SUP in paradise


Kalapaki Bay, Kauai

We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch – we are going back from whence we came.

~ John F. Kennedy

 What is SUP? SUP is stand up paddle boarding, also known as Hoe he’e nalu due to originating in Hawaii. There you have it! Hawaii is the birthplace of the popular sport known as SUP. Exercising, especially while on vacation, needs to be fun and enjoyable.  If it isn’t, odds are you won’t do it at all or not more than once.

In 2013, SUP was rated the #1 new activity for beginners in the U.S. Our family are not surfers, so we cannot compare it to surfing. However, for non-surfers, we found it to be fairly simple and fun. You don’t have to live near the ocean to SUP. It’s a sport which has gained popularity and is popping up everywhere. SUP can be spotted on lakes, large rivers, canals, and bays. When going on vacation or out of town for a weekend, rent a SUP board. If your friend has a board- ask to try it out! It feels as though you’re walking on water.

Don’t confuse SUP with traditional paddle boarding, which is done by kneeling on a board and paddling with your hands. Although, SUP is often referred to as “paddle boarding” for short.

How did SUP come about? In researching SUP, its is unclear as to exactly when it all began. 2005 seems to be the year that it really took off. Some research states that SUP began in the 1960’s as the “Beach Boys of Waikiki” paddled on long boards.  Others credit Laird Hamilton (American Big-wave/tow-in surfer) for setting the SUP trend in the late 1990s. Some say that Duke Kahanamoku (five-time Hawaiian Olympic medalist in swimming & known for spreading the surfing trend) was the first to “surf ski” in 1939. Surf Ski looks similar to SUP. One thing about SUP that is very clear,  is where it all began – Hawaii.

Stand Up Paddle Surfing is surfing waves with a paddle on a paddle board. Rick Thomas was the first present-day surfer to bring stand up paddle surfing to the Mainland from Hawaii. Stand up paddle surfing is said to offer the surfer a better view of the incoming waves.

On September 13 & 14, 2012 the first SUP world champion races were held at Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu. The title of first SUP world champion was won by Kai Lenny.

Why SUP~

It’s all about burning calories while having fun! SUP allows you to have fun in the sun without noticing how hard you’re working. Paddle away!!! Glide around effortlessly, on a non-windy day or use those arms muscles to paddle against the current on a windy day. SUP works all the muscles in your body, concentrating on the core. Paddling is a great way to work the upper body. Most beginners feel it in their arms after the first day. On average men burn 800-1000 calories in one hour of  SUP, while women burn 500-700 calories per hour. I find SUP to be extremely relaxing. Paddling around by yourself, while taking in the beauty. It is also fun to paddle next to a friend and chat away. Our kids have been quite creative finding things to do while they SUP such as looking around for sea turtles and tropical fish, then swimming back out to the area to snorkel.


Kalapaki Bay, Kauai

SUP Tips~

Our family found SUP to be rather easy on a flat day. SUP is all about balance and for some people, that may be a challenge. We have taken many first-time SUP on our board. We tend to prefer the bay on calm day as pictured above. It is rather difficult to learn on a choppy day. On Kauai, the water tends to be calmer in the mornings, as the wind kicks up in the afternoon. Here are some tips: know how to swim. If you cannot swim than you do not belong on a SUP board without a life jacket. When SUP on a lake/ocean always attach the leash. It doesn’t matter how good you may think you are, anyone can fall or get knocked off and you don’t want to lose the board. One of our guests, flew up in the air and landed on the board thinking he may have cracked a rib. While this is rare, you wouldn’t want to be in the water/waves with a broken rib and nothing to hang on to. If you have to choose between your board or paddle, leave your paddle. The paddle will float and someone can go back for it later. Observe the water currents and start off going against the current. It takes a lot more energy to go against the current and you don’t want to paddle way out with ease and then not be able to get back. Experts advise against using the leash in a river due to snags. Use the paddle for balance when needed by pushing the blade forward to back until you feel stable.

How to SUP~

We are not instructors by any means, but tend to take a lot of first timers out to SUP when they come to Kauai. For beginners, it is all about getting comfortable with the board. Start off sitting on your knees. It is a great way to get a feel for the board. You want to know what your first wave will feel like and how the board will move. Paddle around on your knees and then stand when you feel comfortable. The first time we went out, we spent time on our knees for a good 10 minutes getting familiar with turning and use of the paddle prior to standing up. Most importantly, stand in the middle of the board and bend your knees a little. If your feet are too far forward , the nose of the board will start to go under the water. If they are too far back then the tail will drag.

Surfer’s will ride the SUP board in their typical surfer’s stance (one foot forward) which is best for tackling waves. If you panic at a large wave coming your direction or see something move underneath the board, just sit down on your knees. If all else fails, sit and gain your composure. We SUP in the ocean and often times we will see large eels or sea turtles passing under the board. Sometimes it may cause you to lose balance when you’re looking around to see where it went.

How to Use the Paddle~

The paddle can be awkward if not using properly. They are usually adjustable. Be sure the paddle isn’t way too long for you or vice versa. We have a short paddle for our kids and a longer one for the adults. First off, place your dominant hand on the handle at the top of the paddle to gain control. Do not attempt to hold the paddle in the middle or near the top. Place your other hand about waist high on the paddle. Reach forward as you paddle with the blade angled forward. Don’t lean forward because it will throw off your balance, just simply stroke forward and then stroke back. If you are leaning forward or hunched over, you will feel it in your lower back.

Kalapaki Bay. Kauai

Kalapaki Bay. Kauai

Robbie totally focussed


SUP can be done at any age. Our son first started SUP at age 7 and stood up the first time. Safety First!! We set rules with the kids prior to going out. Here are some of our rules: don’t paddle out past the break, keep the leash on at all times, don’t panic, get back on the board if you fall, stay out-of-the-way of surfers, watch the waves, know where you started from and wave the paddle in the air if you need help.

Below is a list of the  World’s Best Stand Up Paddleboarding Spots


Santa Barbara, CA


Whistler, Canada

Costa Rica

Key west

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Redondo Beach, CA

Seattle, WA

Black Canyon, NV

Lake Tahoe, CA

Antarctic Peninsula

When visiting Kauai rent a board!!! Our favorite spot is Kalapaki Bay (East Side) and boards are available for rent at Kama’aina Surf and Sport located at 3486 Rice St. It’s a convenient stop located near the entrance to Kalapaki Bay. If you don’t have a truck, just carry the board to the beach. Another great place to SUP on Kauai is at Hanalei Bay (North Shore). Boards are available to rent at Hawaiian Surfing Adventures as you come into the town of Hanalei, located on the right side of the road at 5-5134 Kuhio Highway. They also offer private or group lessons for surfing, SUP, and SUP yoga.


Rob & Robbie shaka

The latest trend in stand up paddle board is SUP yoga. Yes, this means doing yoga while on a SUP board on the water (river). I can’t imagine doing it successfully, but more power to the yoga peeps!!!

Money Saving Tips: Most of the SUP rental shops located right on the beach/lake tend to be much more expensive than renting a SUP board off site. The two rental places named in this post are located off-site. Compare prices, especially if you notice several shops within walking distance of each other. Weekly rentals will be your best bet if you have a place to store it and a vehicle to transport. is featured monthly in Destinations Travel Magazine

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