Stand up paddling was a “must do” while my husband Quent and I were on Oahu, Hawaii, earlier this month. Also known as stand up paddle surfing, stand up paddleboarding or simply SUP, this sport actually dates back to ancient Hawaii. Centuries ago, natives surfed the waves off the coast of all the Hawaiian islands with a paddle in hand. Big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton re-introduced the world to this hybrid of surfing and canoe paddling about a decade ago. I’ve seen stand up paddlers on whitewater rivers in my home state of Colorado, but I figured it might be easier to sample the sport on calmer waters. You know, like a mellow ocean lagoon. Instead, I was thrust into the exhilarating sport right off the coast of Waikiki Beach — ocean waves galore.
Turns out, mastering the rolling swells wasn’t as tough as I thought. That is, I definitely needed to engage my core and maintain my balance to maneuver the waves, but even after a quick lesson on land — from friendly, experienced Trevor of Waikiki Beach Services — I understood how key the paddle was to staying upright. It really acts as a third “leg.”. Also key: not looking down at the waves, but rather out at the horizon or beach, or in the direction of where you want to go.
Also during our land-based instruction, Trevor taught us how to get from paddling on our knees to an upright position while out on the water. We learned proper paddling technique (long steady strokes close to the board) and how to turn (sweeping strokes away from the board). After only 10 minutes of instruction, we were off, with no time to get nervous: once I was kneeling on my board and set in the water, Trevor gave me a huge push into the waves and off I went.
My husband Quent, a natural athlete, was a pro from the start. I moved a little more slowly and cautiously, tensing every time a wave moved toward me. But Trevor and Quent kept my spirits up with shouts of, “You’re doing great!” I felt more comfortable when I remembered to loosen my stance a bit. Within minutes, we were soon hundreds of yards from the beach — I couldn’t believe how far from shore we maneuvered in such a short time.
After looping toward Diamond Head, and crashing a few times (no big deal — the board was leashed to my ankle and I managed to hang on to my paddle even when falling), we had to turn toward our starting point in front of the Royal Hawaiian hotel, and where a Waikiki Beach Services photographer was waiting for us (a CD of photos is included in the price of the hour lesson).
When I had my board pointed toward shore, with waves coming up behind me… that’s when things got a little uglier. I had a couple of big crashes when the nose of my board just dipped too low in the water and flipped me. Though, a couple of times, waves came from behind and I remembered to lean back — success! No fall! (Very proud moment.)
If you’re comfortable swimming in the ocean without a life vest, by all means, consider a stand-up paddle lesson the next time you’re in Hawaii. Really, our short lesson was a highlight of our trip!
Oahu‘s Waikiki Beach Services offers stand up paddling lessons five times daily in front of the pink Royal Hawaiian hotel for $65 a person. The outfitter also offers surfing lessons and outrigger canoe rides (on our agenda the next time we return with children). The entire crew seems like an amiable bunch, and I’ve got to give extra props to friendly and encouraging Trevor. Thanks for the fabulous experience!
Photos with water spots on them came from our GoPro camera; other pictures are by Waikiki Beach Services.