Kayaking in Hawaii

Kayak Safety

Imagine slipping calmly over Hawaii’s sparkling waters, spotting spinner dolphins, Hawaiian green sea turtles, colorful tropical fish, and maybe even a humpback whale or two. Sound amazing? Well, that’s because it is! In fact, for many visitors, it’s the best way to explore the Aloha State’s enchanted seas. 

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Why Choose Kayaking? 

Kayaking in Hawaii has many advantages over other forms of paddling. First, not everyone feels comfortable standing up and trying to balance on a surfboard or stand up paddle board. And while many people find SUP relatively easy compared to surfing, nothing compares to the simplicity of sitting comfortably on a kayak. 

Another advantage to sea kayaking is that it’s the perfect activity for practically all ages; making it the most family-friendly paddling option. Because the younger ones will be seated, the chances of them taking a spill into the ocean is minimal. Plus, most- if not all- kayak adventure companies in Hawaii use the sit-on-top style kayak, which is extremely safe and stable. 

Additionally, because you’ll likely be more relaxed and comfortable than on a surfboard or stand up paddle board, you’ll be more focused on your surroundings, meaning all of Hawaii’s fascinating marine life is yours to take in at your leisure. 

Hawaiian ocean kayaking is fun and easy for people of all ages and athletic abilities. That said, there are a few thing beginners should know before grabbing the paddle for the first time. Keep these tips in mind and you’ll be sure to have a safe, fun, and memorable kayaking experience: 

1. Always wear a life jacket. 

Also known as a PFD (personal flotation device), a life jacket is a must-have part of your paddling adventure. While it’s likely you’ll be using a very stable sit-on-top style kayak in Hawaii, remember that accidents can happen to even the most experienced kayakers. As a newbie, it’s of the utmost importance that you protect yourself in the event of a spill. 

2. Know the ocean and weather conditions before you go. 

Winds should generally be blowing back toward land rather than out to sea and, ideally, should be under 15 mph for novice paddlers. You’ll also want to choose an area with a gradual rise to the sea floor or an area protected by a reef or sandbar, as opposed to an area with deep ocean rising onto a shallow reef. It’s always a good idea to ask a seasoned local paddler about current conditions, as well.

3. Don’t go out alone.

This is always a good rule to follow, but especially so if you’re new to ocean kayaking. Not only will your outing be safer, it’ll likely be more fun, too. Try to go with one (or more) experienced kayakers so you can see how they handle the conditions and learn from their experience. 

4. Use the correct equipment.

Consult with a professional regarding which kayak, paddle, and PFD is appropriate for your height, weight, and experience level. This will ensure a safe and comfortable experience. 

5. Respect the marine life. 

Throughout your adventure, you are likely to encounter a wide variety of marine life including spinner dolphins, Hawaiian green sea turtles, humpback whales (in winter) and much more. Many species are protected and you are required by law to remain a certain distance away from them. Remember, you are a guest in their home, so please be quiet, calm, and follow the rules so as not to stress Hawaii’s fascinating sea creatures. 

6. Learn the basics.

Kayaking seems pretty simple: Sit, dunk paddle, and pull, right? While it is relatively easy, there are a few basics to learn that are essential to getting the most out of your kayaking adventure:

  • Sit up straight and keep your nose pointing forward in line with the center of the kayak. Note that you may find leaning slightly forward is a bit more comfortable. This will keep your body balanced, making tipping unlikely and steering easier.
  • Get comfortable by pushing your backside fully into the seat/backrest area and slightly bend your knees. Make sure not to straighten your legs too much, as this may cause lower back strain; while bending them too much can cause you to hit them while paddling.
  • Relax and grip the paddle lightly. A relaxed yet correct posture will allow you to steer the kayak easily; it’ll also reduce your chances of becoming sore as a result of incorrect technique.
  • Paddle for power. In order to paddle forward efficiently, place the paddle in the water near your toes and pull back alongside the kayak until you reach your hip area. Repeat on the other side. To turn the kayak, use a sweep stroke by moving the paddle farther out to the side in an arc.  
  • Use your shoulders and torso to paddle, not just your arms. This will help prevent muscle strain and injury and is a much more efficient paddling method.

7. Take it easy. 

Kayaking can be a leisurely activity if you paddle in optimum conditions and use proper technique. However, make sure you know your limits and physical condition. Start off easy and work on practicing your technique to ensure a comfortable and safe paddle.

8. Have a plan and a buddy on land. 

Make sure to tell someone your paddling plans: Where you’re going, what you’ll be doing, when you expect to return, and who is going with you. Then, stick to that plan. If something changes, let your buddy know. 

9. Stay hydrated and wear sunscreen. 

This one may seem like a no-brainer, but you’ll want to make sure you take water along and sip every now and then, as the combination of Hawaiian sun and paddling can dry you out quickly. And speaking of sun, be sure to slather on a reef-safe sunscreen before you head out, as you can burn faster out on the ocean and may not even realize it until it’s too late.

10.  Take a kayak lesson.

Most people love trying new things and kayaking is no exception. However, there really is no substitute for the knowledge and expertise of a local seasoned kayaker. Not only will an experienced paddler know where to go based on current conditions, they’ll also be with you every step (or stroke!) of the way to show you proper technique, help keep you safe, and to make sure you get the most from your Hawaiian kayaking adventure.

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