Where to paddle, surf and duck-dive on the Big Island of Hawaii

Where to paddle, surf and duck-dive on the Big Island of Hawaii

Please expect this post to be short. I am a rubbish surfer but I love it. When stand-up paddling came along, it was my saving grace, but due to the lack of waves here in Brandenburg, I am still no good.  I am middle-aged, fat and have bad hips, but I love surfing, or, to be exact, stand-up paddle boarding. So would I try to catch a a wave when in Hawaii? Of course! And if I can do it, nothing should stop you.

The Big Island of Hawaii is great for nature, hiking, scenery, but, believe it or not, its not a surfing hotspot. Not that this is necessarily bad news! The waves are still decent, and it never gets crowded. If you want  big waves, I believe Oa’hu and Maui are the places to go.

You get decent waves, a lot of them. Bear in mind some beaches are in nature reserves, so no surfing there. Many kilometers of coastline are rocky, and are only for experienced surfers. So what do you do when, like me, you know what a board looks like, and you just want to try surfing or paddle boarding?

It’s all so easy on our lake back home.

Paddling on an inflatable SUP on a nice calm lake in Germany. Anybody can do this., and it’s a great workout for core muscles and balance.

Kailua-Kona is probably a good place to start, as it is reasonably touristy, has some well priced accommodation,and, most importantly, a larger number of outfits that offer lessons and rent out equipment, both surfing and SUP, and some of them are right on Ali’i Drive, the long coastal strip in town.

I had read a few fairly nice reviews online about Kahaluu Bay Surf and Sea, and I like that they were a bit outside town (in the Southern part) , in an area of some smaller, cheaper condos mixed with smaller fancy resorts. There is the tiny but  photogenic St Peters Catholic Church nearby, and the bay is mostly sandy, i.e. safe when you wipe out. The place is just a small shack opposite the church, on the left side if you are coming from Kailua, you can park there, and they are incredibly laid back and helpful. Want a lesson? There may be one starting soon. Just want to hire? No problem either, they will advise you and help you get started. They had mainly fairly well-maintained NSP boards for hire, and you can hire wetsuits, boots, snorkels and fins, too. There is also a shower if you want to move on after surfing.

So, with my huge 11’6 SUP in tow, I crossed the coast road, carefully stepped into the water between some rocks – that is the usual entry spot, a bit tricky for a huge SUP, easier with a surfboard –  put the board to water once the rocks were in safe distance, and paddled out. The waves were nice that day, beginners’ waves for surfers, great for long boards, and a bit challenging for the flatwater SUP paddler!

Take a very large board , some smallish ocean waves and a flatwater paddler… stir well…

Lets just say I stood up and fell in a lot before I even caught a wave. So an hour later I swapped the SUP for a more manageable long board:

It’s easier catching a wave with a long board – less painful, even. This was about 10 foot long.

And caught some waves. I was happy! I surfed in Hawaii. Even though I chickened out on some cracking waves.

Here comes some pretty nice waves. Ooh, I think I just turn over my board and sit them out.

Other spots where people surf:

A few very brave people surfed just off Anaehoomalu Bay in South Kohala.

Surfing in South Kohala. Not for the beginner.

Anaehoomalu Bay itself has SUP hire, and like any bay area, should be great for some gentle paddling, although the waves did not look that amazing.

Anaehoomalu Bay. Almost too calm but it has board hire and is positively unscary. High hire prices mean perhaps fewer surfers (its only really suitable for SUP’s) but good car access means you can bring your own board.

A great spot on the Eastern side is Honoli’i Beach Park just north of Hilo.

Honoli’i. Perhaps my favourite. I cant remember what kind of break it is, but here are children, shortboards, longboards, SUP surfers… on a relatively small wave Sunday.

Laid-back, local, great sports to sit under some trees, showers, lots of surfers at different abilities, a few SUP’s but be warned there are usually waves!

Honoli’i, again. There are even showers and toilets.

Some locals in Hilo also told me you can paddle board right off the Wailoa River State Park, some others said there may be sharks sometimes, but I never saw anyone on a board there.

A bit of advice: The sun is harsh most of the time, so wear at least SPF30 sunscreen! And a rash vest. Forget the wet suit, though. I wonder if there is any season where you would need a wet suit for surfing in Hawaii. And as many entry points are rocky, and there can even be rocky bits further out, I would highly recommend reef shoes for surfing.

And one more of Honoli’i. It’s friendly, there are families and swimmers, too, its more of a relaxed local beach than a surfing hotspot.

If surfing is not your thing, you can go on guided kayaking trips to Captain Cooks Bay, which is beautiful with crystal-clear waters.

There are plenty commercial snorkeling, swim-with-dolphin and other wildlife-ey trips available, but I do not want to recommend them as I am unsure they are exactly environmentally friendly or kind to the wildlife.

So, what’s next for me? Not a a surf trip to Hawaii on the foreseeable future. I have upgraded to hiring an inflatable SUP every now and then (slightly more wobbly) and practice on our local lake but inflatable SUPs are a different thing, and the lake is easy compared to even the slightest wave in the sea. I hope that as SUP’s become more widespread, that hire is available in many seaside places in Europe, especially at the sea. So, if you surf in Hawaii, please say hello to the Pacific waves from me!


2 thoughts on “Where to paddle, surf and duck-dive on the Big Island of Hawaii”

  • What a cool post and great fun activity :). It is impossible to go to Hawai without trying surfing. I have a question as I never tried surfing – at the beginning how many try before being able to stay on the surf without fallen for more than one minute. I see on the photo that you manage this challenge ! Well done 🙂

    • Hi Lauriane, thank you for your comment! How quickly you manage to stand up depends on your balance and skills. Plenty of sporty people will stand up after a lesson or two. I spend a lot more time in the water than on the board, and I have real difficulties to pop up (I’m 47), but it is a great feeling catching the wave, even when you do not manage to stand up. I switched to SUP and managed to catch small waves but of course Hawaii is for proper wave riding. I really recommend a good school and good lession and start on a good longboard appropriate for your size and weight. As long as you are a strong swimmer and surf in an area suitable for beginners together with some buddies you should be fine!

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