Last Updated on May 18, 2022 by Editor
The Hawaiian Islands are a majestic archipelago of islands, atolls, and islets in the North Pacific Ocean. Six of the eight major islands are accessible to tourists and it is these that we will explore to give you the lowdown on the best places to get out there and stand up paddleboard (SUP)! Along the way expect to see some of our top picks of the best paddle boards that we recommend to help make your excursions as enjoyable as possible.
You could go for the history – Hawaii is the birthplace of paddleboarding. You could go for the scenery – Hawaii boasts some of the most spectacular vistas on the planet. These are great reasons but we recommend going to the Hawaiian Islands because they have something special to offer paddleboarders of all abilities, ages, and experience levels. Hawaii is regarded as the best place in the World to SUP, and that is not just us being biased!
Touring the Hawaiian Islands
Each of the islands offers something different, and it’s often a matter of personal choice which you prefer. So let’s take a look at this most beautiful of places: here is our guide to the best Hawaii has to offer.
Hawaii (The Big Island)
Known as ‘The Big Island’ or simply as ‘Hawaiian Island’ to distinguish it from the state of Hawaii, this is the largest island in the archipelago by far and the second-most populous. Despite it being formed from five volcanoes (three of which are still active), almost 190,000 people live here in its 4,000 square mile environs1. For us paddleboarders, the Big Island is a joy with its many bays, harbors, and parks that lend themselves amazingly to great SUP experiences.
The park here on the west coast is a big draw for wildlife enthusiasts; with its crystal clear water revealing an amazing variety of tropical fish and marine life. As you paddle by, look out for sea turtles, rainbow parrot fish, and even moray eels. It’s not a spot to visit if you like your privacy however – the park is very tourist-oriented. We are glass-half-full people and enjoy the range of facilities including picnic tables, rest rooms, showers and the presence of a 9am – 5pm lifeguard. The busy car park is close to the beach but you’ll need to arrive early to be guaranteed a space.
Knowledge of the local water is very important – while the bay is popular for beginners, it’s worth noting that once the surf is up, a strong rip current develops that could pull you into the rocky beach. There are many schools in the area and any number of experienced paddleboarders – as with any new territory to you, find out a bit about the good and bad places to go!
This bay is an attraction for marine life fans and history buffs alike. When you take a look over the edge of your SUP you will be able to see down to near 100 feet past manta rays, green sea turtles, and spinner dolphins.
Hawaii is a melting pot of history – the Big Island has been the subject of interest for many explorers and conflicts. Kealakekua Bay is home to the Captain Cook Monument, marking the area where he fell during a conflict between his crew and the local population on Valentine’s Day 1779.
There is no road to the monument, the only easy way to reach it is by sea, and what better way than to arrive gracefully by paddleboard? Visitors should be aware, however, that the bay falls under state conservation regulations and you would need to be part of a licensed tour group to get close. Conditions are best early morning, the wind picks up in the afternoon which makes the going more difficult as the chop builds.
Still on the west coast, Keauhou Bay features a harbor that projects across the cooled lava beds out into the North Pacific. Historically the birthplace of a former Hawaiian king, this is one of the most scenic spots of all of the islands. Its waters are calmer than most of the neighboring bays although you need to take care if you head south to the ‘End of the World’ where the sea caves are – the calm gives way to chop and rocky outcrops.
Keauhou Bay is a popular holiday resort with a good range of facilities and high reputation for accommodation and clubs. If you want to try your hand at fishing, try snorkeling, or visit the country club this could be the place for you! There is good road access to various parts of the beach.
Further north on the Kohala Coast near Kikaua Point is the beautiful Kukio Beach. This stunning stretch of white sand is blessed with shade from the sun thanks to coconut palm, ironwood, and kiawe trees. Amidst attractive vistas are the welcoming waters for paddleboarders. There isn’t as much competition here from snorkelers or swimmers as the water is cloudier than its rivals’ – all the more space for you to perform!
Best Board Choice for The Big Island: BIC Sport DURA-TEC SUP
|9’ 4” x 4.6” x 30”||135 lbs|
The Big Island is a favorite among families so here is our choice of best board for children. The BIC SUPs stand out for their ‘Dura-Tec’ construction making them among the most durable boards you can find. The outer shell is HDPE and its core is high-density foam – rigidity, performance and buoyancy. The track pad is a diamond-patterned EVA which offers excellent grip.
Maui (The Valley Isle)
The second-largest island, Maui encompasses almost 730 square miles of verdant glory and is home to over 144,000 people2, the third most populous in the group. Maui is characterized by its mountains and valleys, indeed the island is formed from two adjacent shield volcanoes whose lava flows overlapped millennia ago.
To the northern coastline of Maui is Kapalua Bay, a great destination for paddleboarding if you want to avoid wind and rain. You always expect a bit of chop when riding in the open water but this is one of the rare locations where it is kept to a minimum throughout most of the year.
The extensive beach makes for an attractive getaway where you won’t be crowded out and also you will be able to stay close to the shoreline – ideal conditions for beginners or intermediates that are making the leap from lake or river paddleboarding out into the big blue. Paddleboard yoga on the sea is something quite special and few open water places are calm enough for you to get into your asanas (poses).
This large, distinctive C-shaped bay of sheltered open water with a beautiful white sand beach on the west coast of the island. The two reefs that stretch out into the sea provide a generous open water area that is great for paddleboarders, particularly inexperienced with open water or those with young families trying to get their children their SUP legs. Such is Kapalua’s deserved reputation that it is little wonder that it regularly makes a Top 10 appearance in the best Hawaiian beaches list.
The water is exceptionally clear here and watching the brightly colored fish swim by can be a fun distraction. The local amenities are good with this being a tourist-centric hotspot on Maui. It’s not what you would call ‘unspoiled’ by any stretch of the imagination but the facilities are useful if you’re making a vacation of it.
If wind and rain doesn’t bother you or if you want to put your skills to the test then we recommend a visit to Napili Bay, just south of Kapalua Bay. Here the weather and conditions are rougher and more of a challenge to paddleboarders on the water. Due to the less pleasant clime, there has been less development of the beach, making it more as nature intended with less human habitation and fewer accoutrements – in short, an untouched region where the beauty of the foliage, sea and shore form a memorable backdrop and atmosphere for your trip. Solitude and calm introspection are possible here without the distractions of fellow paddleboarders or the hustle and bustle of a resort.
Makena Beach State Par
For golden sands and expansive beaches, you can’t do much better than Makena in the southwest of the island. The open water here is marvelously clear and it’s well-sheltered, making it ideal for beginners or anyone wanting to improve their technique. The presence of two large black lava outcroppings serve as excellent markers to help you keep your bearings – something that isn’t always easy on open water particularly if you haven’t visited before.
One of the joys of open water paddleboarding is seeing the different species of marine animals that you see. The Hawaiian archipelago plays host to a diverse array of wild and wonderful fauna and it is no surprise to learn that the marine conservation area is there to protect them. Kihei is on the south side of the island and if you arrange your visit during winter there is a good chance to see pods of humpback whales (yes, the ones from that Star Trek film!)
While here you can also visit the Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. The shallows above the reefs also provide much in the way of getting close to the numerous colorful species that mosey their way around in the warm water.
The Maliko Run
Most experienced paddleboarders will have heard of The Maliko Run. Situated between Kahului Bay and Spreckelsville Beach on the north coast of the island there is a ten-mile stretch of water that is a big attraction for downwind paddleboard enthusiasts. The constant warm breeze blows in a northeasterly direction making the conditions here perfect for catching those smaller waves to speed you along.
One significant bonus of this location is the community feel – we find veteran paddleboarders are happy to demonstrate their technique or help improve your game. We unreservedly recommend the Maliko Run to anyone who enjoys downwinding and hanging out with seasoned paddleboarders.
If wind and rain doesn’t bother you or if you want to put your skills to the test then we recommend a visit to Napili Bay, just south of Kapalua Bay. Here the weather and conditions are rougher and more of a challenge to paddleboarders on the water.
Due to the less pleasant clime, there has been less development of the beach, making it more as nature intended with less human habitation and fewer accoutrements – in short, an untouched region where the beauty of the foliage, sea and shore form a memorable backdrop and atmosphere for your trip. Solitude and calm introspection are possible here without the distractions of fellow paddleboarders or the hustle and bustle of a resort.
Best Board Choice for Maui: Atlantis 10’6” SUP
|Price||Dimensions (inflated)||Max. weight|
|10’6” x 30” x 6”||398 lbs|
The Atlantis is the SUP you never have to worry about sinking on! We were able to comfortably stand three of our reviewers on the board without them bumping in to each other! The bundled dual-action pump is easy to use and makes light work of inflating the board. It does have a universal valve fitting so it is a straightforward process of attaching a pump to if required.
Oahu (The Gathering Place)
The third-largest island at almost 600 square miles, Oahu boasts the largest population at over 950,000 people – two-thirds of the state population. It is also home to the archipelago’s capital, Honolulu. As with Maui, Oahu was formed from the meeting of two lava flows from shield volcanos, the Wai’anae and Ko’olau Ranges.
On the east coast of the Gathering Place is one of our favorite spots – the more secluded Lanikai Beach. This is postcard Hawaii – clear blue water, white sand and the most beautiful gorgeous views you’ve ever seen. The name roughly translates to ‘Heavenly Sea’ – never has a name been more apposite. We generally recommend this to more experienced paddleboarders, the wind tends to be a little stronger here and it’s a good place to do some ‘downwinding’. Downwinding is pretty much what the name suggests – you use the prevailing wind’s strength to catch the wave and ride it. Not quite surfing but very fast paddleboarding – exhilarating but worth going in a group to look out for each other.
For those just starting out or just getting their families and children into paddleboarding then many people find Waikiki is the place to go. This busy southern coast resort is heavily built-up being as it’s only a stone’s throw from Honolulu. Facilities, accommodation, entertainment, shopping, and the traditional vacation experience mesh with paddleboard training schools and board rental.
On the water you will generally find light winds and a calm sea – both conducive to confidence-building for newcomers to open-water paddleboarding. The training schools offer courses suitable for beginner and experienced paddlers alike which are great for family getaways and quality time with the kids.
Our caveat to Waikiki is that the area is so oversubscribed it can be too crowded for those paddleboarders who want to ‘get away from it all’. Luckily there are many other bays around Oahu that will appeal to these more solitary adventurers!
Ala Moana Beach Par
Despite being closer to Honolulu, Ala Moana Beach is often less crowded than Waikiki. The half-mile stretch of coastline is a regular draw for paddleboarders who can thank the shallow outer coral reef for making the water so calm and flat. The coast here is also a big draw for swimmers but, thanks to some planning, the authorities have established buoys to segregate swimmers from paddleboarders to ensure both have an enjoyable – and safe – time.
The local amenities are plentiful and varied as you would expect for being by the state capital. The Park caters to families and holiday makers with areas for picnics, ball games, and some shaded areas for relief from the hot sun. There are tennis courts, a yacht club, eateries and shopping at the Ala Moana Mall to name but a few exciting activities to participate in between your paddleboarding sessions. Vacationing here is a good all-around experience.
Puaena Point Beach Park
If you’re after a quieter spot then look no further than the north shore location of Puaena Point. Here paddleboarders can enjoy the relative serenity, gentle breezes, and flat water away from the crowds of the south. There are understandably fewer amenities here, past the beach’s tree-line lies private property so you do need to make sure you don’t stray inland. That said the beach is quite expansive so there is plenty of space for beach games, sunbathing, and cooling shade to make your time outdoors rather blissful.
At one end of the beach, the sand gives way to rock and there are some amazing fish and marine life to be seen in the tidal pools. One word of warning though, these rocks are quite sharp – we’ve learned the hard way of needing to wear beach water shoes when exploring here.
Here on the north coast, Sunset Beach plays host to some of the world’s most famous big-wave surfing competitions. For paddleboarders, the time to visit is in the summer months when the water is much calmer. We enjoy paddling from here all the way to Waimea Bay, a trek of some four miles. Access to the beach by road is simple itself and there is ample parking most days, the Kamehameha highway running close and parallel for much of its length.
If you fancy a swim, then you can come off your board and enjoy the shallows of the coral reefs – an idyllic setting where you can move among the shoals of fish and marvel and the underwater world beneath.
Best Board Choice for Oahu: Red Paddle Co. Ride
|Price||Dimensions (inflated)||Max. weight|
|10’ 8” x 34” x 4.7”||265 lbs|
For yoga we recommend the Red Paddle Co. Ride. It’s an ‘All-Around’ design with a whopping 34” width. With a height of nearly five inches it is a practical compromise of the stability of a six-inch board and the maneuverability of a four-inch board. It is an amazingly buoyant beast of a yoga platform.
Kauai (The Garden Isle)
Kauai lies to the west of the archipelago and is the fourth largest island by area at around 550 square miles. This is only fractionally smaller than Oahu but with a population of just 67,000, there are a good deal fewer inhabitants. Kauai also has the distinction of being the oldest island in the archipelago at around six million years and the youngest member, joining a mere 117 years ago.
The famous reef around the north coast is celebrated in the archipelago for being the longest and most wide-fringing anywhere the island chain. For paddleboarders, the protection from the currents afforded by the reef makes this a praiseworthy destination.
The beach is easily accessible by road and there is good parking available if you arrive early. Along the coast, there are training schools for paddleboarding and beach yoga. If you want to spend a few days here there are good quality guest houses nearby and – if you are thinking of longer stays – then you can always drop in on one of the holiday letting agencies.
As with most of the Hawaiian coast, you need to take care not to stray from the reef otherwise you run the risk of falling foul of the strong currents that can easily get you into trouble.
Although Hawaii has some of the best open water paddleboarding areas anywhere on the planet, its rivers can often go overlooked. Stand-up paddleboarding is typically best where you have large expanses of calm water so rivers are not usually SUP soulmates.
The Hanalei River feeds through the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge and many farms where the bright green foliage of the root vegetable – taro – is cultivated. The wide, slow-moving river meanders its way into Hanalei Bay but we opt for making the most of the river when we are here. It’s a totally different and interesting experience paddleboarding on the river.
As you progress by coconut-festooned palm-tree-lined banks you might be lucky enough to see some of the unique fish this river has to offer. The oopu alamoo (Lentipes concolor) and oopu nopili (Sicyopterus stimpsoni) have sucker-like fins that allow them to climb up the steeper inclined rocks of the riverbed. Endangered geese like the gentle nene abound and the smell of the hibiscus is delightful. Expect to spend at least two hours on this fascinating voyage.
Several schools and companies in the bay area offer paddleboarding lessons and guided tours of this journey back into Kauai’s past – the further you venture upstream the more you feel like you’re traveling back in time on this island. The schools also provide equipment to rent should you require it or fancy trying something new.
Best Board Choice for Kauai: Supflex 10′ SUP
|Price||Dimensions (inflated)||Max. weight|
|10’ x 30” x 6”||350 lbs|
We recommend the Supflex because of it’s great build quality, 2 year warranty and how easy it is to transport when deflated and stowed in the comfortable supplied backpack.
Molokai (The Friendly Isle)
Notable for its rectangular shape, Molokai is considerably wider than it is long, rendering it 260 square miles in area. The fifth-largest island, Molokai is home to some 7,300 inhabitants. Its national plant is the kukui or candlenut tree so-called because its seeds’ high oil content makes it supremely flammable.
Molokai is most well-known among the paddleboarding community as a hub of downwinders. Where you have a constant breeze in the same direction the waves become strong enough to help propel you a long if you can catch them well. It’s an exciting experience, riding the waves on a paddleboard, and also a little bit unnerving if you’ve not done it before. Most board manufacturers now engineer long SUPs (11 feet and up) with a planning hull and a slight rocker in the nose for just this kind of activity. A top tip is to keep your knees slightly bent as you transition between waves to help keep your balance during the deceleration of the troughs.
On the south coast of Molokai is one of the best paddleboarding schools. Here you can have guided trips from the harbor to Rice Patch – a five-mile journey suitable for beginners, or a longer eight-mile excursion to Hotel Molokai for intermediates to advanced. It’s all about meeting your needs and skill level and hopefully aiming to finish your vacation being that bit better ability-wise.
On the west coast is this little gem. The secluded beach park has great access and parking and a few amenities including picnic tables, barbecue grills, restrooms, and showers. It has some decent off-shore water for paddleboarding although there isn’t a lifeguard present. This ten-acre site also is home to two campsites and numerous outdoor sinks. It’s more than enough for a day’s escapade on the water.
The north coast of the island offers stunning views of the highest sea cliffs anywhere in the world. Stretching from an almost sheer neck-straining 3,600 feet to 3,900 feet high and covered in lush green foliage and torrents of white spray from saw waterfalls you’ll feel like you’re on the set of Jurassic Park.
The big issue with paddleboarding around the north coast is that due to The Nature Conservancy’s jurisdiction you need to advise them if you are going to approach Pelekunu Valley and you aren’t able to stop at the otherwise expected landfall points of Kalaupapa or Moomomi. You will be expected to provide a good plan that takes into account your safety, logistics, and itinerary – a lot of work but we would argue that the pay-off is worth it! It goes without saying that this trip is strictly one for advanced and experienced paddleboarders.
As an aside in this guide, we have to mention Kephui Bay on the west coast of Molokai, for it is here that this year’s annual Molokai2Oahu SUP race starts. Come July 30th this bay will witness the start of the 21st race where fierce competition will pit men and women against the rigors of the 32-mile trek to the east coast of Oahu.
Best SUP for Molokai – iRocker 11′ iSUP
|Price||Dimensions (inflated)||Max. weight|
|11’x 30” x 6”||385 lbs|
With a tag proclaiming a two-year warranty we had high hopes for this board, the second on test for $599. So how does it compare to the XTERRA? The package includes a dual-action pump, adjustable aluminum paddle, repair kit and backpack. The fin layout is two fixed and one removable nine-inch travel fin. The aluminum paddle has an ergonomic design with obvious quality and can extend from 63” to 85”. Its three pieces are sealed to prevent it taking in water. The pump is another excellent piece of kit, ergonomic handles, pre-greased mechanism, gauge facing up and around 150 strokes needed to pressurize the SUP.
Lanai (The Pineapple Isle)
The last of our islands got its nickname from the extensive pineapple farming that used to be pursued here. Despite its small area of only 140 square miles, and low population of only 3,000, Lanai has re-imagined itself as a tourist destination, particularly for those of a golfing disposition. But for us, it’s the ocean around the island that proves to be the big draw.
On the south of the island lies the secluded Hulopoe Beach. This is a modestly appointed tourist destination that has yet to be overdeveloped – in short, this is ideal for anyone wanting to paddleboard in relative tranquility. The hotel is well-specced and their on-site facilities are very good although the place could do with a bit of an upgrade.
For beginners, there is the option of taking lessons from the local school. They run 90-minute sessions and cover everything from riding to water safety and paddleboarding etiquette. Their instructors are reassuringly certified in first aid, CPR and lifesaving.
On the water you will be amazed by the marine life and sights of the vibrant coral reef and, if you are lucky, you will see the striking spinner dolphins leaping and whirling through the air. The spinner dolphins are becoming more of a regular sight now that the crowds that tried to snorkel near them have dwindled away due to the Lanai instating heavy fines.
This beach to the north of Lanai can only be reached by following the Polihua Trail, a 9.6 mile dirt track leading from the south of the island. We would recommend taking an off-road vehicle to get here – walking the distance is quite a trek as the ground is undulating and rough. But for your trouble you will arrive at a beach that will be pretty much yours alone – unspoiled and virgin. The golden sands lead you to a sea that has vigorous surf and is best suited to groups of advanced paddleboarders who appreciate the untamed and quasi-prehistoric environment.
Best SUP for Lanai: Advanced Elements Lotus YSUP
|Price||Dimensions (inflated)||Max. weight|
|10’ x 32” x 6”||200 lbs|
The Lotus YSUP combines an impressive six-inch height and generous 32” width to present an ideal floating platform. We love its over-sized foam track pad which easily occupies over 80% of the deck area. The outer skin is double-layered thick drop-stitch material and feels very robust and unlikely to suffer damage during regular paddleboarding.
Hawaii SUP FAQs
What are the best beaches in Hawaii to paddleboard?
The top 5 beaches are:
These are ‘bays’ so have calm waters.
Can you paddleboard in Honolulu?
Yes, you can SUP at Waikiki Beach, Ala Moana
Can you paddleboard in Oahu?
Yes, the best spots are Halona Beach Cove, Diamond Head Beach and Cromwell’s Beach all have clam beaches for paddlers
Can you launch SUP anywhere in Hawaii?
Legally yes, but some areas are very dangerous with rip tides. Stick to the locations mentioned in this article.
Which Hawaiian island is best for paddleboarding?
Oahu and Maui have the best paddleboarding location in our opinion, they have some of the calmest beaches.
Image Sources: Wikipedia, PixelBay