Ocean Kayaking on Maui

Near the end of our trip to Maui for Andy and Sugi’s wedding, I had the opportunity to kayak in the ocean. While I had kayaked once before on the Wailua River on Kauai, this was my first time kayaking in ocean water.

(All photos and video courtesy Andy Yang and his big zoom lens)

While Tawn took a yoga class, Andy, Sugi, and I went to Sugi’s family compound nearby in Paia. After hosing off a long-unused kayak, Andy and I carried it down a steep and untended cliff, giving me the first of many cuts and scrapes.

Eventually, we launched the kayak in the shallow waters of the cove. Sugi and her cousin watched from the comfort of the lawn some twenty feet above and Andy snapped photos as I headed towards the surf. The water remained shallow – not more than ten feet at its deepest – and I could see the lava rocks and coral as I paddled by.


This one-person kayak seemed much less stable than the two-person kayak I used on Kauai last year. It wobbled readily and I became very cautious when it was time to turn around. A few hundred feet from shore, the gentle swells became large enough to threaten to capsize my vessel. I paddled out and back a few times before leaning too far and pulling too hard with the paddle, dumping myself into four feet of water.

The capsizing wasn’t a problem – I’m an able swimmer, wore a flotation device, and could touch bottom. The problem was how to get back into the kayak. Nobody had taught me that! Turns out, it is much more challenging than I had imagined. After a few failed attempts, I floated the kayak into much shallower water to start again.


Eventually, I managed to seat myself on the kayak again and paddled for another fifteen minutes or so before returning to shore. Surprisingly (or not), Andy decided he didn’t want to try his hand at ocean kayaking. My repeated falls and poor choice of footwear (flip-flops = bad for kayaking) resulted in a cut knee and scrapes to the tops and sides of my toes. These injuries were worsened when we were carrying the kayak back up the cliff and my left leg fell through what I thought was a solid mass of dried palm fronds. Turned out they were covering a crevice between too tree trunks.

Oh, well – what’s an athletic adventure if there aren’t some injuries, right?


Kayaking the Wailua River

The morning after Kari and Nathan’s wedding, we piled into our vehicles and drove to the east side of the island in order to kayak on the Wailua River, Kauai’s only navigable river.  I’ve never been kayaking before, although I’ve long thought it would be a fun way to explore the water.  This relatively easy half-day excursion proved to be every bit as enjoyable as I expected.


After a brief orientation, we were transferred to the launch site by van.  We paired up and started paddling upriver, the wind to our back.  The paddling itself takes only a minor amount of coordination.  The challenge is to ensure your paddling is complementary, if not perfectly matched to, the paddling of your partner.  We headed about 45 minutes upstream, approximately two miles.  From our perspective on the river, we were in the middle of the wild.  Looking at the area on a map afterward, I realized that roads and “civilization” was actually just out of sight beyond the ridge line.


After coming to shore in a small tributary of the larger river, we began a one-mile hike through the jungle.  Again, while it looked like we were in the middle of nowhere, of course we were actually on a well-worn path.


Severe jungle… holy houseplants, Batman!


At one point, the path crosses a twist in the river and we have to use a guide rope to get across the water.  The water at this point is only knee-high and not running that rapidly.  One could easily imagine a scenario, though, where the crossing could be more difficult.  On our return, my uncle was filming us and trying to encourage one of us to fake a fall into the water for dramatic purposes.


Our group, all relatives of Kari and Nathan, posing by the river about half-way into our hike.


Our destination, after about a 45-minute hike, was Uluwehi Falls (“Secret Falls”), a 130-foot waterfall that has a very nice pool at its base.  We sat on the rocks around the falls and ate our lunch, which we had packed in.  Various other groups came and went and there were a few dozen people at the pool most of the time we were there.  It is a bit hard to see in the picture above, but see if you can make out the small bowl of flower set next to the rocks, near the bottom of the photo about one-third of the way from the lower right corner.


The Wailua River was/is considered a very sacred river and in this pool next to the falls there is a fresh arrangement of flowers that appears to be some sort of offering.


After lunch our group poses at the base of the falls.  Some members of the group went in for a swim, although I didn’t.


The wide, meandering river.  We were well ahead of the pack.  Of course this wasn’t a competition.  Right?  The trip back was more challenging because the wind blows off the coast and up the river.  When returning, we are paddling into the wind.  The guide pointed out that if we stayed to the far left (north) of the river, we were mostly sheltered from the wind and the going would be easier.

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Kayaking relatives finally make it back to the launch point.  Since my cousin Kelly and I arrived first, I pulled my camera from the dry bag and took pictures of everyone else as they arrived.  The newlyweds were the last to make it back.


My cousin Kelly and me, first upriver and first back. The secret?  We were the only unmarried couple paddling!  Seriously, when we were going through the orientation, the guide warned us about the nickname for kayaks – “divorce boats” – because couples can get into all sorts of disagreements, usually caused by the wounded ego of the stronger paddler (usually the man) in the back.  Since Kelly and I aren’t married, there was no ego involved, nothing to prove, so we just focused on paddling.  I let her set the pace and tried to match her.  Since she’s in the Navy, I figure she should be the expert at something boat-related, right?

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Afterward, we stopped in the nearby town of Kapa’a, a neat place that I wish I would have had more time to explore, for some shave ice at Ono Shave Ice.  Shave ice – not shaved ice – is this great treat that can also involve ice cream and various toppings in addition to the ice and syrups.  We had some very good shave ice while there but I can say that it is a dessert I don’t need to have all the time.  Quite sweet.