While most likely originated in ancient Polynesia, Hawaiians made it famous. Known as hee nalu in the native language, this sport was first documented in 1779 by Lieutenant James King. While the boards used back then were simple wood planks and accessible to anyone, surfing was actually reserved for Hawaiian royalty (alii) at first. That's why it's still called the sport of kings. After the abolishment of the kapu system in 1819, commoners were finally permitted to surf.
For many years, surfing was a much tamer affair than it is today. Not surprisingly, Hawaiians eventually came up with big-wave surfing but not until the 1950s. Considering the presence of powerful waves during the winter season, especially on the north shore of and the west shore of Makaha, this seems like logical progression.
It's no wonder that some of the finest competitions in the world take place on Oahu's north shore. If you're vacationing in November or December, you're in luck. That's when some of the biggest events take place, including the Vans Triple Crown.
If you can't make it then, you still have time to see the best because the big-wave season isn't over until February. Some of the most viewer-friendly spots include Sunset Beach, Waimea Bay and the Banzai Pipeline. Even if you don't visit during the winter season, you'll still get plenty of wave action year round. The south shores have impressive waves during the summer, but every island has its own spectacular views and surfing culture.
If you want to do more than watch, you can take lessons on just about any island. However, makes the best spot for getting your feet wet and riding your first wave. First-timers might also find it easier to start on long boards. Regardless of where you choose to take surfing lessons, you'll get top-notch instructions in gentle waves taught by qualified surfers.
If you're more interested in fitness than riding waves, give stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) a try. While you use a paddle for maneuvering, this is still a type of surfing. It involves standing up on longer, wider boards. While more laid-back than wave surfing, this activity gives your core muscles a nice workout.