The warm sun on our backs.
The still waters sprinkled with scarlet sea hibiscus blossoms.
The slight wobble of our bodies (knowing we were exercising our core).
Oh, it sure felt good standing up tall on our boards, quietly paddleboarding in Kauai along this scenic river!
Paddleboarding in Kauai
Stand-up paddleboarding (aka “SUP”) has been around for centuries in various forms all over the world.
John “Pops” Ah Choy took to standing up on his surf board when his knees started to bother him and he couldn’t get up and down on his board. He’d paddle with a canoe paddle.
In the 1940s, surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku took a leaf out of Ah Choy’s playbook and would stand upright and paddle out to catch the waves at Waikiki Beach. He’d also stand on his board while teaching tourists how to surf – it was easier to see students from an upright position.
Paddleboarding is now the fastest growing watersport.
And of all the cool things to do in Kauai, stand-up paddleboarding is one of the best!
Learning to SUP in Kauai
Will this be your first time on a SUP board? No worries! It’s quite easy to learn how to SUP.
You start off by kneeling on your board. Paddling while kneeling allows you to gain confidence balancing on your board. Pretty soon you’ll be ready to stand up!
And, hey, if you fall, it’s no big deal. The water in Hawaii is warm – and falling and getting back up on your board is part of the learning curve.
If you’re a first-timer, ask for a quick lesson when you rent your SUP gear.
We thought our Kauai SUP tour would be something like: “Paddle. Smile. Splash!”
But no, it was easy to remain upright and paddle on the tranquil river, where no waves could knock us off balance.
No one in our group fell off their boards on their own – though horseplay came naturally on the river, and several family members had fun trying to push each other off.
5 Best places to SUP Kauai
(We have a hard time figuring out the proper way to spell “paddleboarding.” Should we be saying “paddle boarding in Kauai” instead? We’ve see both “paddleboarding” and “paddle boarding” used interchangeably.)
Anyway, the island of Kauai is the only one in the state of Hawaii with navigable rivers – and rivers are ideal SUP spots because the waters are placid.
Being able to SUP on a river is one of the differences between Kauai and Maui; on Maui, you can’t SUP on any rivers. (When planning your Hawaiian island vacation, we bet you didn’t think you could SUP on a river in Kauai, right?)
Several swimming beaches in Kauai are also calm at certain times of the year, offering opps to paddle along picturesque ocean bays.
1) Wailua River
If you’re looking for the perfect place for an epic multi-adventure day on Kauai, paddle the Wailua River. The river weaves through some of Hawaii’s most sacred grounds.
This SUP adventure is suitable for both beginner paddlers and experienced SUP fans. (And if you get tired or feel wobbly, you can always just sit or kneel on your board and paddle.)
The 20-mile Wailua River flows from Mount Waialeale in the center of Kauai to its mouth, about 15 minutes north of Lihue on the island’s east side.
But don’t worry, you’re not paddling the whole 20 miles!
After putting in at the mouth, you pass the authentic Kamokila Hawaiian Village on your right at about the two-mile mark. The river then splits into two forks.
Go right and you soon come to a place where you can beach your board for a one-mile hike to Uluwehi Falls (Secret Falls). The 120-foot waterfall is only accessible from the Wailua River, and it’s a memorable trek through the rainforest to get there.
Depending on your sense of adventure, it may be memorable in a good way – or bad. Expect the trail to be muddy. And rooty. And you’ll wade through a stream while hanging on to a rope.
But then you reach the pool at the base of the beautiful booming waterfall, where you can swim in the refreshingly cool water and rinse off all that icky mud. (The falls also make for a good picnic spot to eat lunch.)
Now you need to hike back. And get muddy feet again. Hmmm… Maybe just embrace the mud rather than fight it?
Once at your SUP board, paddle back five minutes or so to the fork, and you can choose to head up the other arm for a peek at Fern Grotto.
Nestled within the rainforest, this historic cave, dripping with ferns, is a pretty sight. You can’t go inside the 35-foot deep cavern, but you get good views from a viewing platform.
And then? It’s time to paddle back.
Just be sure you save some energy for the return paddle. While the river will still be calm, you’ll be paddling against the wind.
Allow four to six hours for the whole excursion.
For easy board rentals, try Kauai SUP or Kayak Kauai (see below under “Stand-Up Paddleboard Kauai Rentals”).
2) Kalapaki Beach
On the east coast near Lihue, this sheltered bay in front of the Kauai Marriott Resort is a great place for paddleboarding in Kauai – especially if you want to learn to SUP. Kauai Beach Boys (see below) has a shack on Kalapaki Beach for lessons as well as rentals.
The water is typically glassy and the sandy beach access makes entering the water easy with your board.
Once you’ve mastered balancing on your board and you want more challenge, you can try riding some of the smaller waves a couple of hundred feet further out.
With restrooms and the Duke’s Kauai restaurant for lunch (or pupus and cocktails), Kalapaki Beach is a very pleasant beach to hang out on – frankly, the ideal spot – for swimming, SUPing and sunning.
3) Hanalei Bay
One of the best places to SUP in Kauai on the North Shore is Hanalei Bay.
Kauai’s largest bay, it’s some two miles long, fringed by a white sand beach.
During the summer, especially, the waters of Hanalei Bay are typically smooth. (The sea may be too rough, though, for paddleboarding in winter due to winter swells.)
You’ll find three beach areas: Waioli Beach Park, Hanalei Pavilion Beach Park and the Hanalei Pier. The water is usually calmer at the Hanalei Pier end.
4) Hanalei River
From Black Pot Beach on Hanalei Bay, you can paddle up the Hanalei River for about two miles, passing underneath the historic one-lane Hanalei Bridge.
Even if the water is too rough for paddling out in the bay, it’s usually glassy calm on the river. The palm-lined river is several feet deep, and you don’t have to worry about weaving around any boulders or obstacles. Listen to the birdsong and soak up the stillness of the “Old Hawaii” surroundings.
The nice thing is you’ll be paddling against the current going up the river – so the return is a bit easier.
Many locals SUP up and down this river for exercise.
5) Anini Beach
Another great beach for paddleboarding in Kauai is Anini Beach.
An off-shore reef, about two miles long, creates a sort of “lagoon” that’s protected from the waves. Except for a few winter months (December to March or so), the blue water at this pristine beach on the North Shore of Kauai is normally mirror-smooth.
The beach entry is sandy and the water is shallow for a good ways out.
Green sea turtles gather to feed around Anini Beach, so you might even spot sea turtles as you paddle!
Stand-up paddleboard Kauai rentals
Kauai SUP (Self-guided Wailua River SUP journey)
You can rent all the necessary gear for a self-guided Wailua River paddle from well-known operator, Kauai SUP. This way you’ll enjoy a private SUP experience and can go at your own pace – no pressure!
Specializing in renting boards for the Wailua River, they have their shop located in Kapaa, less than a minute drive’s to the Wailua River put-in spot.
Your Wailua River rental includes stable good-quality SUP boards, lightweight carbon fiber paddles, life jackets and dry bags. You’ll even get car foams and straps for transporting your board(s) – and they’ll help put the board(s) on top of your car.
A Kauai SUP team member will go over the map with you, making sure you know the way along the river for these self-guided tours. And they’ll do a lesson at the shop so you’ll know how to SUP.
You can also rent boards to go stand-up paddling elsewhere in Kauai. Rates per board (and gear) are $100 for 3 days and $170 for weekly SUP rentals.
Another convenient place for Kauai paddle board rentals for paddling the Wailua River is Kayak Kauai. They rent high-quality SUP boards for launching at the nearby Wailua River mouth (or for venturing to other areas around the island).
Rentals are $55 day and include roof racks for your vehicle. If you rent for a week, you get two days free.
Kauai Beach Boys
Kauai’s original surf school, Kauai Beach Boys, is located on Kalapaki Beach.
They offer 90-minute SUP lessons as well as SUP board rentals.
That wraps up our guide on Kauai paddle boarding (er, Kauai paddleboarding?)
Exploring Kauai on a stand-up paddleboard is a unique and fun way to see different parts of the island – like the lush and scenic Wailua River and the calm waters of Kalapaki Beach.
Convenient paddleboard rentals across the island make it easy for everyone to SUP Kauai.
In short, when you enjoy a stand-up paddle Kauai experience, you combine fun, fitness and fantastic views in one activity. See you on the water!
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Photo credits: 5, 8 Outfitters Kauai | 7, 10 Kauai Beach Boys | 9 Kauai SUP