Hawaii is full of amazing things to do in or on the water. Since it can be overwhelming, we're detailing out all of your water activity options.
General: Kid Friendly
You've come all the way to Hawaii for several reasons, but the biggest is likely the beach and ocean. The good news is that Hawaii is filled with water based activities for people of all ages and all skill levels, or even those without any skills!
Before you can decide what things you want to do in the ocean you need to know what the options are. So let's go over the top Hawaii water activities to help you decide what should go on your to-do list.
If you think of one watersport in Hawaii it has to be surfing. The Polynesians have been surfing for ages, at least as far back as 1700's, and surfing is known as ke'enalu in the Hawaiian language. Back then, only the ruling class would have access to the best boards and best beaches but today anyone can surf anywhere they want.
Of course, that doesn't mean you should grab a board and hit the beach if you've never done it before. Instead, take surf lessons from one of the many available companies offering them. They'll show you the proper way to get up on your board, how to catch a wave, and they'll help keep you safe in the process. Better still, a proper surf school will have you learning to surf on a beach with small waves so you're not dropping down a 40 foot fall of water at Banzai Pipeline / 'Ehukai Beach Park. After all, you're not Eddie Aikau.
Give it a try and maybe you'll "hang ten" in no time (which is when you hang all of your toes over the front of a surfboard while catching a wave). Who knows, maybe you'll be a natural and end up entering the next Vans Triple Crown of Surfing contest. Or maybe you'll just bring back some cool photos and amazing memories.
Boogieboarding & Bodyboarding
This is a fun one that just about anyone can try under the right circumstances. A boogie board (or body board) is sort of like a tiny surfboard without the fins on the bottom. Somewhere, a real surfer is shaking their head when they read that. Sure, I'm oversimplifying things, but a boogie board is just a small (usually foam) board.
Cheap versions can be found just about everywhere on the islands from Costco and Target to ABC Stores and your hotel gift shop.
Riding a boogie board is easy to learn but difficult to master. Hop in the ocean at a fairly calm beach, stay near the shore, and when a wave comes in just tuck the board under your stomach and ride it up on the sand. That is the beginner version and it's tons of fun. If you get more advanced you can learn to do all sorts of spins, flips, and other tricks. That's all significantly harder for beginners to do without getting hurt.
Looking for a no cost watersport to try? Body surfing might be it but it's not for everyone. Body surfing is exactly like boogieboarding, only without the board. Without any board! You literally just wait for a wave and jump with it. Time it right and your body becomes the board.
Ride it up onto the shore and you'll spend the rest of your vacation with sand falling out of every crack and crevice on your body but of the fun you'll have. None of that sand-in-your-crack stuff will stop kids from doing it over and over again either. Of course, I'm simplifying body surfing just like I did with boogieboarding. There's far more technical skill involved to really be a pro, but it's something so easy almost anyone can give it a try.
We all know what snorkeling is, right? Put on a mask, a snorkel tube to breath through, and some fins and go float around while you enjoy Hawaii's abundant marine life. It's the best way to see turtles and even the fun-to-say Humuhumu-nukunuku-apua'a - Reef Triggerfish. If you're completely new to snorkeling, then be sure to first read How To Snorkel.
Even if you're not a waterbug, there are plenty of ways to safely snorkel and you can (and should) wear a life vest or bring a flotation "noodle". We suggest taking a snorkel tour and let the professionals show you the best spots and help keep you safe in the process. If you're not looking to go the boat route, try the incredibly popular Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve and Beach Park or some of our other suggestions for the best snorkeling beaches.
SUP - Stand Up Paddleboarding
SUP! No, it's not slang for "what's up", it stands for Stand Up Paddleboard. It's sort of a cross between kayaking and surfing. Sort of. The paddleboard is like a large surfboard that's wider, thicker, and generally more stable so you can more easily stand up on it. You then get a paddle so you can propel yourself.
It requires some skill to be able to stand up and balance yourself without getting the wobbles, but most people can pick it up quickly when they're in a calm body of water. Those that get really good at it will head out and look for some waves to catch. In fact, in some areas you'll see pros surfing some incredibly large waves on a stand up paddle board. For now, stick to the easy stuff and just focus on your balance. If you want to give it a try, check out some of the activity companies that rent SUP boards or give lessons.
The beauty of swimming is that you can do it in so many places. If the open ocean worries you there are plenty of protected and safer beaches you can swim it like Kuhio Beach Park @ Waikiki, Anini Beach Park, Lydgate Beach Park, and Ahalanui Beach Park / Maunakea Pond / The Hot Ponds to name just a few. If the ocean in general worries you then start in a pool! For some ideas on great pools, see Top 12 Resort Pools In Hawaii.
If you're not a strong swimmer be sure to only swim at a lifeguarded beach or pool and always use the buddy system so you're never swimming alone.
Looking for adventure in the ocean? Then scuba diving might be for you. Strap on a tank of air, a mask, fins, and all sort of other equipment and you're ready to go all Jacques Cousteau on the ocean. There are many scuba tour companies that will take you out (usually on a boat). Some specialize in seeing marine life while others might dive at various wrecks on the ocean floor.
Of course, this water activity is a bit more involved and often requires that you're "dive certified" to do any real diving. Some companies will certify you but if you just want to get a taste of scuba diving check with your resort to see if they offer a beginner course in scuba diving in their pool. This is a very safe and controlled way to see if scuba is right for you.
What is snuba? It's a cross between snorkeling and scuba diving. There is no heavy tank of air on your back like you have in scuba diving. Instead you'll have a tube of air to breath from sort of like in snorkeling. The tube runs to a machine on the surf that provides you with as much air as you need so you never have to come up for air but can go many feet under the water rather than being stuck to the surface like you are when you snorkel.
Most snuba is done with a regular mask but some companies offer a full "helmet" that fits over your head and rests on your shoulders. Your head actually stays completely dry but the tradeoff is that you're more restricted in your movements. The more common type of snuba uses a scuba style respirator that fits in your mouth. With this setup your less restricted on your movements but can still only go as far as the hose that runs up to the surface.
Snuba is far less common when compared to scuba diving or snorkeling, but there are several companies in Hawaii that offer snuba tours.
Kayaking & Canoeing
Kayaking can be a fun way to spend time in the ocean. These are often small one or two person plastic boats that you sit in and use a paddle to move around. They're small and lightweight and easy to maneuver. Many companies provide kayak rentals and / or lessons and tours.
Canoes can be similar to kayaks but can also be much larger. For example, a large "outrigger" style canoe can hold several people and ride fairly large waves. Several companies offer outrigger canoe rides.
Boating & Cruises
Boat tours and cruises come in many shapes and sizes. Maybe you're looking for a sunset cruise on a larger and more stable ship. Or you want to have some serious fun on a party boat complete with a slide and jumping platform. Or maybe you just want something a bit more personal for your family. Hawaii has all of that and more to offer when it comes to boat and cruise tours.
Some boating companies provide drinks, snacks, or even complete meals. Some add in snorkeling and swimming options. Some are better for adults (like a booze cruise) while some are better for families with kids. Either way, there's a boat tour out there for you.
Okay, so you're not going to take a ride on the WWII Bowfin pictured above, though you can tour it at the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park! If you're after a real submarine ride, and one that isn't of the Finding Nemo ride variety, Atlantis Submarines has you covered. What a great way to explore the ocean depths while staying dry. Try the Atlantis Submarines Hawaii on Oahu, Atlantis Submarines on Maui, or Atlantis Submarines on the Big Island.
Windsurfing & Kitesurfing
Windsurfing and kitesurfing are similar ideas with different approaches. The idea being to surf using wind power. With windsurfing, you're riding a board that has a windsail attached to it, much like a sailboat. These things can reach incredible speeds and even gain some serious air.
With kiteboarding, you're essentially strapping your feet onto a board and holding onto a handle bar that is attached to a kite. This isn't like flying a kite in the park, the kite portion is quite large almost like a mini-parachute. When the wind catches it you get pulled along, often at incredible speeds while gaining a lot of air time.
Both sports are usually best left to the pros but if you want to try your hand at either there are plenty of options here.
It may not be the rocket belt that we've all been promised since the 1950's but this is no joke. It's an actual water powered jet pack that will let you fly. It's run by H20 Sports Hawaii on Oahu and they'll show you how to strap in and shoot yourself into the air while flying and hovering around. It's an incredible sight to see and certainly not for everyone. If it's thrills you're after, it might be worth a look.
Love to fish? Hawaii is filled with fishing options. You can fish from the shore or go all out and take a sport fishing tour boat out and reel in the big one.
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