Skip to Content

5 Best Places for Stand-up Paddle Boarding in Kauai

We’re stand-up paddleboarding in Kauai, the warm sun on our backs.

The still waters are sprinkled with scarlet sea hibiscus blossoms. 

The slight wobble of our bodies lets us know we’re exercising our core.

Oh, it sure feels good, standing up tall on our boards – quietly paddleboarding along this scenic river, while soaking up the serene beauty of Hawaii’s Garden Isle!

Stand-up paddleboarding in Kauai

Paddleboarding in Kauai

Stand-up paddleboarding (aka “SUP”) has been around for centuries in various forms all over the world.

But one of the many cool Hawaii facts is that the modern version of SUP has its roots in Hawaii, according to the history of stand-up paddling.

The story begins in the early 1900s on Hawaii’s Big Island with John “Pops” Ah Choy. He was a surfer who took to standing up on his surfboard when his knees started failing him. He’d then use a canoe paddle to move. It was the first version of paddle surfing!

Other “beachboys” followed in his footsteps, including surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku. They used this upright stance while teaching tourists how to surf. The extra height allowed them to better help their students catch the waves at Waikiki Beach.

Nowadays, paddleboarding is the fastest-growing water sport. It’s easy to learn, has calming effects on the mind and body, and gives a gentle core workout.

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 while 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. 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 seen 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.

This means you can stand-up paddle board Kauai on a river, setting it apart from Maui, for example. It’s one of the differences between Kauai and Maui.

(While 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 opportunities 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.

You can paddleboard the Wailua River in Kauai.

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.)

Originating from Mount Waialeale in the center of Kauai, the Wailua River winds its way for 20 miles. It reaches 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!

Paddle boarding in Kauai

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 have to wade through a stream while hanging on to a rope.

But you soon reach the pool at the base of the beautiful booming waterfall. Here, 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.

Fern Grotto, Kauai

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 (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.

Kalapaki Beach

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 want more of a challenge, you can try riding the gentle 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, it’s 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.

People stand-up paddleboarding in Hanalei Bay at sunset
Going stand-up paddleboarding in Hanalei Bay at sunset

Kauai’s largest bay, it’s some two miles long, fringed by a white sand beach.

During the summer, the waters of Hanalei Bay are typically smooth. (However, the sea may be too rough for paddleboarding in winter due to rougher waters.)

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. You’ll pass underneath the historic one-lane Hanalei Bridge.

Even if the water is too rough for paddling out in Hanalei Bay, it’s usually glassy calm on the river.

Flanked by palms, the river is several feet deep, sparing you the hassle of weaving around any boulders or obstacles.

The smooth journey means you can listen to the birdsong and soak up the stillness of the “Old Hawaii” surroundings.

The nice thing is you paddle 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.

One of the best places for paddleboarding in Kauai is Anini Beach.

This pristine beach on the North Shore of Kauai has an off-shore reef. About two miles long, it creates a sort of “lagoon” protected from the waves.

As a result, the blue water here is normally mirror-smooth – except for a few winter months (December to March or so).

The beach entry is sandy, and the water is shallow for a good way 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

A man rests in the water after falling off his stand-up paddleboard in Kauai

Kauai SUP (Self-guided Wailua River SUP journey)

You can rent all the necessary gear for a self-guided Wailua River paddle from the well-known operator, Kauai SUP.

This way you can enjoy a private SUP experience. Go at your own pace, with no pressure!

Kauai SUP specializes in renting boards for the Wailua River. They have their shop located in the town of Kapaa. It’s less than a minute drive’s to the Wailua River put-in spot.

The Wailua River rental package includes good-quality SUP boards. Nice and stable, they’re ideal for beginner paddleboarders.

You also get a lightweight carbon fiber paddle, life jacket and dry bag for storage. You even get car foams and straps for transporting board(s) – and they help secure the board(s) on top of your car.

A Kauai SUP team member goes over the map with you, making sure you know the way along the river for your self-guided tour. They also do a lesson at the shop so you know how to SUP before hitting the river.

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.

Kauai Beach Boys

Kauai’s original surf school, Kauai Beach Boys, is located on Kalapaki Beach.

Kauai Beach Boys can help you to learn to SUP in Kauai.

They offer 90-minute SUP lessons as well as SUP board rentals. It’s easy to book group lessons online. For private lessons, give them a call!

Kayak Hanalei

Another great place for Kauai paddle board rentals is Kayak Hanalei.

They’re located right on the main highway in Hanalei Town on Kauai’s North Shore. And they take pride in renting out only the finest well-kept SUP gear. 

Quite conveniently, if you rent from them, you can launch directly from the shop’s very own dock. This means there’s no messing about tying boards to your rental car. 

From here, you can head upstream along the Hanalei River – under the Historic Hanalei Bridge and past verdant green taro fields – towards the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge.

Or you can paddle out in Hanalei Bay.

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.

Bonus: It’s one of the best water workouts too!

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!

Experience more of Hawaii!

Kauai’s gardens: The Allerton and McBryde botanical gardens of Kaui are beautiful and whimsical! (Jacqueline Kennedy loved visiting the Allerton estate).

Hawaiian fruit: There’s nothing fresher than the fruit in Hawaii. Bite into these 25 delicious fruits! (Rambutan, anyone?)

Where to stay in Kauai: Check out these top Kauai resorts, from a boutique adult getaway to grand and gracious resorts.

Our top travel tips and resources

Hotels: Booking.com is great for scoring a “wow” hotel – or at least a decent one. (We especially like their flexible cancellation policy!)

Vacation homes, condos and rentals: We prefer and use Vrbo (Vacation Rentals by Owner).

Tours: For the best local food, walking and other guided tours, plus skip-the-line tickets to attractions, check out Viator (a TripAdvisor company) and GetYourGuide.

Car rental: Renting a car is often one of the best ways to explore off the beaten path. Discover Cars searches car rental companies so you get the best rates.

Travel insurance: SafetyWing is designed for frequent travelers, long-term adventurers and digital nomads. It covers medical expenses, lost checked luggage, trip interruption and more.

Travel gear: See our travel shop to find the best luggage, accessories and other travel gear. (We suggest these comfy travel sandals for city walking, the beach and kicking about.)

Need more help planning your trip? Check out our travel tips and resources guide for airline booking tips, ways to save money, how to find great hotels and other crazy useful trip planning info.

Pssst! If you make a booking or purchase through our site, we may earn a small commission (at no cost to you). Thanks!


Share the aloha and pin this!

Stand-up paddleboarding in Kauai, Hawaii

Photo credits: 5, 9 Outfitters Kauai | 8, 11 Kauai Beach Boys | 10 Kauai SUP


About the authors

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George Mucalov are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents. See About.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!

Scott

Thursday 9th of December 2021

Thank you for sharing these wonderful SUP spots with us. Wailua River looks awesome! Paddle boarding is so much fun, very relaxing and a great way to be out in the sun.

Jaxon James

Tuesday 23rd of February 2021

So…maybe I’m the oddball, but SUP is hell on earth. It’s all coordination and very little fun. It lacks the thrill of surfing and the rhythmic grace of kayaking. Just can’t ever get into it.

Janice and George

Tuesday 9th of March 2021

George feels almost the same way. He calls it "falling down paddleboarding." :-)

Jason

Wednesday 24th of January 2018

Aloha Janice and George, really enjoy your writing style and glad to hear you enjoyed your SUP tour! Kauai is a stunning place and the views from the deck of a paddle board are absolutely breathtaking...

Janice and George

Wednesday 24th of January 2018

We really enjoyed it! Paddling a still, warm river is a nice change of scene from sometimes-choppy ocean waters. And Kauai is a gorgeous Hawaiian island...

Stephanie

Monday 2nd of September 2013

Now THAT is the place I want to learn to paddleboard. Gorgeous!

Janice and George

Monday 2nd of September 2013

Yes, the river is so calm that it's perfect for learning how to SUP...

David and Veronica

Monday 26th of August 2013

Two things we so want to do! Stand up paddleboard and go to Hawaii, one of only two states Veronica hasn't been to yet. Of course Alaska is the other.

Janice and George

Monday 26th of August 2013

So ironic - Hawaii and Alaska are the 2 states we visit most (no doubt because they're on the west coast where we live). You'll just have to get yourselves to Hawaii! But don't rush around all the islands - good to savor 1 or 2, and return later to experience another :-).