Kayaking in Hawaii

Kayaking on the open ocean in Hawaii is an adventure you’ll never forget. Paddling through the tepid, crystal clear waters of the Pacific, eyeing the offshore island that is your destination with Hawaii’s majestic mountains at your back can be one of the most exhilarating experiences of your life. I’ll tell you where to go on the island of Oahu for the optimum experience, and give you a few safety and instructional tips to boost your confidence and minimize your apprehension if this will be your first time kayaking in Hawaii.

Let me start by telling where not to go kayaking – and that’s near your hotel in Waikiki. Although many of the resorts in Waikiki offer kayak rentals, this is a dull spot to kayak with fairly few sights to see and no real destinations.

Skip the Waikiki rental spots despite their convenience, hop in your rental car and travel to the windward side of the island. Actually, many of the rental shops offer free shuttle service from Waikiki if you reserve your kayak in advance. Kailua Sailboard and Kayaks will pick you up in front of your hotel and drop you at the door to their shop. They are a bit pricey (look for coupons in Oahu advertising booklets scattered throughout Waikiki), but their guided tour is very good. What I don’t like about Kailua Sailboard and Kayaks is that you have to drag your kayak (on wheels) from their shop to the ocean. If you’ve ever dragged a kayak before, you know they’re quite heavy and awkward. Hawaiian Watersports will deliver your kayak to the beach, and you may even save a few bucks. Or try Toogood Kayaks, who’ll also deliver your kayak to Kailua Bay.

You’ll have your choice between a single kayak and a tandem. You will also choose between a guided tour and an unguided tour. I like to try things on my own, so I always select the unguided tour. Of course, you’ll probably see more on the guided tour, especially if this is your first time kayaking in Hawaii. If you arrive in the morning, you will select from the full day rental and half day rental.

You’ll be provided a kayak. You may have to shell out extra for seats, which in theory keep you upright, but in practice don’t do much at all. You can also rent or purchase a dry bag. You’ll keep items you don’t want to get wet inside the dry bag, such as your lunch if you’re taking the full day tour. If you are going to be out in Kailua Bay for a full day, you may also want to bring your snorkel gear. You can rent the fins and mask if you don’t own a set. You’ll be paddling towards some offshore islands, which offer a great place to snorkel.

You’ll also be provided life vests. Wear one. The ocean can be fierce, particularly on the windward side of Oahu. Even experienced kayakers sometimes capsize.

Also, wear your sunscreen, preferably with an SPF of 15 or greater. With the tradewinds on the open ocean, you may hardly feel the sun. But, trust me, it’s there. And you will burn unless you protect yourself from the sun’s harmful UV rays.

Each kayaker will be provided a double-sided paddle that you will attach to the kayak in case the paddle goes overboard. Fasten it tightly. I could write an entire book on paddling technique, but to keep this short and simple, you’ll stick it in the water on your right, then lift it and do the same on your left – about a million times. Well, maybe not that many, but it will feel like that by the end of the day. I recommend doing some simple stretches if these are muscles you don’t normally use. The staff at the rental shop will further explain paddling and steering. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. That’s what they are there for.

If you are kayaking in Kailua Bay, your likely destination will be one of the small offshore islands. Flat Island and the Mokulua twin islands will be visible to you from your launching point off Lanikai Beach. Only the left Mokulua Island is visitable – the other is a bird sanctuary. Ask the staffers at the rental shop what the wind conditions are like. The conditions will largely determine how long it’ll take you to paddle out to your destination. And to come back.

Another outstanding place to kayak is Kaneohe Bay. If you’re up to it, you can kayak to a sunken island of over a thousand acres. The waters are smooth and the trip is dramatic. The caveat, and the reason most people don’t take the trip, is that the sunken island isn’t visible from shore.

Unlike Kailua Bay, where the breakers can wreak havoc as you try to put your kayak in the water, launching from the pier just north of Heeia State Park into Kaneohe Bay is simple. You’ll immediately begin gliding through the shallow water filled with fish and coral you can see from your kayak. If you’re taking this trip, be sure to toss a disposable waterproof camera into your drybag. You’ll be sorry if you don’t.

Other kayaking destinations worth mentioning are Hawaii Kai, the North Shore, and along the Waianae Coast. But I recommend “testing the waters” first at Kailua Bay or Kaneohe Bay first. If you’re looking for a relaxing voyage, you can also try the Kahana River, the only river on the island worth kayaking.

So, enter Kayaking onto your list of things to do in Hawaii, and have great fun! Just remember to be safe by always wearing your life vest, and making sure someone always knows just where you are.

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