SUPing on Pokai Bay
We’ve been talking about trying stand up paddleboarding for just under a year – basically the entire time we’ve lived here. But like many unknown things, it seemed sort of overwhelming and scary in the abstract. Especially trying to do it with three kids.
It turns out that we put it off for nothing. And we got to learn that on my birthday last week!
I think we both assumed we would try SUPing for the first time off of Kailua Beach, much like we did when kayaking for the first time. (That just reminded me that I never shared when we went kayaking with the kids!) Anyway, maybe that’s why we kept putting it off. We wanted something new and fresh, but we also wanted calm waters.
A few months ago, a friend told me about Pokai Bay in Wai’anae. The entire western coast of Oahu has some of the most incredible beaches you could ever imagine, and that fact alone makes up for the time it takes to drive there. But in addition to the beautiful scenery, we’ve heard repeatedly that spinner dolphins can be found in the morning swimming around the bay.
A little something you may not know about me – I’ve been obsessed with dolphins for about two decades. And it’s been a dream of mine to swim with them. But as I’ve gotten older and a little more in touch with my inner hippie, I’ve grown less interested in doing the traditional “swim with the dolphins” programs at the marine wildlife parks.
We still kept putting it off though, so it finally became my birthday adventure. James was in charge of planning, and he did a great job. There were a few options for SUP rentals, but he went with West Oahu SUP mostly because they were the only ones who picked up the phone when he called. And I think it was a good choice.
We woke up at 5am (which is insane!) and left the house shortly after 6am. Our reservation was for 7am and the place was about 45 minutes away.
We were immediately greeted by a guy named Junior, and he showed us where to park our van so we could leave it for the morning. And then he got right down to business showing us what to do.
I don’t know if every rental facility is so thorough, but I have to say that we left there without any worries. He had shown us how to mount the board, where to stand, where to have the kids sit, how to use the oars and how to navigate the bay. He even loaded the two boards onto a cart for us to transport to the water.
This rental place is located conveniently if you have military access. It’s a short walk over, across the intersection and then down a bit of road. We were able to walk through the gate by showing our IDs and then we just sat the cart by the lifeguard stand. For non-military, I believe the access point is farther south – appropriately named Pokai Bay Beach Park. Either way, you could load the boards onto your vehicle and then just drive them down. We just don’t yet have a rack or rails installed.
So after unloading the boards from the cart, we piled our belongings just beyond the rock wall in the shade. In my head, I thought this bay was gigantic and I felt unsure about leaving our stuff while paddling around. But in all actuality, the beach was totally empty at 8am (on a Wednesday), and it felt totally safe.
And James had his boys!
After about 20 minutes, we decided to paddle out past the rock barrier. We were told the dolphins mostly hang out there, but then we also heard they come in the bay. Who knows. What I do know is that we saw a big fat nothing.
This is the view from out in the open. The bay is sort of in two sections, and boats come in and dock on the right hand side. We saw a tour boat let off a bunch of snorkelers while we were hanging out.
I didn’t see a ton of different kinds of fish because I didn’t spend much time snorkeling (or go out very far), but this little dude kept swimming right at my face. Apparently I give off a friendly vibe. Or I look delicious.
This kid. He doesn’t like situations where he isn’t in control. (I’m not sure WHERE he gets that from…)
But then the lifeguard shouted that the dolphins were waaaaay out there, so we loaded up the kids and got moving. The tour boats were circling the animals though, and just as quickly as they came, they were gone.
We eventually gave up and came back in. It was a little disappointing, but on the other hand, it gave me something to look forward to next time. SUPing had been this huge thing in my head, but honestly, it wasn’t that exciting. It was nice and peaceful. And the kids really enjoyed it. But I can’t imagine just renting the boards and paddling around the same area again and again. (Which surprises me because I thought I’d feel differently.) The biggest excitement for this experience was trying something new, looking for the dolphins, and seeing sea turtles swim beneath us every once in a while. (No pictures, sorry!)
But it made for a great morning overall, and just being with these four was perfect. Dolphins or no dolphins, my birthday was pretty awesome.
We loaded up and headed back to West Oahu SUP. We chatted a bit about our experience and learned that the dolphins hadn’t been around for a few days and sometimes that happens. They’ll be back. (And so will we!)
Junior had each of us sign a hanging board, and you know the kids thought that was awesome.
I’m SO glad we finally gave SUPing a try. It was one of those items we’ve had on the to-do list, and I’m really glad we checked it off. I think if we didn’t have kids, it would make a lot of sense to buy a few boards and go paddle around for the exercise & scenery on a routine basis. But as it is, we couldn’t keep their interest to do it repeatedly, and I don’t feel comfortable leaving them on the beach while we paddle around. As safe and calm as these waters appear to be, there were two drownings there recently. I’m not willing to take that chance.
I do often see people riding the waves while SUPing elsewhere, but I wouldn’t call that child friendly. Maybe that could be a date day in the future? I’m pretty sure I’d spent at least half my time in the water. Could be fun though!
My current plan is to go back to Poka’i Bay and just plan on a little beach day. If we see dolphins hanging out, we can go rent the boards (or even a kayak) and paddle out to visit them. You know I’ll tell you all about it!
My last words of advice: try it on a weekday because that generally means it will be less crowded. But also, don’t be afraid to take your cooperative kids along. Ours all weigh around 50 lbs each (tiny little things) and we had no trouble paddling with them on there. Also, call around before renting. There is a military rental place that is closer to the water and may or may not have been cheaper, but I’m thankful we chose WOSUP. We were able to secure an early reservation, it only cost us about $100 for 4 hours, and we felt like we received a whole lesson included in the price (albeit on dry land).
And nope, we aren’t getting paid to say that! I just like to do a shout out to businesses that give us the warm and fuzzes. And WOSUP did. 🙂