Glide of the Week: Puako Run, Big Island

Location: Wailea Bay, Big Island, Hawaii

Put In: 69’s Beach (Wailea Bay)/Puako Boat Ramp

Take out: 49 Black Sands Beach/A-Bay

Distance: 5 or 7 miles

Time of Year: All year, but summer is best

Ideal Wind Direction: NNE, NE

Time: About 1-2 hrs

Hazards: Whales during whale season, shallow reef closer to shore, an offshore wind. Wind direction should be assessed before committing to run.

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About the Run: The Puako downwind run is one of the Big Island’s best downwind runs. The run is along the south Kohala coastline on the west side of the island, and features short period wind swells, not influenced by any outside ground swell. This makes the waves not at big in height but steep with short troughs. This also makes for very well organized swells with no outside swell influence from other directions, and no cliffs or the backwash that comes with it.

There are two possible runs, a short and long course, about 5 and 7 miles respectively, all depending on the line you take. There are two possible starting locations both within close proximity to each other. First is 69’s Beach (Wailea Bay), a public beach with a easy, sandy entry point. Off loading water craft here when the wind is blowing is a difficult task and should be done with more then one person, it’s also best to launch OC1’s from here if that’s your mode of water craft. The second entry point, Puako boat ramp, offers more shelter from wind, making off-loading of water craft much easier, and faster (but still should be done with a partner). It has better parking too because it’s closer to the shoreline, but it’s not a sandy entry. Caution should be taken when launching from the boat ramp during low tide as the surrounding shoreline area has shallow reef and coral heads, which would certainly ruin your day. Use caution.

The short course ends at 49 Black Sands, which is a—surprise—black sand beach located within a private gated community in the Mauna Lani resort area. Public shoreline access allows you to drive in and drop off a second vehicle prior to your run. You’ll find a shower here, and clean restrooms. Loading/unloading of watercraft is easy here.

The second finishing point is at Anaehoʻomalu Bay, better known as A-Bay, and is about seven miles from either starting point. Caution should be taken on this course especially on a north easterly wind direction (slightly offshore direction, see map). When you roll up onto A-Bay after passing the Hilton, the wind my have a slight offshore direction, and paddling may become a one-sided affair. At this point paddlers should stay to the inside. However, riding either course, inexperienced rudderless paddlers should stay closer to the shoreline. It’s not as fun, but it’s safe! You will find a nice wash-down area when you exit the water onto a sandy beach and a grassy area for staging. Loading and unloading of watercraft can be difficult with the prevailing winds so, again, a partner is always recommended.

The best time do this run is in the morning. Because this paddle is on the west side, there are geographical elements that may alter the course of the wind as it passes over land on it’s way to the western shore. A start between seven and nine is best and while stronger winds in the 30-plus knot range will last most of the day but, come noonish, the winds may switch to an onshore direction, which are typical during weaker tradewind conditions (under 30 knots). Afternoon runs always go the opposite direction, but that is another run entirely.

The short period wind swells here are easier to navigate on a 14-foot board or smaller, although an unlimited class board will also fly, but you’ll find yourself on the tail to keep the nose from poking. NNE wind direction is best, and when strong enough you can actually continue past A-Bay towards Kiholo Bay or Kona Village. Although an outside line provides much larger swells, and a faster ride, it’s not recommended for beginners or inexperienced rudderless paddlers, as changes in wind direction can be dangerous. Always go with an experienced paddler, so you learn the course. Extra caution should be taken during whale season, as whales can often be found along the course breaching!

SUP Boards or downwind tours via SUP or OC-1/2 can be had by talking to the folks at Hulakai located at the shops at Mauna Lani. You can find a selection of places to refuel at the Queen Shops located next to A-Bay.

—Jeff Okuna

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