aikiki is the spiritual and physical home of standup paddling. It all goes back to Duke Kahanamoku standing up and paddling an Australian surf ski in the late 1930s - you can see it on YouTube. There is a long story about that long board Duke is paddling with a double-bladed paddle with a leash attached to the nose. And an even longer story that extends from Duke in 1939 across 77 years of time to the SUP sensation that is still sweeping (pun intended) the world. Until other arguments win out, Waikiki begat SUP, and that’s a good thing, because Waikiki is a very spiritual and physical place to standup paddle.
From the west end of Ala Moana Beach Park at Kewalo Basin to Queens is a round trip of just over four miles—as Google Earth flies. But the real mileage is much more when you add in riding waves and going around Magic Island and dodging sharks and powerboats and zig-zagging into the trades and chatting up tourist chicks and all the other adventures that can happen between Kewalo and Queens.
A hundred years ago, Waikiki was feral and beautiful, swamps and trees to the water’s edge, only a couple of elegant hotels overlooking reefs as lively with animal life below as waves above.
Today tourism is worth almost $14 billion a year to the Hawaiian economy, and most of that cash pours through Waikiki—a highly congested two square miles of high-rise hotels, luxury shopping and endless places to eat, drink and shop. From street level it really can seem like they paved paradise and put up a parking lot. Waikiki can be sad, Waikiki can be beautiful. Like the ocean, Waikiki’s emotions are always on the move, like clouds over the sun.
But that’s what makes it such an endlessly entertaining place to paddle.
At the west end of Ala Moana Beach Park is a man-made channel approximately 400 feet wide and 3,400 feet long that marks the border between the beach and the reef. This channel makes a sandy path the length of the park and it’s a beautiful two-channel highway for swimmers and standup paddlers alike.
Ashore the beach park is a real melting pot, its wide-open beach peppered with coconut oiled sunbathers, while under the broad canopy of monkey pod trees its wide, grassy expanse hosts myriad local barbeques and baby parties, homeless people tinkering on bicycles, joggers, pickup football games and, on most days, numerous Japanese couples getting married. But it’s offshore that the flavor really comes through. Steady trade winds blow the sounds and smells off the park and it’s bliss to paddle the inner channel on a sunny, glassy day, with surf on the reef, girls on the beach, barbeque smells mixing with children laughing.