Hawaii is known as one of the best SUP destinations in the world and is where the sport originated in the 16th century. We knew we had to visit. At the beginning of January, my husband, Colby, and I escaped the freezing Midwest winter by hopping around the Hawaiian Islands for the month with our inflatable paddle boards. Through our travels, we discovered the best places to paddle board in Hawaii.
The best places to paddle board in Maui
Makena Landing Park
Makena Landing Park is in South Maui and known for its lively reef. It’s pretty much a guarantee that you’ll see a honu (sea turtle) or five. This park is spread out, but can get crowded during the day. We recommend going early to avoid crowds and afternoon winds. The park had all the right amenities to go paddle boarding.
- Paved parking lot
- Shaded grass spots for prepping boards (post paddle picnic or hang out)
- Public bathrooms
- Small sandy entry area with gentle waves
- Outdoor showers for rinsing off and cleaning your boards
This West Maui bay is protected from large swells, has a beautiful sandy beach and is surrounded by resorts making it another popular spot that is best visited early in the morning. We went just after sunrise and were the only ones there for a while.
Our time was cut short because of an alert on our phones that read, “Ballistic Missile Threat Inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.” We hid out under a concrete covered walkway with a few other confused beach-goers. After thirty minutes of frantic online searching with no results, we all received another alert soon after reading, “There is no missile threat or danger to the State of Hawaii. Repeat. False Alarm.” By then we were a little shook and hungry so we just packed our boards up and celebrated not getting blown up over coffee and crepes at Belle Surf Cafe.
The best places to paddle board in Kauai
Hanalei Bay has almost two miles of beach with an epic mountain backdrop. The large grassy area between the parking lot and beach was filled with people carrying surfboards and families gathered for a barbeque dinner. Right before sunset, we entered the bay near the pier where the water was calm. Paddling around the bay we couldn’t stop admiring how beautiful the area was. Waterfalls spilled between the deep ridges of massive lush green mountains. Just outside of the reef’s protection were surfers riding large waves. It was such an idyllic spot we stayed out on the water until after sunset when the darkness forced us to leave.
- Great spot to watch surfers from a distance on paddle boards
- Epic mountain backdrops
- Cultural Hawaiian experience
We set out at Hanalei Bay where the river meets the ocean. It was without a doubt the most beautiful river paddling we’ve done – wide, calm, beautiful landscapes and sprinkled with bright orange sea hibiscus blooms. Racing and bumping each other, we made a game of who could collect the most fallen flowers on their board (victory was mine).
Plant life in the valley’s fertile wetlands was dense and came right to the river’s edge. Palm trees, monkeypod trees, hibiscus bushes and tall grasses crowded along the water. We paddled up river until we came to an old metal bridge, then let the river take us back downstream.
- Lush green landscapes and waterfalls
- Lazy river
- Flower bloom
Wailua River to Secret Falls
Secret Falls is a 120-foot tall waterfall that is only accessible via the Wailua River and a hike through the rain forest. While researching the area, we learned that the falls can get very crowded during the day. To dodge other tourists, we planned to reach the falls around the time that the paddle and kayak rental shops were closing. The freedom to go anywhere at any time is why we love traveling with our ISLE inflatable boards.
How to get to the secret falls:
- Enter the Wailua River Marina’s boat ramp
- Paddle two miles up the river
- After you’ve paddle two miles, take a right at the fork
- Minutes later you will see a small clearing that is the beginning of the trailhead
- Hike a mile through lush rainforest, crossing streams (will be muddy & messy)
- You have made it to the secret falls know as Uluwehi Falls
The best places to paddle board in Oahu
Lanikai Beach to the Mokulua Islands
Lanikai is one of those beaches you could spend all day lounging on. It’s a long sandy beach with palm trees and colorful boats. It’s the perfect place for a gentle entry with no beach breaks. The Mokulua Islands, aka The Mokes, are about a mile out. Both islands are bird sanctuaries and people are only allowed around the perimeter of the smaller island, Moko Nui.
- Gentle entry at Lanikai Beach
- Mile paddle to the Mokulua Islands
- Avoid the larger reef on the paddle to the islands
- Be cautious of the rough waves on the islands’ shore
Mokoli’i Island, also referred to as Chinaman’s Hat, is a part of the Kualoa Regional Park and only ⅓ mile off shore. During low tide the water between is only waist deep making it possible to do on foot, but paddle boarding it is totally the best way to go. Be very careful to avoid hitting your fins on rocks rock that stick out of the water in the shallower spots. It is a quick and easy paddle to the island.
- Easy paddle from the park to the island
- You can hike to the top of Mokoli’I, but be careful, it’s best suited for confident hikers and climbers
- Amazing panoramic view at the top