Maui’s wealth of activities and attractions makes it Hawaii’s second-most visited island (after Oahu)—whether it’s for whale-watching, snorkeling with turtles, watching the sun come up from the top of the Haleakala volcano, or driving the stunning Road to Hana.
Although Oahu and Kauai tend to take the spotlight when it comes to surfing destinations for more seasoned surfers, Maui is blessed with beaches and breaks that offer perfect conditions for beginner and intermediate wave-riders, especially in the regions of West and South Maui, where most of the resorts and tourist accommodations are. (On the other hand, the island’s North Shore is known for its powerful winter swells, especially the world-renowned big wave at “Jaws”—only the most experienced surfers should paddle out during big swells here.)
A few things to note before signing up with your Maui surf school of choice: Lessons are either 90 minutes or two hours in duration and typically begin with 15 to 20 minutes of learning the fundamentals on land. All lessons include your surfboard rental, rash guard, and booties (except where noted). Also keep in mind that Maui is typically windy in the afternoon, so plan on being up early; nearly all lessons are held in the morning.
1. Hawaiian Paddle Sports
Book Now: hawaiianpaddlesports.com
Hawaiian Paddle Sports takes its commitment to sustainability, the environment, and the local community seriously. The company not only makes a financial contribution to a different nonprofit or community group each month, but team members also volunteer their time for service projects on the island, earning it status as one of only 14 “ecotour companies” in the state of Hawaii (as designated by the Hawaii Ecotourism Association).
One thing to note: To discourage degradation of fragile reefs, HPS shows students how to finish a wave on their board rather than stepping or jumping off, so it doesn’t provide booties. Lessons are held at Ukumehame Beach on West Maui, with an option at nearby Puamana if conditions permit.
2. Maui Surfer Girls
Book Now: mauisurfergirls.com
Maui’s only female-owned and -operated surf school employs about a dozen instructors, most of them women, but lessons are open to all, including children five and older. (Surfer Girls also offers weeklong surf camps for women and teen girls.) Instruction is at Ukumehame Beach Park on West Maui. If you’re lucky, Luna the surfing dog will share your session, too.
3. Maui Waveriders
Book Now: mauiwaveriders.com
Maui Waveriders offers lessons in two locations, Lahaina (West Maui) or Kihei (South Maui), so you can choose the most convenient based on where you’re staying. The advantage of the Kihei location—and a unique offering in general—is that Waveriders will let you keep the board until closing so you can keep going and honing your new surfing skills after the session’s concluded.
4. Zack Howard Surf School
Book Now: zackhowardsurf.com
Malibu native Zack Howard moved to Maui and started teaching in 2006, after turning pro at age 15 and notching numerous awards at pro longboard competitions. Lessons are held at Puamana Beach near Lahaina or, if conditions permit, at Paia Bay on the North Shore. Advanced or experienced intermediate surfers can also book lessons at Paia when the north swells bring more powerful waves.
5. Waves Hawaii
Book Now: gosurfmaui.com
Those who want to include the entire family should consider Waves Hawaii: It offers a “baby surf experience” for toddlers and young ones ages one to six years old (older kids learn with mixed-age, adults-inclusive groups). Lessons are held at Kalama Park in Kihei, ensuring gentle waves and shallow water for little riders.
6. Soul Surfing Maui
Book Now: soulsurfingmaui.com
Owner Brian DeCook is intimately knowledgeable about the tides and conditions of the breaks along the coast of West Maui, and he will find the best breaks in the area to get you into the water and up on a wave—and make sure you have the right board to do it with. He’ll even take complimentary pictures of you during your lesson.
7. Rivers to the Sea
Book Now: riverstothesea.com
Maybe it’s the somewhat secluded location that has enticed such celebrities as Jake Gyllenhaal, Claire Danes, and Woody Harrelson to choose Rivers to the Sea for their surf lessons on Maui. Identical twin brothers and Maui natives Tide and Kiva Rivers teach at a break called Guardrails, about 10 minutes south of Lahaina and 25 minutes from Kihei, which offers long, gentle waves—and no crowds!—that are perfect for beginners and intermediates alike.
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Deb Hopewell Deb Hopewell is a freelance lifestyle and travel journalist who spent nearly two decades working at newspapers like San Jose’s The Mercury News before becoming the editor of Yahoo Travel for six years.