Hawaiian SUP Adventures

These stand-up paddleboard itineraries will carry you beyond the ordinary


Like surfing, stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) has deep roots in Hawaiian culture, and the islands remain a hotbed for the growth of this evolving sport. The appeal is easy to understand. Compared to surfing, the learning curve is much easier. Novices can be cruising calm waters almost immediately, and venture into friendly shore breaks soon after gaining sea legs. At the other end of the spectrum, the sport’s innovators are pushing the limits with open ocean crossings and big wave rides. Whatever your interest and skill level, you will find ample opportunities in the Hawaiian Islands to take to the water on a SUP. To give some idea of the variety of adventures that await, here are three unique and memorable ways to enjoy the ride while standing up.

Hawaii SUP

Experienced stand up paddleboard enthusiasts are taking their sport into the waves, which actually represents a return to the sport’s original Hawaiian roots. Photo: iStock

River Runs

Kauai’s Hanalei River flows northward from the island’s mountainous interior to the north shore. The lower half of this winding and scenic waterway offers expanses of calm water that are free of motorized boat traffic. This is an ideal venue for mastering the basics of SUP riding, or for embarking on an upstream paddle through riverside taro farms and on into the forested banks of the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge. Several companies in the Hanalei and Princeville areas can provide rental boards, but if you are new to the sport, it’s probably best to sign up for a tour. Guides typically provide instruction in the basics of the sport, which will make the experience far more enjoyable. If you plan to stay in the area, a good choice is the Hanalei Colony Resort.

Whale Watch

With a bit of practice and the right board, most people can comfortably manage a SUP in the ocean, provided they stay near a calm lee shore such as the western coastline of Maui. The Wailea area offers ideal conditions for a coastal paddle, along with a spectacular seasonal bonus. Between the months of December and April, humpback whales gather in the waters around Maui to mate, give birth and nurture their young. Dozens of tour boat operators offer whale-watching tours, but viewing these magnificent mammals from the deck of a motor vessel can’t compare to getting up close on a paddleboard. There’s no engine noise or crowded decks to come between you and the experience, and the SUP’s upright paddling position gives you a great vantage point for spotting breaching whales. Private tours and small group excursions are available, and though it helps to have some practice handling a board in small swells, guides can often coach even novice paddlers to success. The premier property to book when planning a SUP adventure is the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea.

Wave Ride

As the sport evolves, a growing number of SUP riders are venturing into the surf, and in some cases riding big waves. This trend is actually a return to the roots, which came about when Hawaii’s first generation of surfing instructors started using longer boards and canoe paddles to provide themselves with a more versatile and mobile platform from which to teach. Novice riders don’t belong in crashing surf, but SUPs are ideal for riding smaller waves. Compared to the average surfboard, they are more stable and can catch less powerful waves earlier while providing longer rides. This makes them ideal for Waikiki Beach, where there are a number of rental concessions. Novices will want to include some lesson time, and are often able to catch some waves on the first session. If you are looking for a room near the beach, the Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach continues to provide a top-rated combination of value, location and amenities.