Updated: May 21, 2015

Maui Surf Lessons

Surfing has long been known as the sport of kings in Hawaii. In fact, surfing was first "discovered" when Capt. Cook's ship came upon the Hawaiian islands in 1778. Today, surfing is a popular sport in beach cultures all around the globe. But there is something special about surfing in Hawaii, and with the millions of vacationers who flock to the warm sunny climate each year, it is only natural that a lot of people want to learn to surf when they visit any of the Hawaiian islands - Maui, Oahu, Kauai, or Hawaii itself. In this guide, we will take a look at some of the best surfing lessons available on Maui, finding out where to take surf lessons, how much they cost, and what you can expect during your first Maui surf lesson! Let's get started..

maui surf lessons


Best Places to Learn to Surf in Maui

For visitors to Maui, the best place for surf lessons in probably Lahaina. You can take lessons down in the Kihei area as well (further south), but the water is not as nice there. We had heard good things about a number of surf companies around Lahaina: Maui Wave Riders (MauiWaveRiders.com, 133 Prison St. in Lahaina and 1975 South Kihei Rd. in Kihei, since 1997), SurfDog (Maui.net/~surfdog, (808) 250-SURF), and Goofy Foot Surf School (GoofyFootSurfSchool.com, 505 Front St. Lahaina, just 2 blocks down from the famous banyan tree). In the end, we decided to take our first lessons with Goofy Foot. They offer a guarantee that you will stand and surf during your lesson or else you get your money back -- and they have rarely had to give a refund. Founded by Tim Sherer in 1995, Goofy Foot has taught more than 75,000 surf-enthusiasts how to surf, and they go a good, friendly job of it. They have a pretty full schedule, so it is best to call in advance to get reservations rather than just showing up. The introductory surf lessons run 2 hours, with sessions at 8AM, 11AM, and 2PM. They'll set you up with a lycra shirt (also called a rash-guard, to keep you from burning and keep you warm), surf booties to protect your feet from the bottom, and a LOOOONNNNGGG surf board. You can leave behind shoes, clothing, cameras, etc. in waterproof tubs they provide which are kept in the store while you are out surfing. You show up a half our early, fill out the required paperwork, fork over your money, get assigned to an instructor, and get fitted with the above mentioned gear. There are usually 4 or 5 students per instructor -- we had 4 in our group, a 40 year old, a 12 year old, and two 50-somethings. Then its off to the beach, where you learn to balance a surfboard on your head while walking about 75 yards or so to the water.

The lesson begins on the beach - you learn where the key balance points on the board are, and go over the basic positioning techniques required to go from lying on the board to (hopefully) standing and surfing. Goofy Foot teaches a relatively slow, steady method for getting up, from going from the initial pushup, to knees up, front foot up, to gently standing -- they don't expect a pro pop-up move, which most beginners can't handle. Follow their techniques - they work. Once you get through the sand training, you hop into the ocean with your board and begin the real fun part of surfing -- paddling a huge board through the sea. No one tells you about this unglamorous part of the sport, but for every 10-15 second ride you get, you have to paddle for another 2-3 minutes to get ready for the next one -- and this is some serious arm and shoulder work, you will feel it and dread it. But, hey, that's all part of the surfer lifestyle, right? So anyways, you then have to paddle your way out to the actual surf area, which is about another 100 yards north along the beach where the rock wall of the harbor juts out into the sea. There are some buoys here where those "in-waiting" hang out to stay out of the way of those actually riding some waves. Waves in this area are pretty reliable and pretty mild, perfect place for beginners, though a few locals train here as well. Our biggest complaint was the crowding and waiting. With 3 different schools all offering lessons at the same time, this section of ocean can look like rush hour traffic in LA. To avoid collisions, students have to take turns paddling out to their instructor and riding their wave. Then it is back to floating/standing on the side, waiting for your next ride, which can be 5-12 minutes. So over the course of a 2 hour lesson and 80-90 minutes in the water, I think I got to ride 7 waves. The other complaint was about the rough ocean bottom here - lots of chunks of coral lumps all over the place, and only about 3-4 feet deep, so you don't want to take a head-first dive into this water, and protective surf shoes are a MUST. Your instructor will go over safety rules here about staying safe, how to crash, how to jump off your board, etc., but it would still be nice to have a sandy bottom.

So let's hear about "riding the waves". As mentioned above, your instructor will have you paddle out to meet him where the waves originate - this involves navigating some waves on the way out, breaking in your face, as you try to keep from flipping off your board (you are laying on your stomach and paddling with your arms). Once you get out there, he'll help position you, tell you when to paddle, when to push up, and when to stand -- the instructor may even hold the back of your board to steady you a bit as you get going. During our lesson, the waves were about 3 feet high, just about perfect for a first time experience. With waves like this, you won't actually be carving your way along the face of a wave. The little wave will begin to break and form a rolling wall of white water, which is what will push your you and your board along towards the beach. So how did I do? First wave, I pushed up, got on my needs, got my wobbly feet in place.... and stood up, riding the wave all the way until it pooped out, then dropped gracefully back onto my board. No falling, no crashing, I actually did it. In fact, 3 out of 4 of us succeeded and rode the first wave. And all of us were doing pretty well by the 2nd or 3rd wave. We had a few near collisions out there, a few people had to bail off and jump, a few lost balance and tipped over. Twice a local guy even carved right in front of people and made them dump. But overall, everyone in all the groups we watched managed to get up and ride waves. So while that means you probably won't get your money back for failing to surf, you will get to go home and tell your friends that you surfed while in Hawaii. And if you pay an extra $15, you'll get a CD of photos from their photographer who will capture your style with a telephoto lens from shore.

So at the end of the day, we have to say we had a great time. The surfing was a blast, challenging but doable. The instructor was very accomodating and professional (thanks John!), worked with each of us as needed, and pushed those of us who could handle it to try some harder waves. I give Goofy Foot a 9 out of 10, and would definitely recommend them to anyone looking to learn how to surf while in Maui.

How much do surf lessons cost?

Most of these surf schools offer group or private lessons. Group lessons run from $55-$65 per person, which generally gets you 2 hours of instruction. Private lessons are approx. $150 per hour for a 2 hour lesson, $250 for 2 people. Having taken the group lesson and spent a lot of time waiting for my next ride, I would definitely consider coughing up the extra money next time for a private follow-up lesson. You'll certainly be more tired from all the extra paddling, but you'll also get exponentially more practice and coaching that from a group lesson. I guess my advice would be, if you are just doing this one time for a lark while in Maui, sure, save some money and go for the group lesson. But if you actually want to learn how to surf and get the most experience and coaching possible, spend a little extra for the private lesson. For smaller kids under 8, Goofy Foot requires private instruction. One thing to be warned - Goofy Foot doesn't accept credit cards, so plan accordingly for payment. If you decide to try out Maui Wave Riders, one benefit is that they let you continue to use the board and practice after your lesson, assuming they don't need the board. They charge $60 for group lessons, $130 for private (2 hours each), and they also offer the "don't surf/don't pay" guarantee.