Wake Island

Wake Island

North Pacific Ocean
LAST UPDATED 09/09/2008
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Level of surfing


Quality of surf


Call code


Net code





53 km


Sub Tropical Maritime


Very Isolated, Cyclones, Difficult Access

Best Months

September - December




US Dollar (USD)

Time Zone


Special Requirements

Private Beaches, Special Pass / Permits, Lengthy VISA Process, Non tourist Friendly, Limited Surfing Supplies Available


Surfsupusa: Location Wake Island; 18 January 2006

Wake Island (also known as Wake Atoll) is a tiny coral atoll in Micronesia, located 2/3 of the way from Honolulu to Guam. The Marshall Islands are the atoll's nearest neighbor, a few hundred miles to the south. Wake island is a territory of the United States, administered by the Office of Insular Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior.


R.O. Kepler, USMC: Surrender of Wake Atoll; 4 September 1945 (U.S. Marine Corps Photograph, in the Collections of the Naval Historical Center)

The island was first discovered in 1568 by a Spanish explorer and re-discovered it in 1796 by Britain, who gave the atoll its present name. "Wake Island" properly refers only to this island; the collection of three islands, the reef, and the lagoon are known as "Wake Atoll." The 1840 United States Exploring Expedition gave their names to the smaller islands. But it was Pan American Airways that "put it on the map", building a "PAAville" and a 48-room hotel on Peale Island. They were also using it as a refueling and rest stop on their then-new "China Clipper" passenger and mail route between San Francisco and Hong Kong in 1935.

But Wake Island is best known for its role in World War II. In January 1941 the US Navy began construction of a military base on the atoll. As such, Wake would provide a vital American outpost in the Pacific. The Japanese Navy attacked it just hours after Pearl Harbor and successfully took the island. On September 4, 1945 the Japanese flag was replaced by the Stars and Stripes. 

Subsequently the island was turned over to the administration of the US Navy. Eventually the island passed under the control of the US Air Force, which used it for various purposes during the Cold War, mostly related to strategic defense and operations. At present it is administered by the Army Missile and Strategic Defense Command, but its role has not significantly changed.


Matthew Piatkowski: Wake Island; 2005

A pitching deck, the creak of well worn timbers, the cracking of sail and canvas...tied to the mast.  Things have changed a little I guess from when Jack London and  Josef Conrad wrote their haunting Pacific infused epics but it hasnt changed everythwhere. There are corners of this earth where that mythos still holds true, and most of those  corners are here in the South Pacific.

The main source of swell here is from the intense lows that circle the earth south of Australia, these lows spin off northwards with blessed regularity, peppering the entire region with generous SE to SW groundswell from March to September. Australia and New Zealand see the bulk of these swells. These countries cast a very tall shadow across the rest of the Pacific and hence many other islands in their wake can suffer from swell difusion. December to February is cyclone season. Unpredictable cells can deliver swell in a 360 radius, lighting up rarely breaking reefs and points facing every conceivable direction. 

The South Pacific trade winds are some of the most consistent in the world, generally from the East with slight seasonal variation. This is the largest Ocean on the planet and these winds easily generate regular rideable swell. Onshore conditions can be a problem on east facing coastlines but peeling yourself out for an early surf will usually bring some relief.

In the North Pacific it is the intense lows descending from the Aleutians that deliver NE to NW swells from October to March. Hawaii is ideally placed to make best use of this energy but other coastlines in the region have their own less publicised and far less crowded gems.

Jun to October also sees rarer hurricane swell radiate out from southern Mexico. This energy is often felt right throughout Polynesia. With so many energy vectors at work it is very hard not to find a wave near Wake Island, you just have to know when to look.


Wake's beautiful shark-free lagoon (from www.wikitravel.org)

Unfortunately, commercial air service to this beautiful island has been discontinued, and the atoll is no longer generally open to visitors. The airstrip is still available, but only for emergencies. All other requests are very likely to be denied. Sorry, guys...

where to stay

Todd VerBeek: Map of Wake Island atoll, based on various aerial/satellite photos; © 2006 (from www.wikitravel.org)

There are barracks on the island, but again, not for the visitors.

what to pack

Todd VerBeek: Wake Island and Peale Island, taken from the Northeast in May 1941

IF you manage to get there, make sure you have plenty of fresh water and sunscreen + hat, sunnies, light cotton clothes with long sleeves. Oh, yeah, and snorkelling gear!

dangers and warnings

Cjwillwin: Wake Artillery; 23 May 2006

Publicly known dangers are: sharks (in the waters of the Pacific around Wake Island), fish from the lagoon (contains unsafe levels of arsenic), no natural fresh-water sources. 

restaurants, shopping and nightlife

U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo: 98 rock, Wake Island; 01-12-2008

Drifter's Reef is the only bar on the island. There's also a base dining facility...not many options, ha?

what to do when it's flat

Coral Thumb (taken from www.wikitravel.org)

Again, not many things to do, probably just snorkelling, as the lagoon on the island is absolutely amazing.

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