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 a hugely popular watersport.
And of all the cool things to do in Kauai, stand-up paddleboarding is one of the best!
Learning to SUP in Kauai
5 Best places to SUP Kauai
There are many great places to go paddleboarding in Kauai.
The island is the only one in 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
For an epic multi-adventure day, paddle the Wailua River, which weaves through some of Hawaii’s most sacred grounds.
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 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 water at this pristine beach on the North Shore 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 has their shop located in Kapaa, less than a minute drive’s to the Wailua River put-in spot.
For a self-guided Wailua River paddle, they offer a free shuttle to the water’s edge.
Rentals include lightweight carbon fiber paddles, life jacket and dry bag. The cost is $40 a day for stable good-quality SUP boards.
Or splurge on a SUPJet powered board at $120 day. These boards have small motors and go at 5 mph – great for head winds!
Conveniently located on the Wailua River, Kayak Kauai also rents 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 1-½ hour SUP lessons as well as SUP board rentals.
Photo credits: 5, 8 Outfitters Kauai | 7, 10 Kauai Beach Boys | 9 Kauai SUP