Best Places to Stand up Paddleboard 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.

Key Highlights

  1. Hanalei, Kauai: Offering a mix of serene river paddling and bay adventures, Hanalei is a dream destination for paddleboarders. Explore the calm Hanalei River or venture into Hanalei Bay for breathtaking mountain views and potential waterfall sightings. Ideal for all skill levels, especially with its year-round calm river waters.
  2. Kapalua Bay, Maui: Known for its calm waters protected from the wind, Kapalua Bay is perfect for beginners. Paddle over vibrant coral reefs and visit with sea turtles in this top-rated beach spot.
  3. Keauhou Bay, Hawaii (The Big Island): Rich in history and natural beauty, Keauhou Bay offers calm waters for beginners and adventurous routes near sea caves for advanced paddlers. A must-visit for those seeking both tranquility and challenge.
  4. Lanikai Beach, Oahu: For a more secluded SUP experience away from the crowded Waikiki, Lanikai Beach offers pristine waters and stunning views. Paddle to the Mokulua Islands and enjoy bird watching in this remote paradise.


Most stand up paddle board aficionados know that Hawaii is the birthplace of modern paddle boarding.  In fact, if you would like a complete stand up paddle board history lesson, check out our article on it here.

paddle boards in hawaii

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 paddle boarding with its warm waters, gentle breezes and rolling waves. We’ve distilled some of the best spots to paddle board in the islands for your next vacation whether you are using inflatable stand up paddle boards or hard boards.

Hanalei, Kauai

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 from your paddle board 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 even beginner paddlers 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 experienced 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 paddle boarding.

There are some beautiful coral reefs in the bay that are teeming with tropical fish that can often be seen from your stand up paddle board 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 board 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 board session.

Keauhou Bay, Hawaii

Glide inflatable Paddle Boards, for every location you can dream of.
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 stand up paddle board 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.  Only advanced paddlers should give it a go.

Lanikai Beach, Oahu 

If you are heading to Oahu and you have any interest in surfing your paddle board, 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 on your paddle board.  Our one quibble 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 paddle board 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 inflatable paddle boards 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 paddle board around the perimeter of each island.

Since there are no beach breaks on Lanikai, the water stays quite calm with some small waves. You will find that your paddle board remains stable for most of the day out here.

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 board enthusiast deserves a visit to the birthplace of the sport at some point in their life.

surfing a paddle board in hawaii


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