Sunset – North Shore, Oahu

Wave Description

Sunset Beach is one of the most famous surf spots on the North Shore. It was at one point a more popular wave in the surfing world than Pipeline. There is nearly a 200-yard takeoff zone, with three main spots: The Point, The Main Reef, and Backyards. It is generally a hollow, fast, and powerful right reef break, with lefts available at Backyards. Sunset is definitely a dangerous wave, and one that should be kept to experienced surfers only. The currents can flow like rivers at Sunset, carrying you into the places you do not want to be when the next big set arrives. Although the wave at Sunset is almost a perfect right, much of the time it has a mind of its own, and it can decide to give you a perfect barrel only to pinch shut and slam you over the falls without warning. The best surfers at Sunset are the ones who have spent their whole lives surfing the wave and getting to know all of its different moods. Sunset takes in all the swell and holds itself up in the biggest of days. It is one of the surf spots you can count on to hold its shape while most of the North Shore is closing out. Because of this quality, Sunset is as much a famous big wave surfing spot as it is a normal surfing spot on its smaller days.

An average Sunset day:


Sunset Beach is located on the northern end of the North Shore. Coming from north to south, it is the first opening where you can see the beach from the Kamehameha Highway. It’s almost perfectly between Ted’s Bakery and the Chevron gas station.

Swell & Weather Conditions

The best swells to make Sunset start working need to come from the north or northwest. Southeast or east winds are perfect for Sunset, and luckily the winds blow that way almost year-round.

Surf Equipment

Just like Pipeline locals, Sunset locals usually have boards in their quivers that they like to call their “Sunset guns.” Some guys will ride full-sized guns, but typically a gun in the seven-foot range works best for big Sunset. On smaller days, smaller rounded pins and pintails work really well, but the way that Sunset breaks, having more board under you definitely helps you get into the wave a lot easier. A lot of guys will ride longboards in all types of conditions at Sunset.

Brief History

1943 is the first year from which we have records of people surfing Sunset Beach, and even then, only a few ventured out. Locals called the break Pau Malu at that time, and their stories from their ancestors tell us that Sunset was probably surfed long before 1943. At the end of that first year, Sunset pioneers Woody Brown and Dickie Cross paddled out into a rising swell and got stuck out there once the waves and currents became too violent to paddle in through. They paddled the three miles to Waimea Bay, hoping for an easier exit, and arrived just as the sun was going down. Woody Brown made it to shore after a severe beating in the bay. Dickie Cross went down on a massive wave and was never seen again. It was at this early stage of surfing in Sunset’s history that the North Shore really became known for its heavy surf. Throughout the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, legends like Jeff Hakman, Buttons Kaluhiokalani, and Larry Bertleman were made at Sunset Beach, forever making Sunset a huge name in surfing’s history.

Surf Contests

Sunset hosts the second event of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing for both men and women. It is also home to the Duke Kahanamoku Classic, which used to be one of the biggest events in surfing.

A Big Contest Day:

Brief Travel Info

The same things apply here as when traveling to surf Pipeline. From the airport in Honolulu, you just have to make your way up to the North Shore and find some accommodations. The only hotel in the region is the Turtle Bay Resort, located on the north end of the North Shore. It is pretty easy to find other places to rent, such as rooms, houses, and hostels, but make sure you have all of that figured out in advance. There are plenty of good places to eat and fun things to do on the North Shore and in nearby Haleiwa. For a few ideas of what to do when the surf goes flat, check out the flat spell activities for Oahu post on The Surfing Blog. For a more detailed travel guide about the North Shore and Haleiwa, check out the Travel Guide found on The Surfing Site.


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