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Tip: A bird sanctuary island that is 3 miles off Maui's south shore.
Beaches on Oahu
There are plenty of ways to get wet on Oahu. But before you pick from the island’s long list of water adventures, go find a beach any beach and just kick back.
The island’s 112 miles of coastline is graced with more than 130 beaches, strands of golden sand that slope gently into the sun-sparkled, sapphire-blue water of the warm Pacific. Since the waters off Oahu are unpredictable, people are urged to swim at guarded beaches.
Here are some water safety tips worth remembering: consult lifeguards about ocean conditions before entering the water; heed all warning signs; never swim alone; never go out farther than you can swim; if you see someone in distress call for a lifeguard or dial 911; know your limits if in doubt, don’t go out; and never take what you can’t carry (leave your valuables at home.)
Skin precautions are also recommended. Adjust to the sun gradually and use a broad-spectrum sunblock cream or lotion with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15, maybe 21 or higher. (Many Oahu lifeguards use 30+ SPF.)
Assuming you’re in Waikiki, you’ll find a 2-mile string of a dozen beaches just outside your doorstep. They stretch from the Ala Wai Yacht Basin to Diamond Head and are known as Kuhio, Sans Souci, Gray’s and Kahanamoku. Ala Moana Beach Park, just west of Waikiki, is a favorite of local residents.
Another popular South Shore beach is Hanauma Bay Nature Park on Kalaniana’ole Highway just past Hawaii Kai in East Honolulu. Hanauma Bay is great for snorkeling and sunbathing, but expect it to be crowded. Back on the highway headed east, you’ll travel along a rugged swell-splashed coastline interrupted first by Sandy Beach and then by Makapu’u. Both beaches are beautiful, but sometimes treacherous. (Lifeguards make more rescues at these two beaches than anywhere else in Hawaii.)
Continue on down the highway to Waimanalo Town, where you’ll find Waimanalo Bay Recreational Center and Beach Park, a 4-mile stretch of generally safe always beautiful white sand beach. Kailua Bay, a favorite windsurfing and sailing location, offers three miles of sand, small shorebreaks for the beginning bodysurfer, windsurfing lessons and relatively deserted stretches of beach.
Along the coast to the North Shore are several beach parks of note-Kualoa, Kahana, Hau’ula and Mala’ekahana, all beautiful and uncrowded except on weekends. Next come Oahu’s major surf spots. Known as the “7 Mile Miracle” stretch from Sunset Beach to Haleiwa, beaches include Rocky Point, Ehukai Beach Park, Banzai Pipeline, Pupukea and Waimea Bay.
During winter months, waves may reach heights of up to 25 feet making these beaches definitely off limits to casual swimmers. But then, you can always watch the big wave riders.
Water Safety Tips
Oahu waters claim too many lives. Often tragedy occurs because people don’t understand that the ocean is not a swimming pool. It’s a vast body of water prone to sudden changes and unpredictable currents. For your own safety, and the safety of others, follow these basic water safety rules:
- Swim at lifeguarded beaches. Many beaches are unguarded.
- Stay off wet sand and rocks. Strong currents near shore are the most frequent and dangerous hazards.
- Watch the ocean at least 20 minutes before entering. Telltale signs of hazardous conditions are water moving by rapidly, constant swirling in seemingly calm water and waves breaking far offshore.
- Waves come in sets. It can look calm for up to 20 minutes between dangerous sets of huge waves.
- Always swim or snorkel with a buddy.
- Do not fight a rip current. If caught in a current, keep calm, float, breathe, don’t panic and wave for help. Go with the current and conserve your energy.