You don't have to be an expert to enjoy the best breaks, the best schools and the best of the off-shore activities.
Rent a longboard
Whether you're surfing for the first time or celebrating winning a world title, nothing beats floating the day away at Queens. Walk down to the statue of Duke Kahanamoku in the center of Waikiki, throw a few bucks down for a board and go. The gentle waves, the scenery, the atmosphere, the nostalgia: it's as authentic as it gets.
Swim the bay
In winter Waimea Bay is a bubbling cauldron of big-wave doom; in summer it's as placid as Lake Winnipesaukee. Sailboats anchor in the green cove, tourists and locals alike float languidly in the jewel-bright water, and if there's a more tranquil place to waste a day, you'd be hard pressed to find it. An afternoon hike up to Waimea Falls is another good way to cool off.
Katsu Chicken plate lunches at L&L Drive-In, shave ice at Matsumoto's, fresh-baked bread and cookies at Waialua Bakery: these are the flavors of Hawaii.
Visit the Bishop Museum
Nowhere in the world has a collection of surf antiquities like the Bishop Museum. They've got ancient relics, modern-day wave-blades, and just about everything in between. If surf history (or Polynesian history in general) catches your fancy, a tour through the museum in downtown Honolulu is a must.
Get made in the shade
Find yourself a good book (try either Mark Twain's Roughing It or Jack London's Cruise of the Snark, they both have brilliant accounts of the South Shore back in their respective days), stake out a nice grassy patch in the shade of a palm tree and try to get more than five pages in before drifting off to tropical dreams.
Even on O'ahu, the most populated of the Hawaiian islands, getting off the beaten path isn't all that hard to do. Take a drive down the coastal highways, head north, south, east or west, and at some point you're bound to uncover a quiet beach, a fun wave, and some much needed downtime from the frenzy that can be summertime in Hawaii.
Surf schools: a few of the best
Hans Hedeman Surf Camp
The premier surf camp on the South Shore, the Hans Hedeman Surf Camp has a top-flight staff of instructors and offers just about any surf-related adventure you may be looking for. Started in 1997 by former world-tour star and local boy Hans Hedeman, the school now employs other icons such as Pipeline Master Johnny Boy Gomes, world-record paddler Bobby Owens, and all-round waterman Kainoa McGee. They teach everybody, from the most seasoned professionals to the pasty-white tourist just off a plane. If surfing's not your thing, they can arrange for a bike and hike to the top of Diamond Head.
Faith Surf School
Tony Moniz is the man. He's been a pillar in the Hawaiian surf community for years, and typifies the Aloha Spirit. If you're staying on the South Shore you're in luck: every day the camp gathers at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort and Spa. Lessons start at 8:30am, 12pm, and 3pm, but show up at least 20 minutes early to check in and get your gear dialled. A two-hour private, one-on-one lesson will set you back US$200, while group lessons cost only US$75. If you've got a little adventure in mind, you can arrange for Tony to take you on a surf tour of the island.
North Shore Surf Camp
While summer is definitely the off-season for the North Shore, North Shore Surf Camp will be able to find some swell and get you up on a board in no time. The keynote instructor is the legendary Karen Gallagher - a woman who's lived on the North Shore for the past 25 years and competed at the highest professional levels. The instruction is top-notch and the prices are very reasonable (US$100 for a private lesson, US$60 for a group rate, and if your family wants to learn, drop her a line: she might even cut you a deal).
Hawaiian Fire Surf School
This is the turnkey solution to surf lessons. They provide the transportation and the boards, and may even take you to a more secluded, and considerably less crowded, spot to learn. It's not the cheapest route you could take (group lessons start at US$99 and a private session can cost upwards of US$180), but if you don't want any hassles and just want to get up and riding, Hawaiian Fire's a great option.