Analyses of 32 drill cores obtained from the windward reef of Kailua Bay, Oahu, Hawaii, indicate that high wave energy significantly reduced accommodation space for reef development in the Holocene and produced variable architecture because of the combined influence of sea-level history and wave exposure over a complex antecedent topography. A paleostream valley within the late Pleistocene insular limestone shelf provided accommodation space for more than 11 m of vertical accretion since sea level flooded the bay 8000 yr BP. Virtually no net accretion (< 1 m) took place on surrounding Pleistocene substrates shallower than 10 m. Holocene reef accretion occurred in three stages: (1) an early stage of catch-up framestone development in water depths of 11-17 m, (2) an intermediate stage characterized by either no accretion or by the pile-up of fore-reef-derived rubble (rudstone) and sparse bindstone, and (3) a final stage of catch-up bindstone accretion in depths > 6 m. Coral framestone accreted at rates of 2.5-6.0 mm/yr in water depths > 11 m during the early Holocene; it abruptly terminated at ∼ 4500 yr BP because of wave scour as sea level stabilized. More than 4 m of rudstone derived from the upper fore reef accreted at depths of 6 to 13 m below sea level between 4000 and 1500 yr BP coincident with late Holocene relative sea-level fall. Variations in the thickness, composition, and age of these reef facies across spatial scales of 10-1000 m within Kailua Bay illustrate the importance of antecedent topography and wave-related stress in reducing accommodation space for reef development set by sea level. Although accommodation space of 6 to 17 m has existed through most of the Holocene, the Kailua reef has been unable to catch up to sea level because of persistent high wave stress.