watching you from atop the lookouts along Diamond Head Road. Cliffs is a combination of three breaks that are a bit difficult to differentiate. Sometimes it breaks all over the place and other days are clean with sets rolling in all the way out from the horizon. The inside is a bit shallow at low tide. Cliffs always tends to be the biggest break on the south shore due to wind swell. It’s also very popular with windsurfers, and therefore should be avoided on windy days.
Park along Diamond Head Road by the three lookouts. There is a paved path along the cliffside down to the beach. You can paddle straight out through the channel by the shower or, a bit easier method would be to lug your board down the east end of the beach and paddle out from the exposed reef.
3. Tonggs — This is the ideal surf spot for beginners. It is also the most female-friendly spot on this list. It’s so friendly that girls are almost guaranteed to get smiled at, hit on, or asked on a date. The break itself is a very gentle left. It has a Waikiki feel without the extreme crowds at spots like Queens or Canoes. There is no shower, so you’ll have to deal with being salty.
There is free parking within the small residential neighborhood. If you don’t have any luck, pay a few quarters in the easier-to-find metered parking by the east end of Kapiolani Park. Paddle out from the tiny beach access off of Kalakaua by Coconut Avenue.
4. Publics — This is a great wave for longboarders and, although in Waikiki, tends to be less crowded. Beware: at low tide this spot is so patchy that the coral sticks out of the water and is therefore dangerous. It is ONLY a left-hand break. If you go right, you will surf right into a rock.
Park in metered spots near the tennis courts in Kapiolani Park and paddle out in front of the concession stand by lifeguard stand 2F, to the left of the jetty.
5. Pops — This is the far less-crowded alternative to Queens and Canoes in the middle of Waikiki. Although a very far paddle to the break, and therefore a longboarding wave, it’s a really pleasant spot with a sandy bottom and a great view of Waikiki.
Paddle out from the beach by the Duke Kahanamoku statue. Keep paddling; it takes about ten minutes to get to the break. The showers in Waikiki are the coldest on the island — almost as if the water’s been refrigerated, but after all that paddling the water will feel refreshing.
6. Threes — Threes is a great right-hander and it has the Waikiki feel with blue water and a sandy bottom without having the enormously crowded line-up. It does get reefy on the inside. The surfers here are less territorial than their Kaiser Bowls neighbors. This spot only breaks on bigger days.
There are two options to get here. From Waikiki, paddle out from the beach by the Halekulani Hotel; this is the shorter paddling option, but you have to pay to park in the hotel’s garage. From the Ala Wai Boat Harbor, jump off the wall towards Kaiser Bowls and paddle to its left; this paddle is much longer, but parking is currently free by the boat harbor in front of the Hilton Hawaiian Hotel.
7. In-Betweens — This is the only case where the ‘s’ signifies plurality. There are actually two different “In-Between” breaks located by the Ala Wai Boat Harbor. One is between Kaisers and Rockpiles and the other is between Rockpiles and Ala Moana Bowls. This is a great option because the people are spread out between five breaks. Most prefer the real thing (Kaisers, Rockpiles, Bowls), so In-Betweens is never crowded. The water here gets downright dirty during sewage overflows because of its proximity to the harbor mouth.
Currently there is free parking by the harbor, but it will likely change to metered spaces due to tourist development in the area. Paddle out from the small beach by the boat jetty.
8. Courts — The spots out from Ala Moana Beach Park require a bit of a paddle and a short walk along the sandy path in the reef at low tide. Courts is the most gentle wave in this area and draws more of a longboarding crowd. The wave breaks in deep water, so it slopes and bowls up nicely.
There is free parking in Ala Moana Beach Park. This is a very popular weekend picnic spot, so if you want less of a crowd go during the week. There are plenty of showers and opportunities for people watching. Paddle out from the tennis courts.
9. Concessions/Big Rights — Just a little farther west along Ala Moana Beach Park, you will find these two breaks right next to each other but separated by a small channel. To get to the break, it’s best to paddle quickly through the channel. Concessions is on your left and breaks left into the channel; Big Rights is on your right and breaks right into the channel. Concessions as a wave is a bit more forgiving than Big Rights, which is steeper, faster, and has a more of a shortboarder population.
Parking, atmosphere, and crowd are just like Courts. Paddle out from the concession stand by lifeguard stand 1B. There is a sandy trail if you have to walk over the reef; just follow the other surfers who look like they’re walking on water.
10. Kewalos— There’s no beach here, but you can paddle out from the wall pretty easily. More of a left than a right, this wave almost always breaks. It’s less crowded than the Ala Moana breaks and the surfers here are a bit friendlier too. Since Kewalos is close to the mouth of Kewalo Basin, the water can sometimes smell downright fishy.
There is plenty of free parking at Kewalo Basin Park. Walk to the east side of the covered picnic benches, climb down the lava rock wall, tiptoe along the sandy path in the reef and paddle straight out.
South Shore Surf Tips
*Don’t be afraid to talk to the locals. They are usually very friendly!
*When you get out to the break, find a landmark on shore to keep you from drifting.
*Always follow surf etiquette, especially the right-of-way rule when catching a wave.
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Brenda Yun is a freelance writer based in Honolulu, Hawaii. When she's not busy spoiling her pug Iris, she's busy missing Iris because she's traveling the globe. Read about her latest whereabouts on her blog Surf Eat Sleep.