Whether it started with Hawaiians or with the Tahitians who originally populated the island, Oahu is the birthplace of surfing as the world knows it. So there must be a dedicated surf museum in Honolulu, right? There was once an official Honolulu Surf Museum (established in 2009) at the Waikiki Beachcomber Hotel but it closed its doors a few short years after opening. Tragically, there has been no successor. While we have plans to help revive the concept in the very near future, what is a visiting surf historian to do in the interim? Fret not, because there are a number of impressive exhibits on the island. They are all hidden within other brick and mortar spaces that many people don’t know about. We have listed them below so that you can get your fix of surf culture and history on your next trip to Oahu.
Four Exhibits to Visit to Get the Surf Museum Experience in Honolulu and on Oahu
1525 Bernice St, Honolulu, HI
Bishop Museum houses everything to do with the history of the Hawaiian Islands, so you’d better believe that surfing is represented. Within the impressive halls are century-old planks once ridden by none other that the Godfather of Surfing and Ambassador of Aloha – Duke Kahanamoku. In addition to its permanent collection, Bishop Museum hosts temporary exhibits to honor the culture of wave-riding. In 2021 they presented Mai Kinohi Mai: Surfing in Hawai‘i, an original exhibit featuring surf memorabilia from the facility’s archives along with items curated from notable collectors. More recently they added the surfboard that Hawaiian Carissa Moore rode to an Olympic gold medal, tying her achievement to the legacy of Kahanamoku.
Moana Surfrider Hotel
2365 Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu, HI
It may surprise you to find a hotel listed as a surf museum on Oahu, but when you hear that it’s the very first hotel on the island it should come as no surprise. The Moana Surfrider Hotel has been a beacon for the well-to-do for well over a century. Through its existence it has employed the legendary Waikiki Beach Boys to teach adventurous travelers to ride the waves that glide over the reef. With each passing decade another building block is added to its legacy. If the walls could talk, they would have many tales to tell of Tom Blake and Duke among other legends. Since drywall can’t speak, the Moana Surfrider has put in place a number of installations throughout the lobby to showcase stories, photographs, antique alaia and olo and other vintage boards. View more on the Moana Surfrider.
Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort
2335 Kalakaua Ave, Waikiki, HI
Next door to the Moana Surfrider exhibit is another hotel that appreciates surf culture with museum-esque attention. On the second level of the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort visitors will discover a showcase of relics that pay homage to the Waikiki Beach Boys along with iconic last names such as Aipa and Kahanamoku. Moreover, the resort runs a Surfers in Residence program to complement their permanent exhibit, giving guests an even more immersive experience. View more on the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort.
North Shore Surf Museum
66-150 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI
On the other side of the island in Haleiwa Town is the North Shore Surf Shop. On the surface the establishment is exactly that – a surf shop. It’s where visitors go to buy/rent boards and other forms of recreational gear in addition to swimwear and knick knacks with “North Shore Hawaii” stamped all over them. It doesn’t sound like a destination for surf history devotees, but all you need to do is read between the lines. Or in this case, look up. Strapped to the rafters is the world’s greatest collection of legendary surfboards, boards that have been ridden by heroic (and some problematic) figureheads from the annals of surf history. The Luis Real Collection (as it’s officially known) seems more suitable to the Smithsonian Institution than in a shop that sells friendship bracelets, but the Institution’s loss is your gain. Patrons enjoy unfettered access to a truly impressive collection with no price of admission. All that you need to do is a walk through the front door. View more on the North Shore Surf Museum.
Do you have any questions about the Honolulu surf museum exhibits on Oahu? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you right away.