Kayaking has established itself as one of the most popular watersport activities in Hawaii. Considering that the Hawaiian Islands were discovered by Polynesian paddlers in a sailing canoe, this fact is not surprising. Today, every major island in Hawaii’s chain has kayak surfers, kayak rentals, kayak fishing, guided kayak tours and even some white water kayaking.
Big surf on Oahu’s south shore near waikiki
Kayaking in Hawaii
The Hawaiian Islands have over 750 miles of coastline, every inch of which has been explored by sea kayak. Much of Hawaii, however, can have very rough ocean conditions, large waves and strong currents and are only suitable for experts.
The factors that are most important in determining if a location is suitable for kayaking are wind direction and sea floor topography:
Winds should be onshore to blow you back to to land, rather than out to sea. Wind speed is generally comfortable for paddling if it is less than 15 miles per hour, difficult but reasonable if less than 22 MPH and nearly impossible for a novice if more than 30MPH.
Sea floor topography is specifically important for kayaking in Hawaii because of the potential for large waves. A deep ocean that rises suddenly onto a shallow shelf, reef or beach will create larger and more powerful waves. A gradual rise and or an area that is protected by an outer reef, sand bar or land mass, will have much smaller waves and will be more suitable for a kayaking trip.
Additionally, the direction that the shoreline is facing is very important in Hawaii when considering where to kayak. East facing shores are the windward side of the Hawaiian Islands, under typical trade wind conditions . All other sides have potential to be offshore, especially West facing shores, being the lee side of the islands under trade winds conditions. The direction of the facing shore will also determine the likely surf conditions during a given time of year in Hawaii. During the summer months, ground swells are generally from the South and during the winter from the Northwest. For this reason, these shorelines should generally be avoided as a kayaking destination during these times. Especially the North shores of Oahu and Maui, during the winter season, are known to have some of the largest waves in the world. Kauai, Molokai and the Big Island of Hawaii all have nearly inaccessible sea cliffs on their North shores and while this creates an opportunity for isolation, it also means your along way from rescue assistance and requires more planning. Once again, due to these factors, kayaking on East facing shores is generally more suitable for the average kayaker. The Windward side of Oahu is ideal for kayaking by providing onshore wins, sandy beaches and less consistent waves than most of Hawaii.
Most kayak rentals in Hawaii are sit-on-top and self bailing. A sit inside kayak, with a spray skirt, is not necessary, because Hawaii’s year round water temperature remains around seventy degrees Fahrenheit. A sit-on-top is also much safer to have as will not fill with water. For this reason, very few decked or sit inside kayaks can be found in Hawaii’s rental fleets. *A “scupper hole” is the term for the hole in which the water drains from the deck.
Kayak surfing is a great way to combine Hawaii’s beautiful waters with its year round waves. Kayak surfing is generally for more experienced paddlers but can be attempted under supervision by an expert in smaller waves on your first day. The rush of catching a wave in a kayak is unforgettable. Sit-on-top kayaks are perfect for kayak surfing because they can be easily righted if a wave tips you over. The larger person should be in the back seat and the person in the front should lean back!