Kayaking the Na Pali Coast

HANALEI —Sea kayaking off the Na Pali Coast, pioneered by Kayak Kaua’i in

1985, has been ranked one of America’s top adventures.

A reader poll

conducted by National Geographic Adventure Magazine rated Na Pali Coast

kayaking number 2, just behind top-rated Grand Canyon river rafting. A Kayak

Kaua’i tour appeared on the cover of the magazine’s April issue.

“Its

national recognition, said Chino Godinez. “At the same time, it is

international recognition.”

Kayak Kaua’i owners Chino and Micco Godinez

have always appreciated the beauty of the Na Pali Coast. The tours, Chino said,

offer a doorway to a sea kayaking adventure that is unmatched anywhere else in

the world.

Commercial sea tours are conducted in flat water conditions in

the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and Baja, Calif. The Na Pali Coast tour is

different because the water conditions can be unpredictable, with waters calm

in the morning and churning and rambunctious in the afternoon, Chino said.

“We call it graduation when they come to Kaua’i and do the Na Pali

Coast.”

Scenic vistas, unspoiled beauty and the influence of the Hawaiian

culture serve to enhance the trip for visitors, he added.

Visitors like

what they have experienced. A diary kept by the company contains comments like

these: “Wow!” “This is the most adventurous activity that I have encountered.”

“It was epic.”

The tours are conducted almost daily from May to October,

when the water along the North Shore is flat and gentle. Kayakers are

outfitted, are given food and use two-seat fiberglass boats with rudders.

They launch in the morning from Ha’ena and reach Polihale State Beach Park

before dusk. They are then driven back to the Kayak Kaua’i office in Hanalei

Town.

For individual ocean trips, kayakers are outfitted with plastic

boats, some with rudders, camping equipment and tents, Godinez said.

During

the summer months, kayaks also are used for snorkeling outings to Hanalei

Bay.

From October to May, Kayak Kaua’i shifts its operation to the South

Shore, where the water is calmer. Kayaks also are rented all year long for

river trips, Godinez said.

Sixteen years ago, the Godinez brothers started

their business with 12 rubber sea kayaks.

Commercial sea kayaking tours

had potential on Molokai and the Godinez brothers thought the concept could

work on Kaua’i.

During the first year of their business, the brothers

found out otherwise.

“It was hard to sell the idea of kayaking,” Chino

said.

To support their fledging business, the brothers worked as waiters

and as fence menders.

They came up against a number of obstacles. For

example, they found that the rubber boats floated easily down the coast, but

paddlers found it nearly impossible to get back to Ha’ena, the starting point

of the tour.

The rubber boats sat up high on the water and caught the

winds, slowing their progress over the water.

The Godinez brothers decided

to run the tours all the way to Polihale State Beach Park. From there ,the

paddlers were brought back to Hanalei.

The brothers upgraded their

equipment and bought plastic boats, which sat lower to the water line and

floated over the water with more ease.

Today, the company boasts a fleet

of 150 single-and-double seat plastic kayaks. Eighteen two-seat fiberglass

boats are used for the ocean tours.

In addition to the Na Pali Coast guided

tours, Kaua’i Kayak will outfit those who want to paddle down the coast by

themselves or those with permits to camp at coastline beaches.

These

customers would be equipped with a plastic boat, camping equipment and

tents.

Kayak Kaua’i has a good safety record, but two years ago, the

company almost lost a kayaker, Chino said.

Two visitors were outfitted for

an excursion and went down the coast. They got separated, with one returning to

shore.

The other man had abandoned his boat and was miles from shore, Chino

said.

“He thought he was Johnny Weismuller and could swim back to shore

faster than he could paddle a kayak,” Chino said. “He didn’t have any common

sense. Once you get in the water, the possibility of hypothermia is big time.”

Luckily for the man, someone aboard a charter boat spotted him before

dusk, and he was picked up and brought back to shore.

To avoid future

problems, the company will require individual kayakers be accompanied by a

company guide. The exception would be those who have paddled down the coast

with the company in the past.

The Godinez brothers got into kayaking for

adventure.

They were born in Cuba and raised in Puerto Rico. Growing up,

the brothers participated in outdoor sports, including surfing and

hiking.

Twenty-five years ago, in the early 20s, they embraced the notion

of sailing around the world.

That idea fell by the way, but the spirit of

adventure did not.

In the late 1970s, the brothers bought two Kleppers,

collapsible boats made in Germany, for a kayak trip from Seattle to Skagway,

Alaska, a distance of 1,100 miles.

They had never paddled before, but they

wanted to follow the path naturalist John Muir took in his travels through the

Pacific Northwest in the 1800s.

The Godinez used a copy of Muir’s diary as

a guide.

“Muir had done it and, so it was up to us to follow,” Chino

said.

They stopped at coastline towns for supplies and rest, completing the

trip in five months. It was a trip, Chino said, he will remember the rest of

his life.

“Raising kids and family is at another level, ” he said. “But the

greatest adventure of my life was paddling from Seattle to Skagway.”

During the trip, the Godinez brothers planned their future in the kayaking

business.

Godinez said kayaking along the Na Pali Coast has helped him

maintain a zeal for kayaking.

“Some people say being in the Grand Canyon

is like being next to God. Being along the Na Pali Coast is like being close to

Jesus.”

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