Every year, I’ve have had friends come back from Hawaii with everything from reef cuts in their feet, a twisted knee to unpleasant experiences with locals at surf spots. Use this Hawaii travel tips for paddlers guide to be more prepared and informed so you have more fun.

Injury Update: A friend is currently in Hawaii for the duration working remotely. He recently ended up on a reef trying to surf. He’s now recovering for 6 weeks!   Be careful over there!  …

Wear Quality Reef Shoes or Booties

A local once told me ‘no one here wears shoes in the water.’  Guess what? I’m not from there and in the PNW winter, I’ve been wearing shoes and socks for several months so my feet are no where close to the leathered bottoms of locals’ feet.

NRS Freestyle Wet Shoe

I bring over my NRS Freestyle booties which unlike cheap reef shoes, provide ankle support and protection from walking on razor sharp reefs and protection from the smoking hot pavement and sand. The wider tow box worked as additional propulsion and floatation for swimming.

If you get low ankle  shoes like the NRS Kinetic Water Shoes, make sure they fit your feet and don’t slide around inside. Neoprene surf and paddling gear tends to run small, so check the sizing chart before ordering.

Hawaii based surf instructors have told me that cheap reef shoes that slide on your feet can lead to broken ankles.

Good booties like the Freestyle should also provide some traction for walking on slippery surfaces. If you launch on the steep slippery ramp at Maliko Gulch on North Shore Maui, you won’t wipe out when launching your sup, foil or outrigger.


Always Lock your Car and Keep it Clear of Stuff – Our local friends suggested we always locked the car make sure nothing can be seen in our car while out on excursions. In Makaha, we saw a rental car with a freshly broken window at the Kaena Point trailhead. That was our sign to move on. We later hiked from the other side at Kaena Point State Park which had state park rangers present in the lot.

Get a Docks Locks security set-up for your board and/or paddle. Use to attach to your car, Airbnb or other rental deck.

Rental SUP Gear – Rent or Bring your Own?

Friends suggested I rent from a specific surf rental shack on Waikiki.  I did but the gear was awful. I won’t give out the name of the company unless you’re going and inquire directly as they did give me a great discount due to my friend’s connection.

I had a heavy aluminum paddle with pool noodle zip tied to the shaft to prevent it from sinking, (no paddle should ever sink). The board was one I sold 7 years ago, a super heavy old school SurfTech which I dragged to the water.

Tip: Talk to your rental place about how to secure your gear to your car. We see a lot of sketchy tie-downs with boards getting lofted on Hawaiian roadways.

Where to Rent Good Gear

If you want good gear, check out Blue Planet Surf in Honolulu or Moku at Waikiki. We once rented two light stable plastic boards from Rob at Blue Planet for a day tour. They tied the boards on the rental car as well.

Jaecey Suda on the Maliko Run, Maui

On the Big IslandKona Boys and Hi-Tech are good options.

For Maui, check with these local instructors for rental info, Jaecey Suda of More Water Time / Maliko Shuttle, fitness pro Suzie Cooney and Jeremy Riggs who also does foil, and I believe outrigger.

Tip: If you really like your paddle and board, bring your own. It’s nice to have your own gear in an unfamiliar place.

Bringing your Own Gear

Inflatable sups are simple to carry on the plane. And 2 and 3pc paddles are available from various manufacturers.  Pad it with bubble wrap and/or foam. There are paddle bags, but I recommend adding more padding just in case. Write your name on your paddle and board with a sharpie. They can easily be ripped off.

Shipping SUPs to Hawaii is pretty expensive, unless it’s a short board. Many ship for races to have their own gear there.

For more info on rental, where to go and when, inquire on Standupzone.com or the SUP Chat FB group.

Travel Racks for SUPs and Kayaks

If you rent gear that you’ll be driving away with, either bring your own soft racks, use the stock cross bars on your rental car (my preference), or talk to the rental shop about renting or purchasing a system to secure you gear to your car.

If you use the rental car cross bars, bring insulation foam tubes or strap on pads for your bars, plus 13′ or longer Thule,

Thule Locking Straps

NRS or similar rack straps with you. Rope can work if you know the trucker’s hitch.

You can attach lighter gear to the roof of your car on top of a yoga mat or towel then strap through the doors. I’d aim your leash plug forward to attach a line to your front bumper too.

Get Locking Straps from Thule or Kanulock which I use to secure my gear to the car (or to a dock or deck).

Kayak Gear Rentals on Oahu

Kayakers check out Go Bananas in Waikiki.

SUP Surfing

Inquire from local shops before surfing. Surfing on Hawaii can be crowded, territorial and dangerous if you don’t know your stuff or have good info.  And know Surfer’s Etiquette.

If you don’t see a SUP in the line-up, don’t go out. Or inquire from surf shops on the status of that break for SUPs and/or foils.

Strong offshore winds can blow you offshore easily if you’re not paying attention. Maui has regular rescues of inexperienced tourists being blown offshore. In 2014, a Seattle man was blown 11 miles off Waikiki when he lost his paddle, (learn prone paddling on a sup).

If you downwind on Hawaii, note you’ll be entering and/or leaving the water through a surf break most often. Unless you can handle shore break, go with a local who can help you out.

Take a lesson if you’re not experienced. We teach surfing all year here in Seattle to prepare you for your travels. In the islands check out shops such as Blue Planet Surf on Oahu. See my Rentals section above for more Hawaiian surf/foil/downwind contacts.

Kayak surfers check out Go Bananas in Waikiki.


Ditto for the above info. Downwinding in Hawaii is another beast vs here. You’re in ocean swell, currents and wind. Add big shore break and surf for launches and take-outs. Definitely get with a local with a good reputation.

Blue Planet on Oahu is a great resource for SUP and foil.

On Maui, hire Jaecey Suda of More Water Time / Maliko Shuttle, fitness pro Suzie Cooney and as well as Jeremy Riggs who also does foil, and I believe outrigger. All three are solid instructors and will keep you safe out there.

Call me to get a downwinding prep class in Seattle before you go. They won’t take you out unless you have solid big water and high wind paddling skills.


Foiling is super hot in Hawaii and blew up since my last trip to Maui in 2018.  Foiling is fairly difficult to learn and takes longer to get it figured out than you’d think. But also shorter if you hire one of the foiling pioneers in Hawaii such as Blue Planet Surf on Oahu and Jeremy Riggs on Maui.

Each can also give you info on rentals, where to go and more.

Check out Blue Planet’s SUP foil videos to get you thinking in that direction.

Get Off the Beaten Path

I’m not a fan of crowds or the heavy tourism scene. During an Oahu surf camp I ran with Blue Planet a few years ago, they took us to the Kahana River (see pic) on the Windward Coast (NE) part of Oahu. This very picturesque bay an hour from Honolulu provided us with a pristine river paddling experience in a jungle like environment. We paddled 2 miles up the slow moving river then back out into the bay.

There’s several other rivers like this on the island such as North Shore’s short Anahulu River in Haleiwa or Kauai’s picturesque Hanalei River. Each island has tons of protected coves, river mouths and off the beaten path paddling opportunities.

Stay clear of fish ponds and other sites of historical and archaeological status.  Check local travel guides and paddling shops for specific info per each area.

Tips for Falling off your Board Safely

Fall as flat as you can! Fall flat like a pancake or the Hi-C Plunge. Falling in shallow water on reefs isn’t much fun. Never dive. Booties will prevent feet cuts when kicking in the water above the reef when getting back on our board. Read my blog post on falling off a board. 

If you’re wearing a leash, consider attaching it the side straps on your pfd or  wear a quick release waist strap to attach your leash to. Leashes have been known to get caught in coral heads which will hold you down. Plus not having it on your ankle allows for more freedom on the board.

Life Jackets (PFDs) in Hawaii

Lifejackets are not required in Hawaii for non surf paddling. But if you feel you need yours, go for it, it’s ok to feel kooky for


a week. Vest PFD’s will help prevent some injuries when falling on reefs.

Co2 cartridges generally can’t be brought on planes but check with the airline prior to confirm. TSA may remove your

NRS Zephyr Inflatable PFD

C02 cartridge and not tell you, so check once you arrive.

Know how to blow yours up without the cartridge. If you can’t swim 1-2 miles back to shore, a vest PFD is a good option (and always a leash).

Local SUP and foil pros on the North Shore of Maui and now wearing minimalist vest PFD’s such as the high-vis Mocke for downwind runs. If that leash breaks, it’ll assist in your lengthy open water swim to shore.

Water Temp – It May be Hawaii, but it’s still Winter!

If you’re traveling to Hawaii in winter, make sure to bring your neoprene paddling or surf top and paddling pants.  In Maui last February, I froze after not listening to friends who told me to bring a shortie wetsuit. My NRS neoprene jacket and/or neoprene pants would’ve been perfect.

Don’t Get Sunburned!

I’m a northern European blondish freckled type of person that burns easily and at 50 already has a few skin blemishes from sun I could’ve prevented.

The easiest way to avoid getting burned is to cover-up.  On of our local paddlers in Seattle is from Oahu and is always the most covered up for this reason. And certain sun blocks are not healthy for our oceans. This means UV protected non-cotton paddling clothing, wide brimmed hats and floating sun glasses with or floating retention straps (to avoid adding more plastic to the ocean).

For sunblocks, I use Sol Sunguard which is plant based and nice to the environment. I keep one of their lip guard sticks on my at all times on-water. The sticks can double as a face stick if needed.

Treating Reef Cuts

Check out the book Surf Survival which has great info on treating all sorts of surfing injuries.  A cut on a tropical reef can lead to a lot of problems, make sure to take care of it properly and asap.

If you’re an Elks member..

Check out the Honolulu Elks. It’s $5 to park and is on Diamond Head with epic views, great poke and a pool as well as surf break access to Tongs and Old Man’s. The bar was featured in the original Magnum PI. And its a great place to meet local folks.

The Kona Elks is also a great old lodge located adjacent to Kona Brewery with harbor views.

Travel Guides / Books

  • Surf Survival – This is a great book which helps you learn how to properly treat reef cuts and other exiting tropical issues.
  • My favorite Hawaii travel books are from Hawaii Revealed which have detailed info and a humorous take to their writing.

Related Links

Tips for Falling off a SUP

How to Walk on a SUP for More Control

Paddle Board Touring – Coastal Tips


About Rob Casey – Named a pioneer in the SUP industry by Stand Up Journal, Rob is the author of “Stand Up Paddling Flat Water to Surf and Rivers” and “Kayaking Puget Sound and the San Juans, 60 Trips.” Rob owns SUP school Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle. He also runs several paddling races throughout the year.
Disclosure: This post may include affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no cost to you.

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