Explore Hawaii

Paddle People: SUPs and the Hawaiian Islands

Out in the surf lineup, some wave riders are holding paddles. Toward the shore, more people are doing the same, propelling themselves parallel to the beach with swift, sure strokes or pausing to examine the sea life below. Beyond the reef, others are riding the open ocean, heading downwind, catching sea swells. It’s new, this phenomenon called stand-up paddling (SUP for short) — and yet it’s not.

Around the world, fishermen have stood up in dugout canoes since water transport began. Heading out to sea to catch dinner or downstream with sharp gigs, they have valuable views unavailable to the seated. In Waikïkï in the ‘50s, beach boys attained similar vantage points by standing up on their surfboards to photograph mainland clients. During the past few years, stand-up paddle has been reborn as efficient exercise, waterborne meditation and a competitive sport. Men and women alike are integrating it into their daily routines, changing their bodies and lives by doing so. It is healthy and fun, trims pounds and inches with relative ease, and provides its devotees with an endorphin-based euphoria that makes life grand. While the most recent seed was planted in Hawai‘i, stand-up is now growng on the mainland, in Europe, in Asia, and beyond. Wherever there is a body of water, SUP has arrived or is on the way.

SUP is a great way to get into the water and work the shoulders, arms and abs, as well as the lower core and even the legs. It’s a vigorous workout; you’ll feel the benefits after a few dozen strokes, and before long, you’ll notice some new muscle definition.

“It’s a great way to get in shape and stay in shape without being bored,” says Reid Inouye, waterman, publisher of Stand Up Paddle Magazine, and president of Paddle Core Fitness. “I was inspired to start by seeing a couple of my friends paddling.

“When you’re paddling, you’re constantly moving ... your mind is free of anything else around you, you’re just focused on what you have to do.”

Fortunately, it is incredibly easy to learn to SUP. The companies offering equipment rentals also have lessons, and beginners should take advantage of them. (The most important thing to learn is how to get back up on the board when you fall off.) “You’re learning four things,” continues Inouye. “Number one, safety. Number two, how to get up on a board and balance. Three, getting out there and getting the basics down, the paddle strokes, your balance, your understanding of the water and how it moves, and how the board moves on the water. We have you up and paddling in ten minutes.”

There is absolutely nothing like hitting your groove during a flat water session, gliding across the ocean’s glossy surface, the horizon to one side of you and the shoreline to the other. Look down and get a whole new perspective on what’s beneath you. “Getting on the board and in the water and having that feeling of connecting with nature is what it’s all about. You can look down and see the fish, turtles, everything that’s underwater. It’s so much fun, you forget you’re exercising."

Safety First: Ocean Awareness and Safety Tips

It’s easy to forget that something so beautiful is also powerful and dangerous. The behavior of the ocean in Hawai‘i is complex and unpredictable. The perils of our oceans include currents, box jellyfish, Portuguese man-of-war, sea urchins, coral and even predators like sharks. There’s one rule of thumb that always works: “When in doubt, don’t go out!” More detailed points are below. Follow these guidelines to make sure your Hawaiian vacation is a safe one:

  • Do ask lifeguards for advice.
  • Do be realistic about your own swimming ability.
  • Never turn your back on the ocean, because waves can sneak up on you and being hit unexpectedly can cause injury.
  • If you get caught in a current, do not struggle against it. Rip currents are usually narrow, so calmly swim perpendicular to the current direction to get out of it, and then head back to shore.
  • If you need help, shout “Help!” and wave an arm to get attention.
  • Do remain calm—panicking never helps.
  • Do watch children carefully, no matter how calm the water seems.
  • Watch the ocean for about 30 minutes before getting close.
  • Remember that snorkeling is a strenuous activity.
  • Anytime skin is broken, disinfect the area thoroughly and take care to use antibiotic cream until the wound is healed.
  • The coral reef is a living organism and stepping on it injures it—stay off the coral.
  • In the water or out, maintain a respectful distance from all wildlife. It is illegal to harass animals such as sea turtles and monk seals, who will sometimes come up on to the sand to rest.