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Hawaii is famous for its big, powerful surf, with waves that can tower over 20 feet high during the winter. But just how big do the waves get, and what factors determine wave size in Hawaii? If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: waves in Hawaii most commonly range from small 1 to 3 foot waves up to head high 6 to 8 foot faces, however waves over 10 feet are frequent during the winter months and waves up to 30 to 40 feet occasionally occur during major winter swells, especially on the North Shore of Oahu.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about wave size in Hawaii, from what creates the waves to specifics on wave height during different times of year, how wave size varies between the islands, and the best spots to find the biggest waves.

What Causes Waves in Hawaii

Trade Winds

The consistent trade winds blowing from the northeast are one of the primary causes of waves in Hawaii. These steady winds blow over the Pacific Ocean for thousands of miles, transferring energy to the water to create swell.

The fact that the trade winds blow so consistently is why Hawaii has surfable waves year-round.

Storms and Swells

In addition to the regular wind waves, strong storms and low pressure systems far out in the Pacific can create larger swells that also impact the Hawaiian Islands. Swells originating from storms near Japan, Russia, and Alaska make their way across the Pacific over the course of several days before arriving in Hawaii as massive clean waves, sometimes reaching over 30 feet high on the famous North Shore!

Hawaiian Islands Geography

The geography of the Hawaiian Islands also plays a key role in the formation of big waves. As swells and wind waves approach from the north and west, they begin to feel the underwater slopes and shorelines of the islands.

This causes the waves to slow down and grow in height dramatically through a process called refraction. The reefs then focus the waves’ energy towards certain points. It’s no wonder spots like Pipeline and Jaws have produced some of the biggest waves ever surfed!

Average Wave Heights by Season

Summer Waves (May to September)

The summer months of May through September bring consistently epic surf to the islands of Hawaii. The South and West shores see the largest waves during this season, with average wave faces measuring 10-15 feet tall and sometimes reaching over 20 feet on big swell days.

The famous big wave spots of Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach, and Pipeline on Oahu’s North Shore remain mostly flat during the summer.

According to statistics from the Surfline forecast team, the average summer wave heights by island are:

  • Oahu’s South Shore: 12-15 feet
  • Maui’s West Shore: 10-14 feet
  • Hawaii’s Kona Coast: 8-12 feet

The predominant summer swells come from storms in the Southern Hemisphere, over 2,000 miles away. This long distance allows the swells to organize into well-formed lines packing plenty of punch by the time they reach Hawaii’s sunny shores.

Grab your shortboard and come enjoy the “small but fun” summer waves!

Fall Waves (October to November)

As Hawaii transitions into fall, wave heights decrease across most shores as the frequency of Southern Hemisphere storms declines. However, the first North Pacific storms of the season begin sending swell toward Hawaii’s North and West facing spots.

Here are the typical wave size ranges for fall, according to data from the Hawaii Tourism Authority:

Oahu’s North Shore 5-10 feet
Maui’s West Shore 5-8 feet
Hawaii’s Kona Coast 3-5 feet

While the fall wave heights pale in comparison to the titans of winter, the surf can rapidly spike during exceptionally strong storm events. Keep an eye on the forecasts and you may luck into some early-season swell!

Winter Waves (December to February)

When winter storms unleash their full fury on the North Pacific, Hawaii’s shores light up with the biggest waves of the year. Oahu’s North Shore transforms into the epicenter of the big wave surfing world, with giants marching in from the Aleutian Islands toward legendary spots like Waimea and Pipeline.

According to measurements by the Pacific Storm Surf Journal, these spots see average winter wave face heights of:

  • Waimea Bay: 25-30 feet
  • Sunset Beach: 15-25 feet
  • Pipeline: 10-15 feet

And when a truly massive swell slams the Hawaiian Islands, wave faces can exceed 50 feet! Make sure to witness the action firsthand or check the highlights on surf cams.

Spring Waves (March to April)

As spring arrives, wave energy begins tapering off across Hawaii as the North Pacific storm track weakens. However, large winter swells can continue marching in through early April before the long flat summer sets in.

Here are the average springtime wave measurements according to NOAA buoy data:

  • Oahu’s North Shore: 5-15 feet
  • Maui’s West Shore: 3-10 feet
  • Hawaii’s East Shore: 4-8 feet

While wave size and consistency diminishes in the spring, the weather continues improving while the surf holds steady at fun sizes before going flat in early summer. It’s still board short and bikini weather out there!

Wave Size by Hawaiian Island


Kauai is known for having some of the largest waves in Hawaii during the winter surf season. The North Shore of Kauai gets battered by towering swells rolling in from storms in the Aleutian Islands, with wave faces reaching 30-50 feet high on big days.

Breaks like Pipeline and Jaws are considered some of the heaviest in the world. The summertime south swells also produce overhead surf at spots like PK’s.


As the most populated Hawaiian island, Oahu has surf breaks that cater to all levels. During the winter, North Shore spots like Pipeline, Sunset Beach, and Waimea Bay can see massive 25-40 foot waves. The South Shore stays more reasonable with 3-6 foot surf year round.

For beginners, beaches like Waikiki and Diamond Head have smaller waves in the 1-3 foot range.


The world-famous big wave spot Jaws (Peahi) is located on Maui’s North Shore. Tow-in surfers can pull into four story tall waves here on the biggest swells. More reasonable surf can be found year round on the South Shore and West Side at spots like Honolua Bay and Lahaina Harbor, with typical wave faces in the head high to double overhead range depending on conditions.

Hawaii (Big Island)

Due to the Big Island’s sheer size, wave size and conditions can vary greatly depending on location. During the winter, East-facing spots like Honoli’i and Hilo Harbor can see big wave surf in the 15-25 foot range when the North Pacific storms track south.

Elsewhere like Kona, the surf is much smaller in the summer (waist to head high), but can still produce overhead sets during South swells and Kona storms.

Big Wave Surf Spots in Hawaii

Pipeline on Oahu’s North Shore

The powerful waves at Pipeline crash over a shallow coral reef, creating the iconic thick tubes that expert big wave surfers dream about riding. Located on Oahu’s famous North Shore, Pipeline draws surfers and spectators from around the world during the winter surf season.

According to Surfline, the average wave height is 6-8 feet but can reach over 20 feet on the biggest swells. With its beauty and danger, many consider Pipeline to be the ultimate proving ground of elite surfing.

Jaws on Maui

Better known as Peahi by locals, Jaws is home to some of the biggest rideable waves in the world. The waves here can reach staggering heights over 60 feet when the conditions are just right. Surfers and jet skis provide a dramatic perspective highlighting the sheer size of the massive swells.

Peahi gets its more intense moniker “Jaws” from the way it breaks, opening wide like a gaping mouth ready to swallow anything in its path. Surfers who manage to successfully ride a wave at Jaws experience the ultimate big wave thrill.

Waimea Bay on Oahu’s North Shore

Located just west of Pipeline lies the famous shore break of Waimea Bay. During huge winter swells, massive waves up to 40 feet crash directly onto the shore here with bone crushing power. But on either side of the impact zone lies an area with more rideable big waves.

When conditions allow, Waimea features rolling 25 foot faces that allow experienced big wave surfers the chance to ride down the line in the bay’s scenic arena surrounded by tropical valleys and peaks.

Peahi on Maui

Referred to by locals as Peahi but known globally as Jaws, this big wave spot draws expert surfers and photographers from around the world seeking to ride or document these towering waves. Located on Maui’s North Shore, swells over 25 feet start to light up Peahi’s offshore reefs.

But the biggest days happen when intense storms in the North Pacific drive 50-60 foot faces right up to the cliffs. Surfers must be towed into waves this size using jet skis. Riding giants weighing many tons at Jaws puts surfers right on the razor’s edge between thrill and peril.


As you can see, wave size in Hawaii spans a huge range depending on factors like time of year, specific island and surf spot, and swell/storm patterns. While small waves are the norm during the summer, come winter huge waves frequently pound Hawaii’s shores, with monster waves over 30 feet occasionally occurring at renowned big wave spots like Pipeline, Waimea Bay, and Jaws.

We covered the science behind Hawaii’s waves, seasonal variations, differences between the islands, and noted legendary big wave breaks. I hope you now have a fuller understanding of just how big waves get in Hawaii.

Whether you’re a surfer seeking huge swells or simply enjoy watching Mother Nature’s incredible power, the Aloha State offers world-class waves year round.

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