You are sitting cross-legged on your SUP in the middle of Hanalei Bay, the metal paddle across your lap, sparkling blue water all around. You’ve been gliding around for a while, and have gotten pretty used to handling the board. Your entire family rented SUPs for the week and took lessons together, touring a few different spots along the North Shore. The sport has been surprisingly easy to pick up, requiring balance, strong leg work, and the ability to swim well when you fall off. And let’s face it, you fall off a lot. But the water is warm and your kids bond over laughing at you, so it’s all good!
Now you’re just sitting here taking in the vast tropical views and saying hello to the occasional school of fish flashing by you below. You could get used to this stand-up paddleboarding thing, especially on the gorgeous island of Kauai.
Now if you could just learn to fall off only when your kids aren’t watching . . .
Here are your top 3 spots to SUP on Kauai’s North Shore for beginners.
You love this pristine stretch of beach because it is right out of your Kauai daydreams: Shade trees lead to a nearly two-mile stretch of golden sand rimming vast turquoise waters. Boasting one of the largest reefs in the state, the underwater stone structure creates a sort of lagoon that is protected from the stronger current. As a result, the water is calm and smooth, making Anini a haven for paddleboarders.
Easy to park and easy to find shade, Anini offers public bathrooms and outdoor water spigots (just shy of being called “showers”). Plenty of grassy areas create an ideal spot for beginners to get the feel of their boards and practice standing. Once heading away from shore, you paddle out about a half mile, and soon the sea is remarkably placid. The further you head out past the reef, however, the stronger the currents can get so you heed the advice to stay aware and not go out too far.
Another major benefit of Anini is that the reef waters are teeming with sea life. You are delighted to glimpse not one but two sea turtles on your afternoon paddle. Your daughter swears she sees a ray, and as she bends lower and lower towards the water to get a closer look, it’s now her turn to fall overboard!
The North Shore’s Hanalei Bay is a sight to behold — and a SUP wonderland, especially in the summer. Rimmed with two miles of the softest powdery white sand found on the island, this crescent-shaped bay is cradled by towering, velvety green mountains that drip with waterfalls after intermittent and ever-present rains.
You were advised that the ideal spot to enter the bay is between the Hanalei River and the Pier at Black Pot Beach Park. The waters here are truly gentle — almost lake-like in their glassiness.
You paddle out for a while, a flotilla of family members. Once you are away from shore, you turn around. What a grand view! The entire Hanalei Valley stretches out before you.
“Hey dad,” your son calls, pointing to the imposing green mountain on the west side. “Is that Puff the Magic Dragon?”
Your husband looks up from his board at the huge shape along the ridge. “That’s what they say!” he replies, pointing with his paddle. He attempts to mimic a dragon rearing up to roar . . . and promptly falls backward into the water.
You’ve decided you greatly prefer being up the river with a paddle — especially on one as picturesque as the Hanalei. This serene stretch of river features two miles of freshwater that meander along banks filled with emerald foliage, stunning multi-green taro fields and palm trees galore. You lose yourself in the quiet, enjoying the songs of the birds and the sounds of your paddles dipping into the water. So lovely is this waterway, it is nearly amusement-park perfect in places. The water is calm and only a few feet deep as you glide up to the famous one-lane bridge at Kuhio Highway.
When the blue skies suddenly turn dark you find yourself humming the old Crowded House song “Four Seasons in One Day.” Falling softly at first and then growing more insistent, rain patters all around you, drenching you just in time to clear again to sunshine as you enter the Wildlife Refuge area of your journey. You giddily point out a small turtle perched on a log and your son tries to paddle over quickly to catch a glimpse. He starts to lose his balance, over-corrects and tumbles into the drink. You crack up. You are really starting to enjoy this sport!
You had no idea just how easy, fun and rejuvenating SUPing could be. And now that you’ve gotten to take a few of these adventures with your family you can’t wait to return and try SUP on the South Shore. By then you’ll surely have mastered the art of not falling off. Right?
— Erica Karlin