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Hawaii is one of the most popular travel destinations in the United States, with good reason. With eight major islands and hundreds of smaller ones to explore, there’s no shortage of incredible natural sights to see and activities to do on vacation in Hawaii.
But if you’re looking to squeeze as much out of your trip as possible, it pays to plan ahead by researching the best water sports in Hawaii before you go.
From surfing lessons to boat cruises and snorkeling excursions, these are the eight must-do water sports in Hawaii that should be at the top of your vacation bucket list.
Stand Up Paddle Boarding
You can try SUPboarding all year round but it’s best during summer months when temperatures are warmer. The best place to do it is Ala Moana Beach Park because it’s close to hotels and restaurants.
There are often lifeguards on duty too if you want to go out further than other surfers are willing to paddle out. If you’re just starting out, get a board that has a soft deck, as these are more forgiving for beginners.
This fun activity is also great for children who have enough strength to stand up. Children under 10 years old should be accompanied by an adult at all times while SUP boarding, though.
If your child isn’t ready for surfing or snorkeling yet, consider taking them to a beach where they can play in shallow waters or build sandcastles with their friends while supervised by an adult.
If your child wants to take up surfing or snorkeling, make sure they’re comfortable swimming first before going into deeper waters!
Even if you’re a total novice, kayaking on some of Hawaii’s beautiful waters is a blast and a great way to explore parts of Maui or Oahu that you wouldn’t normally see.
Tours vary from relaxing 3-hour floats to strenuous 2.5-hour workouts. If it’s your first time, you may want to opt for something lower key like a sunset cruise so that you can ease into it without feeling overwhelmed.
Another tip: Your feet will get wet even on a normal boat tour, so bring an extra pair of sandals just in case!
Head to Hanauma Bay on Oahu’s south side. This 2,000-foot volcanic crater is home to vibrant coral reefs, sea turtles and myriad tropical fish, including a kaleidoscope of parrotfish and butterflyfish.
This is one of Hawaii’s best snorkeling spots due to its visibility—more than 160 feet—and clear blue waters. The beach area offers easy entry points into the water, making it accessible for beginners and experts alike.
Though visiting Hanauma Bay can get a bit crowded during peak hours, especially at weekends; there are always good things in paradise. Before you know it you’ll be playing with sea turtles like fun little fish yourself!
White Water Rafting
If you’re a thrill seeker, white water rafting is going to be right up your alley. If you’re not into jumping off of cliffs and shooting rapids like a wild river rat, maybe pass on white water rafting.
You can choose between different levels of difficulty (easy, medium or hard) to find one that’s right for you and your family or friends.
A standard tour will last about three hours and take you down some pretty amazing rivers including: Wailua River, Waimea River and Hanalei River. There are outfitters that cater to all kinds of adventurers so there’s no reason not to give it a try!
Head to Hilo and catch a ride on a traditional double-hulled sailing canoe, called an ama.
Hawaii’s unique geography made canoes an ideal vessel for transporting goods around the archipelago—and since Polynesians first set foot on Hawaiian shores around 400 A.D., canoes have been an integral part of Hawaiian life.
Today, you can visit Hilo and catch a ride aboard one of these graceful ships during trips across Panaewai Park Pond (you’ll be there by 9:30am). Prices range from $75 to $95 per person and last two hours.
Sailboards were originally invented by a German sailmaker named Alexander Muller in 1887, but it wasn’t until 1958 that windsurfing became a widely popular sport.
The original windsurfers had wide, inflatable pontoons for support and tassels attached to their sails for additional control—but today’s windsurfers are far more advanced than their predecessors.
Modern windsurfers are made of carbon fiber and come with footstraps to increase balance; many even have special fins attached to the bottom of their boards to help them move through turbulent waters.
In fact, modern windsurfing has evolved so much that sailors now use iPads as part of their equipment.
Whether you are a beginner or an experienced diver, scuba diving is one of best ways to explore amazing shipwrecks and hidden caves around Oahu.
Diving tours are offered by most scuba schools near Waikiki Beach for all levels. Just about every dive site can be accessed from shore or nearby boat launch locations, so there’s no need to worry about transportation from land to sea.
Bring your own gear or rent equipment at one of many scuba shops on Oahu like Island Dive and Kayak.
Want to catch a wave? Check out surf lessons and classes on Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Big Island. For newbies, take a lesson from an experienced pro to get your footing before you attempt a solo session.
Or if it’s fun and laughs you’re after, join a party boat with an enthusiastic crew that will school you on all things surfing (from boards to waves).
No matter what type of board you choose—longboard, shortboard or even stand up paddle—the thrill of catching a wave is guaranteed to leave you grinning ear-to-ear.
As for where to go, here are some spots: Waikiki Beach (Oahu), Haleiwa Beach Park (Oahu), Kua Bay (Maui), Poipu Beach Park II & III (Kauai) and Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area (Big Island).