Big Waves Put on a Show Along North and West Facing Shores

By Napua Heen
Surfers at Waimea Bay early January 2016.  Photo:  Craig Kojima.

Surfers at Waimea Bay early January 2016. Photo: Craig Kojima.

Winter means big waves in Hawaiʻi.

Winter means big waves for the North and West shores to be precise. And the surf has been up these last few days with another large swell anticipated on Friday.

Waves of 25-35 feet rolled in to popular surf spots like Waimea Bay on Oʻahu’s North Shore on Monday and Tuesday. Surfers took to the water, and lifeguards made over 25 rescues on the island of Oʻahu alone. Favorite snorkeling spots like Pupukea (better known as Shark’s Cove) became locations for big wave sightseeing.

Rhythm of Swells in the Islands

Visitors taking photos at Shark's Cove in early January 2016.  Photo:  Craig Kojima.

Visitors taking photos at Shark’s Cove in early January 2016. Photo: Craig Kojima.

Part of the rhythm of life in these islands is watching the swells roll in. During the summer months, the surf is up on South shores across the Hawaiian Islands with high surf conditions of 10 to 15 foot wave faces. North shores remain relatively flat during the summer months and are ideal for snorkeling, kayaking and paddle boarding.

When winter rolls around, however, swells of 35-40 feet can be witnessed on North shores across the islands.

West shores are lucky enough to catch the wrap around of these North swells, and surf coming in on West shores will be about 5-10 feet smaller than that of North facing shores.

Marveling at Mother Nature’s Ferocity

Surfer getting barreled at Sunset Beach, North Shore, Oahu late October 2015.  Photo:  Krystle Marcellus.

Surfer getting barreled at Sunset Beach, North Shore, Oahu late October 2015. Photo: Krystle Marcellus.

Surfers wait all year for these water conditions, with many international surfers flying in for this exciting time. Surf contests, like the Vans Triple Crown, are held on Oʻahu’s North Shore annually during the winter months. Crowds line the beachfronts to marvel at Mother Nature’s ferocity. Monstrous waves can transform a beach, and the sites are wondrous to behold.

Dangers and Precautions

Lifeguard warns visitors taking photos at Shark's Cove in early January 2016. Photo:  Craig Kojima.

Lifeguard warns visitors taking photos at Shark’s Cove in early January 2016. Photo: Craig Kojima.

Water conditions can be dangerous, and high surf season keeps lifeguards busy. It’s important to heed all cautions and lifeguard instructions, as unassuming shore break can cause injuries and fatalities. Even standing on rocks overlooking the ocean can be unsafe. Rouge waves are known to sweep people into the water unexpectedly.

Planning for Big Waves

In summary, if visiting between November and January, expect high surf and rough water conditions on North and West facing shores. Feel free to spectate as Hawaiʻi’s seasoned watermen and women take to the ocean, however plan your other water activities at beaches along South facing shores.

And if you have your heart set on snorkeling at beaches like Tunnels on Kauaʻi or Pupukea on Oʻahu, plan your trip for the summer months.

Stay safe!

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