Best Places to SUP on your Hawaiian Vacation
Come share the Aloha spirit and visit the birthplace of stand up paddle boarding with a trip to Hawaii. You are going to love these spots that we have curated for you.
Most stand up paddle board aficionados know that Hawaii is the birthplace of modern SUP. In fact, if you would like a complete SUP history lesson, check out our article on it here.
The beach boys that taught surfing on Waikiki famously created paddle boards by adding a long paddle to extra-large surfboards so that they could keep an eye on their students. There are few places on earth that are better to paddle board than the birthplace of SUP with its warm waters, gentle breezes and rolling waves. We’ve distilled some of the best spots to SUP in the islands for your next vacation.
On the vaunted north shore of Kauai, you will find scenery that is literally straight out of a dream. In a prior post about Epic Spots Globally to SUP, we covered the Na Pali Coast which is a little further up the road from Hanalei. Hanalei itself offers two incredible waterways: Hanalei Bay and Hanalei River.
The bay offers 2 miles of sandy beach that are surrounded by gorgeous green mountains which rise 4,000 feet rather spectacularly and launch dozens of waterfalls after a heavy rain. Paddling out to the center of the bay will give you an awe-inspiring view of the mountains which include “Puff the Magic Dragon” whose likeness appears along the ridgeline.
The surf in the bay can get rather large in the winter so check the conditions before heading out and if it is beyond your comfort level, you may want to stick to the river. The river remains calm year-round, even when violent breakers are pummeling the beach. It’s a gorgeous tree-lined paddle that passes through taro fields and gives the paddler a beautiful view of various waterfalls.
On one side, you can take in the world famous Mount Waialeale which is the second wettest spot on planet earth. The river is mostly navigable to the bridge at Kuhio Highway. Most paddlers start at the beach and push through the current for the first part of the river. The current eases up after the first quarter mile or so.
Kapalua Bay, Maui
Rated as one of the top 10 beaches in Hawaii, Kapalua Bay is a wonderful spot to enjoy paddle boarding in paradise. The bay itself is an almost perfect crescent that protects it from the winds that can make paddle boarding challenging on this side of the island. There is very little chop in the bay which is especially appreciated by those that are new to the sport.
There are some beautiful coral reefs in the bay that are teeming with tropical fish that can often be seen from your SUP when the water is extra calm and clear. Lots of sea turtles visit the area as well which makes for fun sightseeing.
Because of the perfect “C” of the bay, you never need to paddle too far from the shore if that is a concern. There are many resorts nearby, so we suggest you hit Kapalua in the morning before the area gets too crowded.
Visit the Olu Café for a little lunch and a Mai Tai after your paddle.
Keauhou Bay, Hawaii
Known as “The Big Island” Hawaii is the newest of the island chain and is unique in that it is one of the world’s most geologically diverse spots.
You can venture from the snow-capped peak of the Mauna Loa volcano to Papakolea Beach which is one of only two greensand beaches in the US (Guam has the other one) or to Panaluu Beach Park with is a picturesque black sand beach.
For some of the best paddle boarding, we recommend Keauhou Bay which has historical significance in that it was the birthplace of King Kamehameha III and was a favorite retreat for Hawaiian royalty.
The harbor in Keauhou Bay is one of the most scenic spots in all the islands and its waters tend to be calmer than the neighboring bays. If you are looking for more of a SUP adventure, head south to what is affectionately known as “The End of the World” where there are quite a few sea caves. Just be forewarned that the calm of the bay gives way to lots of chop and rocky outcrops on that excursion.
Lanikai Beach, Oahu
If you are heading to Oahu and you have any interest in surfing your SUP, we would be remiss if we didn’t tell you to spend a day at the actual beach that credits itself as the place where stand up paddle boarding originated (as well as surfing) – Waikiki Beach.
The long rolling waves a Waikiki are easy to learn on and you can get some epic rides. Our one kibble with Waikiki - and it’s not a small one - is that it’s so congested. Somehow all those high rises detract from the “get away from it” feel that most of us are looking for, which is why we are recommending Lanikai Beach for the best SUP experience.
Lanikai is a 30-minute drive from Honolulu and the eastern side of the island in the town of Kailua. The beach itself is half a mile long and is consistently ranked amongst the best beaches in the world. The water is impossibly blue and the sand a sparkling white. It’s truly a remote paradise.
Drive your iSUP out there and paddle out to the Mokulua Islands - also known as the Mokes - which are about a mile out from the beach. Both islands are bird sanctuaries so you will only be able to paddle your SUP around the perimeter of each island. Since there are no beach breaks on Lanikai, the water stays quite calm.
You will want to make a day of your trip to Lanikai so we suggest grabbing dinner at our favorite Japanese fusion restaurant the Uahi Island Grill.
Enjoy your next trip to Hawaii by checking out these incredible waterways. Even with the pandemic raging, the Aloha Spirit is still alive and well in the islands. Every dedicated stand up paddle boarder deserves a visit to the birthplace of the sport at some point in their life.