When visiting Maui for water sport activities it’s important to know which beaches and coastlines will fit your preferred sport, skill level and conditioning. The north shore is what we call the windward side which gets the larger waves and is directly exposed to the trade winds. The south shore gets trade winds in the afternoons but most wave action is blocked by the nearby island of Lana’i and Kahoolawe. Surf on this side is usually mellow with large shorebreak and some outside breaks during winter wells. The west side is more consistent throughout the year for rideable surf and can get downright huge in the wintertime. Finally the Hana side has some surf breaks but they can be nasty in rough conditions and are known for dangerous rogue waves, rip currents and sharp lava rock.
Here is a list of the top beaches of Maui for ocean sport activities…
The beaches of the north shore are most well known for surfing, windsurfing and Kiteboarding. In fact whole areas have been designated for each sport to reduce congestion so it’s important to learn where these are.
Hookipa Beach – Surf, Windsurf
A few miles past Paia is Hookipa Bay. Known for decades as the “windsurfing capital of the world” Hookipa is a mecca for visiting professional windsurfers and up and coming athletes (mostly residents) who relish the steady trade winds and large swells. Several large international contests are held at Hookipa annually for both windsurfing and surfing events as well as smaller local contest throughout the year. If you’re standing on Hookipa beach you’ll see that surfers are on the right side of the bay and windsurfers are on the left. You may also see families enjoying the beach and near shore waters on the weekends. Turtles (and sometimes Hawaiian Monk seals) will often haul up on the beach amongst the beachgoers for some sun. Please keep your distance and do not approach them as it is illegal to harass turtles or Monk seals.
Baldwin Beach – Shore Break and Skimming
On the other side of Paia towards Kahului is Baldwin Beach Park. Popular among residents, Baldwin Beach is a large with a community building, showers, a lifeguard and lots of parking. This is mostly a shore break kind of beach with a strong undertow so be careful. You’ll see plenty of kieki (kids) playing in the shore break with skim boards or boogie boards while the adults and teenagers hang out on this wide beach. On the far right hand side of Baldwin is a small cove where the “hippies” hang out with dogs and kids in tow but there may be a few topless sunbathers so if your the modest type stay an the larger left hand side of the beach.
Kanaha Beach – Kite Surfing and Windsurfing
Kanaha Beach stretches for over a mile from the very close by Kahului Airport at the eastern end and nearly reaches Kahului Harbor on it’s western end. It is one of the most popular areas for wind surfers and kiteboarders in the world! This is because Maui is the windiest of the Hawaiian Islands with the central plains of the island (located between two volcanic mountains) creating a wind tunnel effect that blows straight at Maui’s north shore. This also creates a variety of conditions for different levels of riders and many types of watercraft. The reef is somewhat offshore making for calm waters on the inside and progressively larger waves and stronger winds the farther out you go. In the winter the outer reefs are for experts only.
The far western end has sandy beaches and is designated for kiteboarders. The central part of the shoreline is for windsurfers and the eastern end has a small cove for beginners. Within all these areas are small coves were families will come with their kids for swimming, fishing and outrigger canoe paddling. Please give all these types of users right of way when sailing or surfing this area of the island.
Kihei Fish Pond – Kite Surfing
North Kihei runs roughly from Sugar Beach near Maalaea to Azeka’s Shopping Center. There are multiple beach parks along this stretch of shoreline were the trade winds blow in the afternoons making it an ideal spot for speed demons on both windsurfing and kiteboarding rigs. Parking is just off the road next to the Pacific Whale Sanctuary buildings.
Central Kihei – The Cove, Kamaole I, II and III – Snorkel and Shore Break
Starting from Kalama Beach Park near Foodland in central Kihei there are a string of beaches with great near shore reefs for snorkeling in the summer and shorebreak bodysurfing and boogie boarding in the winter months. Right next to Kalama Park is a small and shallow surf break known as The Cove. Perfect for beginners, there are several surf shops across the street with instructors and/or gear rental. Heading down South Kihei Road are Kamaole Beaches I, II and III. All have great facilities and can have overhead shorebreak in the winter months so be careful as the inexperienced have been injured in the huge breakers.
Wailea – SUP, Snorkel, Dive
Farther south past central Kihei is the resort areas of Wailea. The beaches are fairly small with rocky outcroppings in between making for excellent snorkeling and diving with some nice outside waves for short boarding during the larger winter swells. Public access to beaches is guaranteed by law in Hawaii but public parking is limited so get there early or be prepared to walk a bit to get to the beach. This area is popular with SUP paddlers as the trade winds don’t arrive here till late afternoons.
Makena “Big Beach” – Skimming and Surfing at Little Beach
One of the most popular beaches on the island, especially with south shore residents, Makena Beach is Maui’s largest continuous beach at just over 1 mile long. The beach is huge and it’s a bit of a hike from the parking areas to the ocean. It’s sandy bottom rises sharply at the beach making for some big shorebreak and perfect conditions for skimboarding. A strong undertow exists here also so be aware during larger swells. A rocky cliff climbing hike on the north end of Makena will take you over the edge of a cinder cone to Little Beach, Maui’s only nude beach. Just off shore on the left side of this beach is a mellow near shore surf break that can have some nice head high barrels in the winter months.
On the way to Lahaina you’ll drive through the winding “Pali Highway” high on the sothwestern cliffs of the island. As you come back down to sea level on the other side of the Pali heading towards the west side is a beach park on the left side of the road known as Thousand Peaks. Mellow and long swells roll into this beach making it perfect for beginners and longboard surfing. The nearby West Maui Mountains block the wind which keeps the surf smooth and glassy. Keep an eye out for the next mile or so along the highway as countless offshore breaks can fire at any time. It’s a spooking place to turn across traffic to park on this busy highway so it’s best to go past this beach park and turn around at safer spots ahead to find parking along this stretch of coastline.
Launiupoko Beach Park
Just before entering Lahaina is Launiupoko Beach Park. There is a traffic light here so it’s an easy in and out. It’s another smooth and mellow offshore surf break that’s also popular with SUP paddlers. The parking is ample but it’s also very popular with resident families and it’s not uncommon to see large gatherings and kids birthday parties here. There’s a small rock walled cove perfect for introducing small kids and babies to Maui’s warm waters.
DT Flemings Beach
Past Lahaina town are several resort areas in the Kaanapali and Napili areas of west Maui. The beaches here are stunning with plenty of shorebreak and calm coves for SUP, kayaking and snorkeling. However the larger breaks are down the road past all these on the Kapalua side at places like Kapalua Bay and DT Flemings Beach. This part of west Maui is more exposed to the larger northerly swells, creating both large barrels on the outside and big shorebreaks on the inside. Rocky peninsulas on either end of DT Flemings Beach funnel the waves toward shore and can get huge during winter swells. For the real big stuff (experts only) you’ll have to head further down the road to Honolua Bay.
Known more as a Marine Sanctuary, Honolua Bay is huge and has historical significance with ancient Hawaii as well as modern times. Ancient village ruins and burial sights have been found all along this forested coastline so please be respectful of this sacred part of Maui. Pineapple plantations covered the fields above Honolua for nearly a century and today it’s been preserved as open space. Honolua Bay is a top snorkel, diving, kayaking and outrigger canoe location for tour companies and boats. The normally calm and wind protected bay can really jack up with big swells in the winter months. Getting to the break requires a tough cliffside hike down to the rocky northeastern edge at the open ocean entrance of the bay. Experienced riders only for these big barreling waves and remember – never surf alone!
The lush eastern side of Maui is accessible only by one road. It follows the coastline around the base of Haleakala volcano through rainforested valleys and past dozens of waterfalls while navigating some 600 hairpin turns and crossing over 50 one lane bridges. Even though it’s just under 70 miles to drive around this side of the island, a trip to this side of the island will take around 10 to 12 hours! This is because there is so much to see and experience along what has been rated as one of the top 5 scenic drives in the world – the road to Hana!
Beaches along the road to Hana are few but are also some of the most beautiful and well known of Maui’s beaches. The most iconic is Hana’s black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park. It’s a small cove surrounded by lava cliffs and there is no surf spots here as it’s too small but swimming and fishing are popular. It’s worth a stop just for the raw beauty of the place and the park has picnic areas, bathrooms, camping areas and cabins for rent.
Hamoa and Koki
A few miles past Hana town is a small peninsula with two beaches on either side. On the right side of the peninsula is Hamoa Beach and on the left side is Koki Beach (facing the ocean). Both can be a great stop for surfing and swimming depending on weather and ocean conditions.
This area is a mixture of ancient Hawaiian homelands with sacred fish ponds, vacation rental properties and a beach pavilion. Turning off the road at the Hamoa beach sign brings you down to this unique part of the Hana coastline. Offshore sits a small island with just a few coconut trees perched on it’s high peak. The landscape is stunning and the beaches are pristine.
Hamoa Beach has a pavilion and bathrooms but parking is minimal and the trail down to it is fairly steep. However the water and waves are wonderful on this sandy bottom beach with a mellow shore break and nice sets outside when the surf is up.
Koki Beach is a bit larger than Hamoa with rock outcroppings on either end. It’s also very flat in that you can walk nearly 100 yards out and still only be in waist deep water. This shallow surf break can become dangerous in larger swells so this is considered an intermediate to advanced surf or swim spot. Either way it’s a beautiful spot to just hang out on and admire the stunning views too!
Maui Beaches: Maui has the right mix of sandy and rocky coastline. The rocky reefs create the ideal seascape, and the sandy beaches provide great access to the ocean. There are different beaches for different conditions and skill levels. The Beaches of the north shore are most well known for windsurfing. The north shore is the windward coastline, and gets the brunt of the trade winds, and the large winter waves. https://www.actionsportsmaui.com/maui-windsurfing-guide/
The western end of Kanaha Beach is known (unto kiteboarders) as “Kite Beach”, the locals actually call this area NASKA. The proper name for this beach is Kanaha Beach. Kiters must be aware that they share the water and beaches here with many other users, and kiters never have the exclusive use of any area (despite the name).
LOCATION: Located just a few minutes from Kahului Airport, Kanaha beach offers a variety of conditions to suit different levels of riders and many different types of watercraft. At Kanaha’s western end there are several curved sandy beaches to launch kites from.
ABOUT MAUI: Maui is the windiest of the Hawaiian islands and has more kitable wind days than many other kiteboarding destinations around the world. The valley in central Maui creates a wind tunnel effect that funnels the wind into Kanaha beach, improving its direction and strength.
In summer, the side-onshore winds tend to push loose gear and riders back towards shore. The area closest to the beach lies inside a shallow reef, keeping the water relatively flat in the inshore area. A little farther out from shore the waves start to break on the reef and create better conditions for intermediate and advanced riders. In winter, the largest waves breaking on the outside reef are strictly for expert riders only. The wind at Kanaha beach can blow all year round. The steadiest and strongest winds blow through the summer months.
In winter the winds can be more diverse, and larger kites are often used. Occasionally Kona winds will blow from the south, creating an offshore wind at Kanaha. In Winter there can be long stretches without wind that can last for several days to a week. But there are plenty of other things to enjoy on the island if the wind doesn’t blow.
NO AMENITIES: Kanaha Beach is pretty raw, and there are not many facilities for Kiters at the western end of the beach, a few porta-potties, and no showers, or water. So bring your own water, bring your own lunch, always lock your car and watch your gear. And if possible take your car keys with you when you ride.
The most popular windsurfing beach in the state is Kanaha Beach Park, Kanaha offers may different areas for windsurfing and other sports.