Fosterand sons, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Fosterand sons, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Why are the Waves so Big on Oahu's North Shore?

Shaka Guide

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If you get to North Shore during the winter months, and the conditions are right, you might get to witness some monstrous waves - and a few brave souls in the water. How tall exactly are the waves? Well, you see, during the winter, the waves can be more than 20 feet high or 2 stories tall – and remember that in Hawaii, we measure wave height from the back. That means north shore surfers are zooming along waves with 40-foot faces or higher! 

But why are the winter waves so big here, when they're so mellow back in Waikiki?

Well, if you ever watched the TV show Deadliest Catch - you know that thousands of miles north of North Shore, near Alaska, the sea gets really stormy during the winter. These storms send huge ocean swells south, directly to Hawaii. But that's not the only thing that affects these giant waves... ancient submerged volcanic rocks and lava tubes - as well as coral reefs along the coast - affect the direction and activity of the waves as they break along the shoreline. These two things together - the big swells and the rocks and reefs underneath the water - create the huge waves that have made the North Shore so legendary.

These huge waves really should be ridden only by the best of the best surfers… so to be safe, watch from the beach, but do not go in the water - unless you have a really good life insurance plan! You’ll notice safety signs and flags all along the beach warning swimmers and surfers to stay the heck out.

If you go during the summer months, you’ll find the North Shore situation is completely different. The waves are gone, and the water feels a lot more like a lake than a churning ocean. You may wonder what all the fuss is about? In the summer, feel free to splash around and have fun  just as long as you aren't afraid of sharks... just kidding! You are more likely to get hit by a falling coconut then to be eaten by a shark.

Interested in Oahu's North Shore?Learn more about it on our Legendary North Shore Loop Tour!

Best Beaches in North Shore Oahu

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