Where to Go in Hilo: Honoli'i

Honoli’i Surf Spot

Staff Writer Nick Wagner
Photo Courtesy of Sasha Kauwale

Honoli’i Beach Park is a surf spot located about two miles north of downtown Hilo. The park consists of a rocky beach that turns into a black sand beach as you go toward the mouth of the river that feeds into the surf spot. The beach park also contains a grassy area where many choose to relax.

Bodyboarding, surfing, and fishing are among the common activities to participate in when going to Honoli’i. GoHawaii.com describes Honoli’i Beach Park as a “cove” with, “A rocky bottom with occasional strong currents, which makes it less of a swimming beach, and more of a great spot for experienced surf pros and watching professional surfers.”

Photograph of a view of the ocean with foliage in the foreground and a red roofed building in the background.

Of course, the main activity that comes to mind when thinking of Hawaii is surfing. This is an ancient sport of Hawaii, which many locals and visitors take part in when on any islands. Unfortunately, for Big Island surfers like Lito Arkangel, the Honoli’i surf spot can be seen as one of the only surf spots on the eastern side of the island. As a result, there is “an influx of people coming to the spot,” he notes.

As a member of the Honoli’i Paka, a non profit organization overseeing the park, Lito has helped in its maintenance over the last 18 years. Honoli’i bay has been surfed since the ancient times, or as Arkangel says, “since the beginning.” But as time went on many people used the bay almost as a garbage dump, as people would dump unwanted things, cars, and garbage down below into the beach park. This sparked motivation from Keith Nehls, known commonly among the locals as “Bradda Skibs,” to create Honoli’i Paka and clean up the surf spot that Hilo still enjoys today.

“I was taught by my Hawaiian grandfather to always give before you gather or surf,” Nehls says, adding that Honoli’i was his and select friends’ first project, which started Nov. 15, 2003. “Honoli’i is one of our examples, by never giving up,” he says. Since Honoli’i, Nehls and his hui have become stewards of Hakalau, Poho’iki and they help out in Kaʻu with Na Mamo O Kawa.

Meanwhile, Arkangel, who is also a Hawaiian studies lecturer at UH Hilo, has even taken classes on trips to the beach park so students can be a part of the cleanup. Arkangel says he likes to be an “engaging teacher, especially in Hawaii where the students need to experience the land.”

The influx of people and tourists to the popular spot have made it hard to maintain the park, according to Arkangel, “a lot of people come to Hawaii, but take what they can and don’t give back.”

Maintaining the park is hard, but would be a much easier job with the help of the visitors that enjoy Honoli’i Beach Park, Arkangel says. Students of UH Hilo can simply go to the park, collect driftwood, and have a fire on the beach, which he says helps in cleaning up the park.

“How cool is that? You can collect your own wood right on the beach, and have a fire down there,” Arkangel says. “Honoli’i is one of the only beaches in Hawaii where you can have a fire on the beach, and its not only fun, but it helps Honoli’i as well.”

Photograph of a sign saying, "Park Closed" in large letters

Being that Honoli’i is such an attractive surf spot. Honoli’i Paka developed an annual surf meet, mostly to encourage children to get involved in the sport. “Working with the youth and volunteers, it helps them understand the importance of giving back,” Nehls says, adding, “Malama Aina.”

As for surfing, Nehls says, “it’s good for the soul by going with the flow of the wave, and it keeps you healthy and smiling, Nehls says. “But remember if you are negative it's best for you to skip stones by the river because a negative vibe can’t flow with something so positive.”

The name Honoli’i bears great significance to the beach park itself, as hono means bay, and li’i means small according to Arkangel. But together as Honoli’i, the meaning of the beach park can be translated into the bay of the chiefs, where the surfers of Hilo come to show off their skills and enjoy the beautiful land that Hawaii offers, Arkangel says.