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Kauai river tour and hike catches stand-up craze

By Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi

LAST UPDATED: 10:58 p.m. HST, Apr 18, 2011

"Stand-up paddling is amazing! It's as though you're walking on water, and it's much easier to do than you'd think. Because you're standing, you can see deeper into the water and farther across it than you would in a kayak, and the only sound you hear is the relaxing swish-swish of your paddle."

Amy Langley loves talking about stand-up paddling, which, in the eight months since she started doing it, has become one of her favorite pastimes. As sales manager for Outfitters Kauai, she introduces visitors to the sport through the company's Kauai Stand-Up Paddle Board Adventure, which launched last September. It's the first and only tour of its kind in Hawaii.

"When Rick Haviland, Outfitters Kauai's owner, heard friends talking about stand-up paddling, their excitement was infectious, so he borrowed a board and paddle and tried it," Langley said. "He immediately fell in love with it and realized the Huleia River, where we were already doing kayak tours, would be perfect for an SUP tour."

Haviland began researching equipment for such a tour, including fast, stable and comfortable boards that could accommodate all types of paddlers.


» Meeting place: Guests staying in the Poipu area or on the west side check in at Outfitters Kauai's headquarters at the Poipu Resort at 7:30 a.m. (return is at 1:30 p.m.). Those staying at east side or north shore resorts check in at the Kayak Shack at Nawiliwili Small Boat Harbor at 8:15 a.m. (return is at 12:45 p.m.). Tours are offered daily.

» Cost: $122; $92 for ages 12 to 14. Includes picnic lunch and bottled water. Kamaaina receive 10 percent discount.

» Phone: 742-9667 on Kauai or toll free 888-742-9887

» Email:

» Website:

» Notes: Must at least age 12 and less than 240 pounds. Must be able to walk about two miles over irregular terrain and stand-up paddle for 60 to 90 minutes. No experience necessary but must be able to swim.

» What to bring: Swimsuit, shorts, T-shirt, jacket and footwear with good tread for muddy conditions. A hat, sunscreen, bug spray and a waterproof camera are also recommended.


Coincidentally, Surftech, a well-known surfboard manufacturer based in Santa Cruz, Calif., was promoting a new line of stand-up paddling boards that were perfect for Outfitters Kauai's needs.

Measuring between 9 and 12 feet long and 28 to 32 inches wide, stand-up boards are larger than regular surfboards, making it easy to get on and stay on them. Lightweight, adjustable paddles provide a means for both balancing and maneuvering.

"We knew the time was right, and we applied for the necessary permits," Langley said. "Once we had that in order, it didn't take long for the fun to begin!"

The Kauai Stand-Up Paddle Board Adventure begins with a 15-minute orientation. A 2-mile paddle heads downwind on the tranquil Huleia River, offering spectacular views of the surrounding Haupu Mountains and Huleia National Wildlife Refuge along the way.

After the leisurely paddle, a 1-mile hike through a rain forest ends at a secluded pool. The highlight of this stop is Hawaii's only water zipline. Hold onto the bar, step off the platform, zip across the pool and, midway, drop into it! Repeat as often as desired, before or after lunch.

The tour concludes with a 1-mile hike back to the river, where a motorized canoe waits to return guests to Outfitters Kauai's headquarters.

"We've had everyone from 12-year-old kids to people in their late 60s do this tour, and almost all of them were first-time paddlers," Langley said. "SUP requires a bit more fitness than kayaking, but the average person who enjoys exercise and the outdoors will have a great time. It improves your balance and coordination while strengthening your whole body — not just your arms and legs, but your back, shoulders and core. The best part of SUP is you're having so much fun while you're doing it, you don't realize you're working out!"

Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Advertiser have won multiple Society of American Travel Writers awards.


Surfing was as much of an attraction in the 1950s, during the infancy of Hawaii's tourism industry, as it is today. Visitors of the time wanted to take home photographs that proved they rode the waves, but how could that be done with their bulky Kodak Brownie "box cameras," which had no long-distance capabilities?

As the story goes, a Waikiki beachboy came up with a great idea: He hung a Brownie around his neck, borrowed a canoe paddle and used it to move through the water while standing on his surfboard. With the paddle, he could position himself beside his subject in the ocean, ride the same wave and capture all the action.

Thus, "stand-up paddling" was born. The Hawaiian term for it is hoe hee nalu, meaning to stand, to paddle, to surf a wave.

Other beachboys followed suit, with or without cameras, but the sport didn't catch on with the general public until the summer of 2000. Frustrated about a long period of flat ocean conditions, Laird Hamilton, Brian Keaulana and other renowned surfers started stand-up paddling as a way to train even when the surf was down.

In 2004 Keaulana introduced stand-up as a division at Buffalo's Big Board Classic at Makaha Beach, the prestigious surfing event that his father, Richard "Buffalo" Keaulana, founded in 1976.

The media homed in on it, fueling the sport's popularity. Interestingly, there isn't a single mention of stand-up paddling in Matt Warshaw's Encyclopedia of Surfing, published in 2005. Today, Google lists more than a million references to it. Like surfing, stand-up paddling has earned a coveted place as a global water sport.


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