Stand Up Paddling in Okinawa....
Okinawa is one of the most beautiful places in the world with panoramic views, turquoise water, silky sand, and stunning rock formations. I have just started my SUPping adventures here, but I've noticed that the sport hasn't quite exploded yet over here like it has in the states. Before we PCS'd here, I couldn't find very much info on how to actually find good spots for paddling and how to navigate ocean waters, etc. (Which is why I've chosen to add this page to my website, even though I am a yoga teacher.)
If you want to explore Okinawa on your SUP, you have to be adventurous and patient. But, I can assure you that the reward is totally worth it. We've got it down to a bit of a science and packing up the car and the gear has become an easy routine.
Before we PCS'd I'd only paddled on lakes and ocean bays. I didn't have to really think about much except checking for rain. Here in Okinawa, there are a lot of factors to take into consideration - but once you get used to it - its easy!
The two most important things to have before finding a good location are:
- Windfinder - use this website or better yet, get the app on your iphone...it will be your new best friend.
- Have an iphone or a smartphone with GPS and satellite mapping. The imagery is key in finding remote beaches and dirt road access. You can navigate like a local with this stuff.
Okay...so now how do you figure it all out? I've found that SUPping in winds 12 mph or less are great. My maximum for enjoying my SUP are about 15mph. Anything over 18 is just not safe, in my opinion especially on an island of rocks surrounded by a coral reef (more on that later). When it's too windy just carrying the board is difficult.
you set up your Windfinder
and select several points around the island to your favorites so they all show up on your home screen. Find a good day where the winds will be low at one of those points on the island. Windfinder has a forecast for 5 days so you can easily plan your week. In general, if the wind is coming from the west at 15 mph, there will be some areas on the east side of the island that are totally flat with very little wind. That is the general rule on the winds...windy on one side, check the other side. This is not always the case, but that is your first step.
Two - check the tide tables on Windfinder. Many places on the island are not accessible during low tide because of all the rock formations and coral reefs. If you are putting your board in at high tide make sure you take note of any large rocks in the area that are under water (and how far under water they are) and make sure you will be able to return if you are out for a long time. It's not fun to be out paddling for a few hours only to find out that you have to carry your board a quarter mile to your car when your are finished. Seriously. It can easily happen here in Oki. **Side note - if you want to paddle an area that can only be done at high tide - just start out about an hour before absolute high tide and be sure to turn around at high tide so you have plenty of time to get back before the rocks come out. That will give you a nice 2 hour paddle without worry.
Three - check your map and look for bay areas or spaces between islands on the side of the island with less winds. Start driving and look for scenic areas and keep an eye out for wave breaks and reef lines. You will notice that the reef line is pretty far away from the shore in most parts of Okinawa and the surrounding islands. This makes it great for flat water paddling. If you see the waves breaking close to shore, it's probably not a good place to be on a SUP. In Okinawa this means that is where the coral reef line is and coral will ruin your SUP faster than you can say expensive epoxy repairs. (Been there, done that.) Find a bay area or space between islands with lots of flat water...keep driving until you find something. (This is the part that takes patience...)
Four - check your satellite images for hidden beaches and dirt roads once you have found your area. We have driven through all sorts of crazy places that I think to myself, "self, I don't know how we are going to get out of this field of sugar cane with giant rocks on the path and there's nowhere to turn around....are we crazy??" (This is the part that requires being adventurous...)
Five - find your secluded beach, boat launch, or dock to plop your board in the water. Hydrate, sunblock, hat, glasses, water shoes. Check.
Six - Enjoy your SUP and soak up the scenery.
End notes: Recently we've started bringing our snorkel gear along with us on the boards. We find a nice clear area perhaps near some coral and hop in for a little snorkeling! Our SUPs become floating docks and we get to snorkel areas that you would need a boat to get to.