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February 05, 2021 14 min read

Breath-taking views, mouth-watering food, and incredible waters — paddle boarding Hawaii is a dream come true.

Are you looking for a touch of paradise while paddle boarding?

I’m talking about deep blue skies, tranquil waters, palm trees, and the most beautiful scenery you could ever imagine.

Of course, you are. I mean. It’s Hawaii!

Who wouldn’t want this?

This dream destination is the perfect vacation for SUPers looking for that extra special touch. Hawaii offers some of the most epic paddle board adventures that you will remember for the rest of your life.

In this in-depth article:

I’m going to share with you the best places to paddle board on the island, I’ll answer some of the common questions you have and by the time you have finished reading, you'll know everything there is to know.

Let’s begin with a bit of history.

Hawaiian Island Paddle Boarding History: Where It Began

Paddling Boarding Hawaii

Hawaii is one of the most well-known historical paddle boarding locations in the world and regarded as the birthplace of SUP. Many believe it started back in the 16th century when locals used their makeshift vessels to cross the river. 

While others point to the year 1768, and Captain James Cook, who was the first Westerner to land on the Hawaiian Islands. After hitting the shore at Kealakekua Bay on the main island, he quickly discovered the locals had a passion for the ocean and the waves.

Cook discovered that people were traveling across the water on boards and that the village chief was traditionally the best at riding the waves, using the biggest board around 5 meters (16 feet) while others used boards around 2-3m (6-9 feet). They used these boards to travel between the islands, going around the swells, and venture beyond the outer reefs.

However, more people today point to the 1940s and a man named, John Ah Choy.

Choy was a local man who loved to surf, but as he started to age, he began to struggle with the demands of surfing. Looking for a solution, he started to stand on his surfboard and use a paddle to ride the waves. This seemed to help overcome the demands of getting on and off the board.

As time went by, others started to copy his idea of using a paddle and within a few years, surf coaches were mimicking this technique to train the surfers.

Fast-forward to today, this technique is super popular and known as stand up paddle boarding. 

One of the main reasons behind the rise in popularity was largely down to a guy born in the 1960s called Laird Hamilton. A well-known surfer from San Francisco who became a pioneer for paddleboarding and took it to the next level.

The sight of him riding waves on the ocean with his paddle was enough for the sport to take off. Many believe he was the driving force and the reason it’s so popular today.

Want to learn more about SUP History? Read more:A Quick History of Stand Up Paddle Boarding

Hawaii, The Big Island

The Big Island

“The Big Island” of Hawaii is impressive in its size. Mountains, volcanoes, lush valleys, and jet-black sandy beaches. There is so much to keep you busy both on and off the water! 

Be sure to check out some of these incredible locations and activities:

    • Maunakea — snow-capped volcano range in the Hawaii Volcano National Park
    • Hilo — lush valleys, incredible waterfalls, and zipline adventures 

Papohaku Beach — Hawaii’s largest white sand beach

  • World-renowned golf courses
  • Stargazing from every corner of the island

Now onto paddle boarding. Make sure you paddle these iconic spots while you’re here.

Kahalu’u Beach Park and Bay

The calm and protected waters of Kahalu’u Bay are well known for their honu, green sea turtles. Paddle over the beautiful reef and discover the bay’s unique, yet fragile, ecosystem. 

Quick Tip: Take a snorkel and mask for the ride to get a full view of the underwater world. 

Be sure to brush up your knowledge on “reef etiquette” to aid the mission of Kahaluu Education Center to keep the reef safe. Never stand on the reef or anchor your stand up paddle board directly to the coral. 

Note: the beach and waters do close to visitors when the coral is spawning, normally in May.

Kealakekua Bay

Head south down the west coast to find Kealakekua Bay, a state historical park that has perfect waters for snorkeling, diving, and of course, paddle boarding. 

Vibrant corals and schools of tropical fish can be seen through the crystal clear waters as you paddle alongside the rugged lava cliffs. Keep your eyes on the lookout for spinner dolphins.

The area is famous for its history, marking the site where Captain James Cook landed on the island in 1778. Check out the white obelisk Captain Cook Monument in the Park. 

Keauhou Bay

Fancy casting your hand at snatching a catch-of-the-day? Head over to Keauhou Bay for a day of Stand Up Paddle Board fishing! Just be aware of the boat traffic in the bay as a lot of tour boats depart from here regularly. 

This is also a hot spot for the incredible manta rays feeding on plankton, typically at night. We recommend joining one of the eco-tours from Anelakai Adventures to get up close and personal with the manta rays.

Kukio Beach

White sands, coconut palms, and lava rock formations. Kukio Beach is an iconic spot that lives up to all expectations.

Hit this spot in the mornings for calmer waters, which is ideal for stand up paddle boarding. It’s best to avoid this location in the winter months as the rocky shoreline combined with strong swells can be dangerous to take a board out.

Big Island Hawaii Paddle Board Rental Stores

Haven’t got your gear yet? No problem. Head over to one of these great rental stores on the island to get yourself kitted up:

All of these stores offer great gear available for rent as well as lessons for those who need them.

Maui, The Valley Isle

SUP Hawaii

“The Valley Isle” is the second-largest Hawaiian island and offers some unbelievable spots to get in the water and paddle. Maui is best known for its world-famous beaches, sacred valleys, and migrating humpback whales.

Are you a diver? 

While here, you have to dive with the hammerheads! This adventurous and incredible experience will leave you with memories to last a lifetime. We highly recommend Lahaina Divers if this is something you fancy doing.

Paddle boarding in Maui is as good as it gets. Grab your board, hit Maui’s dreamy beaches, and jump into the striking cobalt waters.

Honolua Bay

Honolua Bay is popular amongst experienced surfers due to the powerful waves during the winter months. However, during the summer months, this spot is a great place to safely try SUP surfing on the gentler, more forgiving waves.

It’s important to remember that the ocean’s conditions can change quickly. Only go out in waters that you feel safe and comfortable in.

Kaanapali Beach

Once voted as America’s Best Beach, Kaanapali Beach offers three miles of white sand and crystal clear water. Kaanapali was Hawaii’s first-ever planned resort, offering world-class hotels, golf courses, restaurants, and entertainment. 

If you're looking for somewhere to fully load your vacation both on and off the ocean, then Kaanapali is the perfect place for you.

Makena Beach State Park

This is a great place for both beginners and more experienced paddle boarders to take to the waters. The bay waters are generally calm and offer easy launch sites perfect for first-timers. 

Makena Beach is a popular location to paddle over to “Turtle Town”, a great stretch of reef on South Maui, known for the vast numbers of sea turtles. Remember, turtles are to be looked at and never touched as this can cause them a lot of harm. In fact,  in Hawaii, it's illegal to intentionally touch sea turtles.

Kapalua Bay

These sheltered white sands on the northwest side of Maui are perfect for paddle boarding. Kapalua Bay is a stunning C-shaped cove with active marine life and spirited environments.

Remember to pack your waterproof camera in your dry bag for this ride. The views are jaw-dropping and will create memories to last a lifetime.

Kihei

Kihei is a must-visit location for the winter months when humpback whales are migrating. If you’re lucky, you may spot a whale breaching out on the ocean horizon. Palm trees line the 6-mile long coast, offering great shady spots for paddle boarding.

Napili Bay

Napili Bay is another stunning crescent-shaped beach on the northwest coast of Maui. Stunning emerald waters lap the sandy shores, giving you another great place to glide over the Hawaiian waters.

The Maliko Run

Not strictly a location, but a well-known paddle stretch and route taken by experienced paddle boarders who want to challenge themselves on the beautiful Maui waters. The Maliko Run, runs from Paia, in the north of the island, down to Kanaha Beach Park. 

You have the choice of going outside of the reef for the rolling swell, over the reef for peaky breaks, or inside the reef for a more relaxed paddle. 

Maui Paddle Board Rental Stores

Maui is stocked full of rental paddle boarding gear.  Stand up paddle boarding in Maui could not be any easier. Check out one of these stores for lessons, rentals, and tours:

Oahu, The Gathering Place

The Gathering Place Hawaii

“The Gathering Place” is Hawaii’s third-largest island and home to some of the most incredible beaches, bays, and parks. From bustling cities to laid-back surf towns, Oahu has it all. 

In between paddles discover the unique culture of Oahu by land:

  • Sightsee around Honolulu and visit the iconic Hawaii 5-0 HQ building.
  • Hike up Leahi (Diamond Head), the iconic volcanic crater with a panoramic view of Waikiki.
  • Dive into the countryside at Kualoa Ranch either on horseback or an all-terrain-vehicle.
  • Play golf on world-class courses.
  • Indulge in traditional Polynesian and Hawaiian feasts.

Lanikai Beach to Mokulua Islands

Paddleboarding in hawaii

Here’s a challenge for the more experienced paddle boarder. Lanikai Beach to Mokulua Islands is a 1-mile paddle. You will be rewarded with crystal clear waters teeming with marine life and treetops full of tropical birds.

One of the Mokulua Islands is an amazing bird sanctuary — strictly off-limits by foot. However, you can paddle around this beautiful island, which is an experience not to be missed.

Lanikai Beach itself is often regarded as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. We recommend you set the alarm early, hit the water, and be mesmerized by the almost guaranteed Oahu sunrise. 

Mokoli’i Island

Further up the coast is another fantastic island off the west coast. Mokoli’i Island is accessed from Kualoa Regional Park. 

At low tide, you can hike across the rocks to the island. However, we recommend grabbing your paddle board and exploring the waters. Just be mindful of the tide times affecting currents and access. 

Waimea Bay

Waimea Bay is a great place to learn how to paddle board in the summer months — winter is another story. The North Shore swells peak at a monstrous level in the surf peak season. If you still want to take a SUP out, head around the corner to Haleiwa Beach Parkfor year-round calm waters.

Waikiki Bay

Wiakiki Bay

Possibly the most famous beach in Hawaii, Waikiki Bay is an excellent paddle boarding spot in Oahu. Try catching a wave or simply cruise on the beautiful waters.

Being only a 20-minute drive away from Honolulu, this spot can get crowded quite easily, but the vibes are amazing — pure electric Hawaii.

Ala Moana Beach Park

Lantern Ceremony in Hawaii

Ala Moana Beach Park is something truly special. These tranquil waters are protected by an outer reef which gives us perfect SUP conditions. There are over 100-acres of water to explore making it a perfect place for training your fitness and skills.

If you are here for Memorial Day make sure you get to see the Lantern Ceremony where the water is lit up with over 6,000 floating lanterns. 

Puaena Point Beach Park

Puaena is a great place to get a feel for the waves and try your hand at SUP surfing. The waters can get a bit choppy in winter with the rolling swell moving in.

This remote and raw beach was featured on Lost,the TV show. So you can just imagine how stunning the scenery is.

Sunset Beach

This is another spot for some pretty big waves in the winter months. Taking out a Stand Up Paddle Board can be extremely challenging in these conditions, so we urge only the highly experienced paddle boarders to tackle it. 

However, Sunset Beach in the summer months offers perfectly calm waters with plenty to explore. Why not stop off along the way and discover the vibrant marine life.

Oahu Paddle Board Rental Stores

If you want to paddle on this island, but you don’t have your own board, then you can rent from one of the many rental shops on the island. There really is nothing stopping you from hitting the water.

Below are a few we recommend:

Kauai, The Garden Isle

“The Garden Isle” is an accurate description of the beautiful Kauai. Emerald valleys and lush rainforests drape over a rugged landscape filled with waterfalls and rivers. The dramatic and raw beauty of Kauai is mesmerizing.

Hanalei Bay

Jump into the shimmering blue waters of Hanalei Bay on Kauai’s north shore. The town itself is the epitome of timeless beauty giving you an unforgettable experience.

Launch your Stand Up Paddle Board from the historical Hanalei Pier which doubles up as a great sunset viewing spot.

Hanalei River

Looking for some dramatic backdrops and a touch of adventure? Hanalei River is the place for you. The trail carves through the lush green landscape and is relatively beginner-friendly. 

Along this lazy river, you’ll see a range of wildlife, the historic Hanalei Bridge, and a handful of waterfalls in between. If you want a relaxing and peaceful paddle, this is the place to be.

Wailua River to Secret Falls

Wailua River is another amazing inland spot to visit. Follow the meandering river through lush canopies, stumble across swimming holes, and of course, the mind-blowing Secret Falls  — a 120-foot waterfall cascading down into the jungle.

This route is suitable for all levels. Launch from Wailua River Marina’s boat ramp and paddle 2-miles until you reach a fork in the river. Then take a right turn and after a few minutes, you reach a clearing that is the start of the trailhead. From here,  you need to hike a short distance into the rainforest to find Uluwehi Falls, also known as the secret falls.

Anini Beach

The safe lagoons at Anini Beach are perfect for beginners to give paddle boarding a try safely. With dazzling waters and jaw-dropping coast for a backdrop, we can’t think of a better place to learn how to paddle.

Kauai Paddle Board Rental Stores

Don’t worry if you haven’t got your paddle boards and gear. Head over to one of the friendly paddle board rental stores in Kauai to get kitted out. Why not grab a lesson while you’re at it to complete your Kauai paddle boarding experience!

Lanai, The Pineapple Isle

Lania Pineapple Island

“The Pineapple Isle” is one of the smaller Hawaiian Islands, but that doesn’t mean it offers anything less than the others. Lanai is an island that consists of two sides: world-class resorts, impressive golf courses, and bumpy dirt roads are there to discover.

Need a rental or lessons? Head over to Adventure Lana’i Island Club

Here are two must-see SUP spots if you’re lucky to find yourself on Lanai. 

Hulopoe Beach

White sands, crystal clear waters, and emerald rainforests — Hulopoe Beach is sensational.

Cruise over the calm waters during the summer months, or catch a wave over the winter season. The marine life here is abundant with dolphins showing off their acrobatic skills in the summer and humpback whales in the winter.

Polihua Beach

Looking for a secluded paradise? Take the beaten track to the north coast and soak up the beauty of Polihua Beach. This is a little slice of heaven with pristine, and typically empty, beaches. 

Just be aware of the conditions as the winds and swell can pick up quickly here. We only recommend experienced paddle boarders take to the waters here due to the remoteness of the beach.

Molokai, The Friendly Isle

Molokai SUP Location Hawaii

Molokai, “The Friendly Isle”, is a different kettle of fish when it comes to the Hawaiian Islands. The local community is extremely traditional and they like to keep it that way, so don’t take their demeanor personally. 

The island remains particularly untouched and undeveloped. Tourists are not the most welcome, instead, the locals prefer proper travelers to make the trip. Anyone wishing to venture onto Molokai is advised to respect the locals, and maybe offer some voluntary or community work as a token of good-will.

The waters around this serene island are stunning. If you do manage to get enough time to make a worthwhile trip to Molokai, check out these unbelievable locations:

  • Kamalo Harbor
  • Papohaku Beach
  • North Coast
  • Kepuhi Bay

Top Tips to Paddle Board Hawaii

Now you know where to paddle, here are a few more tips to make your stand up paddle boarding Hawaiian adventures even better.

Have The Correct Gear

Your Stand Up Paddle Board equipment is fundamental. A good quality paddle board, correct length paddle, and a PFD for safety are all things people need to consider before paddlingboarding. 

If you’re a beginner, head to one of the many rental stores mentioned in the guide and they will make sure you get the right SUP gear. 

An All-Around Stand Up Paddle Board is recommended if you plan on exploring the rivers as well as the ocean. If you want to take on some waves and try surfing, bring (or rent) a Surf SUP.

Read More:How to Choose a Stand Up Paddle Board

Learn the basics

Again, if you are a beginner paddler, grab a lesson or join a tour. You will benefit from having someone showing you the basic techniques on how to paddle correctly. 

Check out our How to Paddle Board article for tips and tricks to give you a head start.

Make sure you’re using your core strength and keep looking to the horizon to help your balance skills. Once you start paddling, you’ll pick it up in no time at all.

Be aware of other paddlers

Like most places, you have to be on top of your etiquette and be aware of other paddlers when out on the water. Stand up paddleboarding in Hawaii is super popular and gets busier each year. 

Everyone is paddling for the same reason — to have fun. So be considerate and allow other paddlers to have space to enjoy their ride.

Respect the conditions & the wildlife

The Hawaiian Islands are renowned for their mega swells in the winter. Always check the weather forecast for both winds and swell, as they can turn on at the flick of a switch. 

Never go out if the conditions are not within your comfort zone and always respect the ocean.

And just like the conditions, the wildlife should also be treated with respect. The Hawaiians are incredibly protective over their reef, marine life, and all creatures great and small. Never intentionally touch a sea turtle or invade the space of whales. Avoid touching the reef as much as possible.

Don’t go too far offshore

Be aware of the currents moving in between the islands. Try to stick close to the shore to avoid getting swept out in the fast-moving waters. Safety should be your priority.

Interactive Map Of Paddle Boarding In Hawaii

FAQ’S

🏆 Is paddle boarding the Hawaiian islands suitable for beginners?

Yes! There are some great beginners and family-friendly paddle boarding spots to experience in Hawaii. Remember to always check the conditions before diving into the water. One of the best spots we recommend is the Hanalei River which offers calm conditions and epic views.


👍 Can I rent SUP gear on the Hawaiian Islands?

Yes. All of the islands have a selection of great rental stores providing SUP gear and lessons. Check out the different places mentioned above.


🏝️ Where can I paddle board in Kauai?

Kauai has some mega locations. Make sure you check out these places:

  • Hanalei Bay
  • Hanalei River
  • Wailua River
  • Anini Beach

❓ Where can I SUP in Maui?

Maui is one of the most popular islands to visit in Hawaii. Be sure to paddle board these spots:

  • Honolulu Bay
  • Kaanapali Beach
  • Makena Beach State Park
  • Kapalua Bay
  • Kihei
  • Napili Bay
  • Maliko

📦 Where can you paddle board in Oahu?

Oahu is amazing for paddle boarding. Include these spots on your travel hit list:

  • Lanikai Beach
  • Mokoli’i Island
  • Waimea Bay
  • Waikiki Bay
  • Ala Moana Beach Park
  • Puaena Point Beach Park
  • Sunset Beach

📦 What is the most popular place to paddle board Hawaii?

Each of the islands has its hotspots for paddle boarding. However, one of the most popular places to visit is probably Honolulu Bay.

Wrapping Up

Paddling in Hawaii is heavenly! Grab your iSUP and head out to the Hawaii's magical islands. Tell us your favorite place to paddle board in Hawaii by leaving us a comment below.

Jay Regan
Jay Regan

Chief Paddler - Jay has been surfing and paddling for over 5 years. When he's not dreaming up new stuff at GILI, he's writing articles about paddling, out paddling, or often traveling.


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