Micki vs Stand Up Paddle Boarding on Kailua Beach, Hawaii

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Every once in a while I get it into my head that I’m a hardcore adventure sports person.

This is kind of the equivalent of Elmo entering a mixed martial arts cage match. Possible? Maybe. Wise? Probably not.

I love all the so-called adventure sports: kayaking, snowboarding, rappelling, windsurfing, scuba, and so on. It’s a one-sided relationship. I love them, they kick my a**.

In the last few years, we’ve seen paddle boarders of all shapes and sizes on almost any body of water we visit. It looks like my kind of adventure travel:  fun, serene, and above all, fairly easy.

Micki vs Stand Up Paddle Boarding Kailua SUP

Proof! I’m Standing Up! (from Charles’ iPhone)

Charles and I decided to lose our stand up paddle boarding (SUP) virginity in Hawaii. Given that stand up paddling (Hoe he’e nalu in the Hawaiian language) originated in Hawaii, Oahu seemed like a great place to start.

The theory is simple:  You stand upright on a specially designed paddle board (a very stable, modified surfboard) and use your paddle to propel yourself through the water.

The scene was perfect. Oahu’s famous Kailua beach, white sand, turquoise water, palm trees, and a soft ocean breeze. I was ready: bikini top double knotted (girls, you know what I’m talking about), slathered in sunscreen, with Charles watching the kids build sandcastles.

I grab the paddle board’s tow strap, and pull it out into the surf, all 15 clunky feet of it. Kailua’s waves are small, but they’re coming in fast, and I work furiously to get the board out past the breaks before the board and I get slammed into the shore. Somehow, I manage to get past the breaks and into calmer water. And I’m still holding onto the paddle, through some small miracle.

Now the fun starts. Fodors says “even novice stand-up paddleboarders can get up, stay up, and have a great time paddling around…“.

F*** you Fodors, is all I have to say. F*** you all day long.

I slide on top of the board. This is relatively easy, given that the stand up paddle board is stable, and roughly the size of a small boat.

Problem:  Kailua’s soft ocean breeze churns up the waves until they’re choppy and unpredictable. Now, apparently, I’m expected to both stand up (seriously?) and paddle while the board is pitching around like a freshman at his first keg party.

I decide that sit down paddling is a darn good idea. After about 10 minutes of this, I decide to go halfway, and try crouching on my knees paddling. Not so bad, though my legs are shaking after about five minutes of balancing on the choppy waves.

You know how surfers pop up from a lying position to standing? I decide to try this. Bad idea. I pop up, the board goes flying out behind me, and I find myself face first in the waves, making fast friends with a turtle swimming by me. I say good bye to my turtle buddy, and go for attempt number two.

This time it’s a slower approach. I plant my feet in the middle of the board, and ease up into a standing position. Success! This lasts about two seconds, before the waves plant me firmly on my arse again. Having a small taste of victory, I try this about ten times in a row, until I’m exhausted.

I decide to try lie down paddling. This is the best idea I’ve had all day.

All I can hear is the rush and roar of the waves. Below me, the ocean is a surreal turquoise. The sun is warm on my salty skin. Nothing exists but this perfect nothingness of water and wind.

A group of happy kayakers glide by, breaking the tranquility.

I’m refreshed, and up for one more go. The waves are calmer. I place my feet as wide as possible on the board, and, suddenly, I’m up. It’s shaky, completely lacking in grace or coordination, but somehow I’m up and paddling. Ten minutes later, I’m paddling past Charles and the kids on shore, showing off my new skills.

Tip for Beginners

Try paddle boarding for the first time on a lake. A very flat lake. Even better, try it on dry land. While your paddle board is bolted to something.


Kailua Beach Park, on the East side of gorgeous Oahu, Hawaii. Kailua is famous for hosting the American President Barak Obama and family on vacation. A thirty minute drive from Waikiki, Kailua beach has a mild shore break, and fine, soft sand, making it a great choice for families. The Mokulua islands sit a few hundred yards out in Kailua Bay.

Getting There

By car:  From Waikiki take the Kalanianaole Highway to Kailua Road, and follow the signs to Kailua Beach Park. There are some stunning mountain views along this route. About 30 minutes.

Highly Recommended: For a more scenic route, head east from Waikiki on the Kalanianaole Hwy past Hanuama Bay, and through Waimanalo Beach. The ocean views along this route are world class, and worth every extra second. About 45 minutes.

By bus:  From Waikiki, catch the 56/57 local bus at Ala Moana Centre at the beach side stop. Buses come by about every 25 minutes. This will drop you off in Kailua town. There’s a bus (70 Lanakai) that runs out to Kailua beach, but it only runs every hour and half, so it may be faster to walk the 15 minutes to the beach. About 50 minutes to Kailua town, plus 15 minutes walking.


We rented our stand up paddle board and paddle from Kailua Sailboards & Kayaks.


$49 for a half day rental ($59 for a full day). The only downside is that you’ll need to drag the paddle board on a trailer about 200 meters from Kailua Sailboards & Kayaks’ storage area just off the beach.

Money Saving Tip

Check the flyers and tourist magazines that are on almost every street corner in Waikiki and Kailua town. A few of them have 15% discount coupons for Kailua Sailboards & Kayaks on Kailua beach.

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6 Responses

  1. paddle boarding huntington beach

    A lake is definitely the best place to start because it is calmer and good for practice until you find your balance.

    • Micki Kosman

      Exactly! Though there’s definitely something to be said for learning among Kailua’s beautiful scenery. Such a gorgeous place, though I wish I’d taken your advice and tried paddle boarding somewhere where the water was a little less choppy!

  2. Ourjourneytothesea

    Hehe a very amusing story. I like your tips for beginners. Hopefully now that you have ridden a wave you will continue on with SUP’ing. Unfortunately it’s kind of hard to travel around with your own board.

  3. Haley S

    Yes, I would definitely second learning to paddle in a more forgiving place.

    I remember years ago trying to learn how to surf. I decided what better place to give it a go than in Surfer’s Paradise, Australia, right? Wrong. Sure, it’s a paradise if you already know how to surf. For the rest of us? Not so much. I spent more time chasing my board down the beach as it go whisked away by another powerful wave than I did actually surfing (or even pretending to surf). Not to mention my body felt like it was in a car crash the next day it hurt so bad all over.

    Glad to see you at least gave it a go! I’m sure it’s something the littles will enjoy doing as well one day.

  4. David Hamburg

    Love paddle boarding in Kauai. Did that last summer. Makes me want to go back so bad from your pictures. Some great tips for beginners as well. Glad you had a blast!


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