Maui Surf

Lahaina Harbor’s South Swell Dynamics

August 7, 2012, 10:04 AM HST
* Updated August 7, 10:09 AM
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Surf reporter Carlos Rock is an experienced surfing instructor who has been riding Maui’s waves his entire life.

By Carlos Rock

lahaina harbor

Lahaina Harbor lineup. Watch out for the boats… Photo: Carlos Rock

A much-anticipated south swell arrived in the islands Monday (8/6), but to everyone on Maui’s surprise, the swell was downgraded from 3 to 5-feet to 1 to 3+ foot faces with a reinforcement swell arriving Tuesday.

However, there were still plenty of waves on offer for surfers at the popular spot at Lahaina Harbor.

If you’re a veteran surfer and don’t already know about how good Lahaina Harbor can get during a south swell, then you can’t have explored the island much.


Located on the West Side in the heart of Lahaina,  “The Harbor” is easily one of the best/most popular spots on the entire island during the summer months. Given the right swell activity, Lahaina Harbor is in fact a perfect wave.


The dredging of the mouth of the harbor many years ago gave rise to a phenomenal wave that breaks both left and right.  Depending on the conditions (swell, tide, wind), Lahaina Harbor usually dishes up perfect “A-frame” peaks that really let you polish your surfing style through repetition.

The wave itself is very playful, but also has the potential to be very high performance. It can hold those uncommon humongous south swells, but a decent 3-foot swell is really all it needs.

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Maui surfer Granger Larsen fins free at “The Harbor.” Photo: Volcom.

It is not uncommon to see some surfers, even little grommets* busting airs and doing crazy inverted snaps on the steep walls from 1-foot to 6-feet.


The right is a very steep wall that bends in towards you as you surf it which makes it very tricky to surf, but when you get it right, you can easily do three or more turns before the wave is done. The left is just as steep but a lot longer.

As you go left you have to look ahead to see if you have to race the oncoming sections, or slow down and surf top-to-bottom.

For a goofy footer, the left is a dream wave.

Lahaina Harbor breaks over a very shallow, black sea urchin infested reef that many people and boards have met on countless occasions. But the shallow reef is the reason the wave is so good.

The shallower the reef is, the steeper the wave will be as the swell passes over it, pushing energy up to the crest. The steeper the wave is, the better and more challenging it is to surf.

It’s simple wave mechanics.


A big wave breaks at Lahaina Harbor. Summer 2012. Photo: Carlos Rock

Like most surf spots, after many hours spent learning the wave and understanding where to be to get the best ride, surfing Lahaina Harbor will improve your surfing substantially. It allows you to repeat maneuvers over and over and over again until you feel confident in performing that specific maneuver.

Go out there and perform 15 backside snaps and just see if your surfing will not improve.

It is the perfect practice wave and it is no wonder that the NSSA (National Scholastic Surfing Association) and Volcom have been holding contests there for many years now. Many of the top pros (Dusty Payne, Clay Marzo, Granger Larsen, Ezekiel Lau etc.) have all competed in the high performance walls of Lahaina Harbor (see video here).

As with all popular waves, crowds are always a factor. But it is not hard to score it with only a couple other guys or “groms”* out.

*term for little surfer kids

Make the most of your Maui vacation with these top-rated activities: Maui Top 20: Maui Visitor & Tourism Information
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