Kayakers paddle down the Na Pali Coast in Kauai, passing waterfalls, sea turtles and soaring cliffs.
For The Washington Post

On Kauai, It's More Fun Wet Than Dry

Beginner surfers practice on land before hitting the waters off Poipu Beach, a popular surfing spot on the south shore. (Julian Smith - For The Washington Post)
By Julian Smith
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, November 6, 2005

"This is the last place to turn around. Beyond here, we're committed."

As the sun beats down and the ocean swells lift our bright yellow sea kayaks, our guide points his paddle at the end of Kee Beach on the northern shore of Kauai.

Beyond, the jagged green ridges that form the Na Pali Coast -- famous backdrop for movies from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" to "Jurassic Park" -- plunge into the sea for 16 miles to our final destination. My girlfriend and I consider ourselves active types, but this is farther than either of us has ever paddled.

"Anyone? Last chance to bail."

During the pre-dawn drive to the beach this morning, the two guides had advised our group of 10 that seasickness could be a serious issue and that anyone so inclined should "take one for the team" -- meaning an extra Dramamine -- just in case. The trip along the island's uninhabited north shore is billed as the adventure of a lifetime and "the Everest of sea kayaking": the roughest and longest one-day sea kayak trip in the world.

The beach looks so inviting, and the open ocean looks so . . . open. A folding chair, a paperback and a drink with a little umbrella in it seem like a good idea right about now. But I keep quiet, and soon we're paddling west in loose formation.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to vacations; call them the "snoozers" and the "shakers." The former incline toward inactivity. Vacations are a time for unwinding, for doing as little as humanly possible, they say, whether you're in Papeete or Peoria.

The others tend to fill the days with activity. You've spent the money, taken the time off, traveled for hours or days to get here -- how can you just sit around and do nothing?

I t's hard to find a place where this contrast is as marked as Kauai, the fourth-largest of Hawaii's six major islands. On one hand, you have more beaches per mile of coastline than anywhere else in the island chain, along with plenty of resorts, spas and B&Bs -- albeit low-key versions suiting the more relaxed vibe of the "Garden Island."

On the other, Kauai's rugged topography offers enough adventure sports and outdoor activities to stage a tropical X Games. A visit here, as we will learn, can be a balancing act between basking and bustling, rushing and relaxing, doing and undoing.

Surf Central

Visiting Hawaii without trying to surf is like going to Vail without hitting the slopes. Seven-time world champion Margo Oberg began teaching out of a VW van in the 1970s and opened Kauai's first surf school in 1977.

First-timers start out on land near Poipu Beach on Kauai's south shore. Here instructor Alvin Ganzer demonstrates the right way to stand up on a wave, springing to his feet from a prone paddling position in one fluid motion.

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