"The ocean is very alive in Hawaii. You feel the energy and it lifts you up" -Lauren Neaulani Spalding Olympic kayaker
Paddling around blue bays and cozy coves is all in a day's work for Lauren Neaulani Spalding. Shy and self-effacing, the part-Hawaiian kayaker came out of nowhere last spring to make the U.S. Olympic team and compete in the two- and four-person flat-water kayaking events at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games.
Spalding has been exploring Hawaii's waters since she first dipped a paddle in at age 3, while hitching a ride with her dad across the nearly 9-mile Auau Channel between Maui and Lanai. "The ocean is very alive in Hawaii. You feel the energy, and it lifts you up," says Spalding, who believes each spot on the water carries its own spirit.
Her favorite place to pull strokes is Hana Bay near the isolated village of the same name on the eastern tip of Maui, her home island. "The coastline around there is amazing, so beautiful. It's not like anywhere else on Earth, with Haleakala rising to the sky in the background," she says. "You can see the snowcaps of the Big Island on clear days."
While Spalding learned from her dad, she believes that the best way for visitors to get started kayaking is to join a guided trip with an experienced outfitter. Currents, wave conditions, and winds endow the Islands with plenty of good paddling spots. Each island has a couple that are mellow enough for keiki ― including Spalding's 6-year-old son, Haen'a, who, like his mother, is a paddler.
- Research outfitters and their trips in advance. First-timers: Try a short trip ― it's more tiring than it looks.
- Check weather conditions and protect against the sun. Bring ― and drink ― plenty of water. Wear a hat, sunscreen, and SPF-protective clothing.
- Make sure your rental gear is in good condition before heading out. Your paddle, life vest, and kayak should appear fairly new. Paddling gloves help prevent blisters.
Reserve kayak tours and rentals well in advance.
Na Pali Coast
This singular kayak trip is well worth training for. During the 17-mile journey along the wild northwestern coast of the Garden Isle, paddlers explore sea caves and pass beneath 3,000-foot sea cliffs. The long paddle is best done by experienced paddlers on a guided tour; rough surf and seasickness are common.
INFO: Take a guided trip with Outfitters Kauai (one-day tours $185; offered mid-May through mid-Sep, ages 15 and over only; 2827-A Po`ipu Rd.; www.outfitterskauai.com or 888/742-9887).
Flat Island and the Mokuluas
This trio of islands is located just off the long, white beaches of Kailua on the Windward Coast. They host large flocks of endemic birds such as wedge-tailed shearwater and albatross. Ambitious kayakers can haul out for solitude on pocket beaches on the Kailua Bay side of the northernmost two islands.
INFO: Rent gear or take a guided tour with Kailua Sailboards & Kayaks (half-day rentals from $39; guided tours from $89; in the Kailua Beach Center, 130 Kailua Rd.; www.kailuasailboards.com or 808/262-2555).
This pristine coastline boasts protected coves, tropical fish, untrammeled beaches, and no crowds. The lush rim of Haleakala, framed by the cloud-shrouded Kaupo Gap, rises imposingly to the heavens.
INFO: Launch at Hana Bay for a short paddle around tranquil waters and surrounding coves. Or take a guided tour with Hana-Maui Sea Sports (two-hour tours $89; www.hana-maui-seasports.com or 808/264-9566).
4. BIG ISLAND
It's an easy, sheltered, 1-mile paddle from the boat ramp at Napo`opo`o Beach Park to the Captain Cook Monument and the cove where the famed British sea captain met his demise. Coral thrives in this secluded spot, and the preserve's protected waters attract plenty of finned critters. Look for spinner dolphins in the bay.
INFO: Launch at Napo`opo`o Wharf. Rent equipment from Adventures in Paradise (one-day rentals from $25; www.bigislandkayak.com or 866/824-2337). State regulations forbid guided kayak tours in the bay.