We Tried It: Wai Kai Lagoon and Surf Park in ‘Ewa Beach
We hit O‘ahu's West Side for a day of play at the new ‘Ewa Beach activity center.
What: Wai Kai, a newly opened recreation park offering water activities in a 52-acre lagoon and surf sessions in a 100-foot-wide wave pool
Who: A family of five, including two parents and a 13-year-old, 11-year-old and 10-year-old
Where: In ‘Ewa Beach next to the Hoakalei Country Club, between White Plains Beach and One‘ula Beach Park
When: Friday, late morning through the afternoon
Opened in March as part of Hoakalei Resort, Wai Kai has been getting a lot of buzz as the newest attraction on O‘ahu’s West Side. In addition to a massive surf-able wave pool, the center offers a ton of fun, family-friendly activities at its lagoon, including ones that you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else on-island.
First up, check in. Our family booked their sessions ahead of time online, something you’ll want to do to make sure you secure enough spots for everyone. Kama‘āina and active military personnel can even snag discounted rates by signing up for Wai Kai’s LineUp Local membership program.
And you’ll definitely want to complete your waiver forms before arrival if possible—if the check-in areas are busy, they could take a little while to do in person as you’ll have to fill out one for every participant. Keep in mind, keiki must be at least 6 years old and weigh at least 30 pounds to participate in lagoon activities. At the wave pool, the minimum age and weight are 10 years and 80 pounds, and keiki under age 13 need to have a parent or guardian present.
Wai Kai’s website suggests arriving 30 minutes prior to your first activity to ensure enough time to pick up your entry wristbands, find your activity area and stash your belongings. We’d even advise padding that a little to account for exploring the grounds, last-minute bathroom breaks, sunscreen slathering and wardrobe changes.
Next, we headed down to the waterfront. On the way to the activity area, you’ll pass Foam Coffee and Bar. Open for breakfast and lunch, its menu includes small bites, such as acai bowls, paninis and poke bowls that you can pair with juices, matcha lattes and even cocktails, wine and beer. There’s lots of outdoor seating along the water’s edge and free wi-fi if mom or dad wants to stay dry or needs to get a little work done.
Right after that, you’ll hit the Nalo Kai Lounge, which you can access with half-day or full-day passes. Inside, there’s an air-conditioned lounge, locker room, restrooms and showers with towels. Back outside, the boardwalk ends at a small private beach area dotted with clamshell-style lounge chairs that you can book individually or as add-ons.
A little farther and you’ll land at the dock where the lagoon activities kick off. You can book individual watercrafts by the hour, but for your first visit, we suggest opting for the Play Your Way pass, which lets you switch between a selection of watercrafts—pedal boats, pedal boards, HydroBikes, SUPs, kayaks—so you can decide which you like best for future visits. The pass also give you access to the floating cabanas sprinkled around the lagoon. Normally, the pass costs locals $20 per hour for keiki and $40 per hour for adults, but now through May 21, the lagoon is offering a kama‘āina rate that scores you four hours of play for the same price.
For safety, all participants must wear personal floatation devices. Lagoon staff are CPR-certified, and while our family was in the water, staffers were nearby in kayaks to supervise, offer advice on operating the watercraft and help out if needed. And since the lagoon is fully enclosed from the ocean, the water is calm and easy to traverse.
Swapping out watercrafts was quick and simple, and the hour-long session allowed more than enough time for our family to try all of the available options.
- 13-year-old Tai: “I liked that you didn’t have to pick just one thing to do. My favorite activity was the pedal board—I could move really well in the water on it. And it was nice that the floating cabanas were there if you wanted to hook your watercraft up and take a break.”
- 11-year-old Dylan: “All of the watercraft were pretty easy to use. My favorite was the one-person kayak—it was so fast and since the lagoon has a lot open space there’s tons of room to glide around.”
- 10-year-old Levi: “I liked the stand-up pedal board the best. It was so quick—when I was racing my mom I zoomed right past her! And it gives you a good thigh and calf workout. For smaller kids, the hydro bike and pedal boat can be a little hard to pedal if you’re shorter.”
- Mom, Joee: “The thing I liked the most was that there were a lot of workers on the water. At one point, I felt panicky when I couldn’t figure out how to turn around on the hydro bike, and someone was right there. And since it’s a lagoon, you don’t have to worry about floating too far out. I also felt adventurous being able to try all these different activities that I wouldn’t normally try.”
- Dad, Ronald: “The single-person kayak was really fun. That’s not something you get to do every day. The electric Duffy boat was cool too. I also liked that the staff was so attentive and friendly. If anyone got stuck, they’d jump on a board and paddle over to help.”
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The Wave Pool
Created in partnership with former pro surfer and X Games gold medalist Shane Beschen, Wai Kai’s wave pool offers sessions for multiple skill levels on 30-foot, 65-foot and 100-foot-wide waves. The entire pool is padded with foam to cushion falls, but unlike sheet-style pools, the Wai Kai pool features deep water in front and behind the wave, allowing riders to use surfboards with fins, carve turns and surf the wave from top to bottom.
The experienced surfers of the bunch, Dad and 11-year-old Dylan (who both surf weekly), were our chosen testers to try out the 100-foot-wide wave. Usually, a 45-minute session ranges from $140 to $210, but now through May 21, locals and military can surf it for $75 if signed up for the aforementioned LineUp Local kama‘āina program.
Our duo arrived 30 minutes ahead of time for orientation and to gear up. First-time riders and keiki start off with helmets and soft-top boards until they get used to the wave. You can also switch to rentable regular surfboards, a bodyboard or your own board.
Each session has a set group of up to 12 riders who line up to take turns on the wave. Staffers provide tips along the way on posture and will help you into the pool. The Wai Kai wave moves differently than ocean waves; the experience is more akin to river surfing.
When surfers fall, they’re swept over to a 4-foot-deep zone and then to the shallow end of the pool where they exit. This is where experience with ocean currents and recovering when thrown off a board come in handy. The deep zone can feel a little scary at first for those not used to the push and pull of the water.
Everyone wipes out at first, but soon Dad and Dylan are surfing the length of the wave, staying up longer with every turn—Dylan is even able to cut back and forth.
- 11-year-old Dylan: “This was my favorite activity. I was expecting it to be like surfing a normal wave, but it’s different—all of the water is pushing you backwards. It’s a little intimidating when you first look at it—it’s a lot of water—but once you get on it, it’s not bad. It took about three runs before I started to feel comfortable. The hardest parts are getting onto the wave and then keeping your speed up once on because if you look down, you’ll go off track. When you fall off, there’s a deep spot and then the water pushes you to the shallow end of the pool. You can feel the under part suctioning you and pulling you away from the wave.”
- Dad, Ronald: “It was harder than I thought it was going to be. We were advised not to focus on the water rushing at you, which can be confusing because it’s so different from regular surfing in which the water is pushing you forward. You want to put a lot of pressure on your back foot and not so much on your front. And you want to try to stay in the pocket—there’s a sweet spot on the wave you want to stay within to be able to flow with it.”
- At the lagoon, most of the watercrafts are single-user operated, so talk to keiki beforehand about what to expect in terms of how they work, challenges with the wind and how to flag down help if needed.
- When booking a surf session, carefully consider skill level and wave experience. You can always start small and build up to bigger waves.
- Wai Kai doesn’t allow outside food, so if you don’t plan to eat onsite, time your sessions accordingly. If you’re staying all day, check out its three dining spots—Foam Coffee & Bar, The LookOut and Plaza Grill—ahead of time to know what’s open when.
- Don’t panic if someone forgets their swimsuit. Wai Kai has a sweet little boutique that stocks clothing and swimwear, including many local brands, for the whole fam.
- Check out the Camp Kai summer watersports program if hunting for fun summer activities for your little ones. At the five-day camps that run from June 5 through Aug. 4, keiki learn fundamental water skills, as well as about ocean sustainability and Hawaiian culture through games, crafts and the use of watercraft.
Wai Kai, 91-1621 Keone‘ula Blvd., Ewa Beach, waikai.com, @waikailineup and @waikaiexperience
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