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5 Best places for stand-up paddleboarding in Kauai

Please only travel when and where it’s safe.

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!

Stand-up paddleboarding in Kauai

Paddleboarding in Kauai

Stand-up paddle boarding in Kauai, Hawaii

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

But the modern take on SUP has its roots in Hawaii.

Surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku would stand upright and paddle out to catch the waves at Waikiki Beach. He’d also stand on his board while teaching surfing – 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.

Contents: Paddleboarding Kauai

Learning to SUP

Best places to stand-up paddleboard Kauai

  • Wailua River
  • Kalapaki Beach
  • Hanalei Bay
  • Hanalei River
  • Anini Beach

Kauai paddleboard rentals

  • Kauai SUP
  • Kayak Kauai
  • Kauai Beach Boys

Learning to SUP in Kauai

Learning to SUP:

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

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.

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

You can paddleboard the Wailua River in Kauai.

For an epic multi-adventure day, paddle the Wailua River, which weaves through some of Hawaii’s most sacred grounds.

The 20-mile 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!

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’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.

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 or Kayak Kauai (see below under “Stand-Up Paddleboard Kauai Rentals”).

2) Kalapaki Beach

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

One of the best places for paddleboarding in Kauai is 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:

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

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!

Kayak Kauai:

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

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.

Experience more of Hawaii!

Read our posts on:

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 9 top Kauai resorts, from a boutique adult getaway to a grand and gracious resort.


Photo credits: 5, 8 Outfitters Kauai | 7, 10 Kauai Beach Boys | 9 Kauai SUP


About the authors:

Janice and George Mucalov

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

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

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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...

The GypsyNesters

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 :-).

Kate

Monday 19th of August 2013

Wow that photo is incredible, what a shot with the rainbow! I've paddleboarded a bunch of places, but never Hawaii...yet!

Janice and George

Monday 19th of August 2013

Then you'll just have to go :-). You can also SUP on the ocean - so the river makes for a nice contrast.