Turtle Bay THE SURF

Turtle Bay actually has a user-friendly surf spot right out in front that is kind of a secret spot to people who don’t stay at the resort – because this is the North Shore of Oahu with an incredible variety of surf that is easier to access for non resort guests. The main break just meters from the pool at Turtle Bay is a right reef that ranges from wind swell junky to epic under the proper conditions. Just a bit up the coast on the same property is a string of additional rights and lefts more suited to the intermediate or advanced surfer, and within easy sight from a couple holes on the course.

For first time visitors to the North Shore, Turtle Bay is a great place to get a feel for Hawaiian surfing: How you float in the saltier water, how much sun your skin can handle, how tough your feet are and how your surf skills stand up in waves that move faster than what you’re used to at home.  However, after your first visit, you will also realize that this is the best location on all of Oahu and will return year after year.

John Philbin is a surfer/actor who portrayed Turtle in the movie North Shore. Philbin sometimes flies to Hawaii to surf instruct, and he loves the spot at Turtle Bay: “It’s a great spot with a Hans Hedeman surf school instructor when its small, and as it gets bigger there are outer reefs that I’ve seen pros tow into”.

But to go to the North Shore and surf only Turtle Bay would be like going to Saint Andrews and doing only putting practice in your room. This is the North Shore! The Seven Mile Miracle. One of the Natural Wonders of the Surfing World. The Greatest Surf Show on Earth!

Make an L with your right hand. The tip of your thumb is Kaena Point, the base of your thumb and index finger is Haleiwa and the tip of your index finger is Turtle Bay Resort. In between Haleiwa and Turtle Bay is 12 miles of northwest facing coastline that is angled just the right way to turn the trade winds into offshore winds, and is far enough in the Central Pacific for all that storm-driven swell energy from the Gulf of Alaska and the northeastern Pacific to show up lined up and ready to rumble along those 12 miles of reefs and beaches.

Turtle Bay is at the northern end of the North Shore.  In addition to the various beaches on property, you can drive a few miles west toward Haleiwa and find a smorgasbord of some of the greatest surf spots on earth:

Velzyland is a right reef that has been the foundation for the evolution of medium-wave hot-dog barrel surfing.

Sunset Beach is one of the most famous big-wave performance spots in the world. When it’s heaving on a west swell, it’s one of the most spectacular waves in the world, and many many surfers have based their lives around surfing Sunset. Not always huge and terrifying. Sunset Beach can be beginner-friendly when it’s smaller. It’s just a beautiful beach and surf spot.

Kammieland is a shifting reef break on the east side of the bay from Sunset Beach. This is the place your board gets sucked out to on big days at Sunset. When the swell is smaller, Kammieland is a good place to get introduced to how Hawaiian power moves and looks and feels.

Rocky Point is a reef/point that is also a tuning spot for high-performance surfing. Insanely popular often and crowded in winter, when the pro circus is in town, Rocky Point can be surfed by beginning and intermediate surfers when it’s smaller – just watch the reef and protect your feet.
Between Rocky Point and Pipeline is a series of deeper water reefs creating focused peaks breaking right and left.  This is an excellent area for a more relaxed approach.

Pipeline is one of the most famous waves in the world, the Mother of all tropical left barrels. Pipeline breaks just to the left of the parking lot at Ehukai Beach Park. When the surf is pumping or the Pipe Masters is on, forget about getting a parking space. But on a normal day, this is a great place to hang at the beach and watch men and women hurl themselves into the pit at Pipe and Backdoor.

In Hawaii there’s a place called Waimea Bay where the best surfers in the world come to play. From the mid-fifties until the 1990s, Waimea Bay was considered the ultimate challenge in big-wave surfing. While it has been challenged by Jaws/Peahi, Mavericks, Dungeons and other big-wave spots for degree of difficulty. Waimea when it’s pumping is still the most spectacularly beautiful surf spot on the planet. When Waimea is smaller, there are a lot of people who like to surf the inside wave at Pinballs – probably a better wave than what you have at home. The beach is beautiful, but dangerous when there is a swell.


Chun’s Reef is a popular spot for beginning and intermediate surfers when the winter surf is small, or during the summer. There is parking here and a beach which leads to a fun reef break that is Green Diamond to Blue in terms of ski resorts.

Jockos is considered a B-list spot by North Shore standards, but would be A+ list just about anywhere else in the world. A fast, left over shallow reef that starts to break over five feet. Popular with an older, local crowd, so mind your manners.

Laniakea is an epic, wailing right reef wall when the swell is six feet or bigger. A challenging, powerful, fast wave that is Black Diamond on big swells. But on smaller days, Laniakea is popular with longboarders and standup paddlers and beginning to intermediate surfers. The beach is popular with turtle watchers, but that little traffic jam on Kam Highway is a pain.

Pua’ena Point is sometimes the only place beginning and intermediate surfers can go in the water when the North Shore is roaring. On the north side of the Haleiwa harbor channel, Pua ‘Ena is popular with surf schools and standup paddlers – and also fans of the TV show Lost, which was filmed around the point here for many years.

Haleiwa is the short term for Haleiwa Ali’i Park, a stretch of beach and reef to the west of Haleiwa Harbor. This is a popular spot for beginners and keiki when the surf is small to medium – a lot of great Hawaiian surfers took their first steps on a surfboard here. When the surf is bigger, Haleiwa is a world-class performance wave, which has been the site for annual contests going back to the 1960s.  Paddling out through the infamous Toilet Bowl can be hazardous to your health, so time it right and go go go. There are lefts at Haleiwa that are less crowded than the rights, but leave you close to the harbor which can be a little spooky.

Mokuleia is the stretch of coast from Haleiwa up to Kaena Point. There’s a variety of reefbreaks along here, including Silva’s Channel, Hammerheads and others that should not be named. On the right day it is possible to go to Mokuleia and fulfill the Seversonian ideal of finding the perfect wave on the perfect day and be alone with the surf and your thoughts. The white sand beaches are squeaky clean and the view back toward Waimea Bay and the North Shore is pretty spectacular.