I took a pretty good beating the last time I tried to catch waves on a standup paddleboard.
During a recent stay at the St. Regis Princeville on Kauai's North Shore, I borrowed one of the property's 10-foot-plus standup rentals for a leisurely tour along the eastern edge of nearby Hanalei Bay, where I planned to explore the calm, olive-colored mouth of the Hanalei River.
However, a collection of tempting waves, breaking regularly on either side of the Hanalei Pier, proved too seductive to resist, and I scrapped my original idea for the chance to catch a good ride or two along with a handful of standup surfers gathered about 100 yards off Black Pot Beach Park.
I surf pretty regularly near my home in Honolulu, but it had been close to two years since I last rode a standup board, which requires a much different approach and a separate set of skills. Rusty from the long hiatus, I took all sorts of watery spills at Hanalei Bay, managing a nearly full airborne somersault before one splashdown that must have had a few onlookers at the pier giggling.
Knees covered in friction burns from the board, back and neck aching, arms approaching exhaustion from all the paddling, I finally rode down the face of a waist-high wave after about 40 minutes of mostly failures, turning some at the bottom to enjoy more of the ocean's push before eventually jumping feet first into the warm Pacific.
The wonderful thing about surfing is it just takes a single fun ride to make your entire day. Sporting a wide grin now, I paddled beyond the breaking waves, pausing for a few minutes on my way back to the St. Regis to admire Hawaiian green sea turtles — one with a shell the size of a truck tire — while the setting sun painted the water purple and reddened the edges of more fleecy gray clouds than I could count. St. Regis specialty
Folks at the 200-room St. Regis Princeville will tell you they specialize in memorable outings, like my afternoon of standup surfing, thanks in part to a focused effort to discover what guests want to experience on their Kauai vacation, prior to their arrival, either over the phone or through email.
"Do they want to explore the outdoors, or is the focus just going to be relaxation? [So] in that way we can really tailor their stay," Patrick Schanze, the St. Regis' director of guest personalization services, told me during my recent stay.
Schanze also looks after the hotel's butler service, a high-end amenity for guests staying in the property's 50 impressive suite accommodations.
"We try to provide people with the gift of time," he said. "So when you get here, you can go straight out to the pool, [and] we'll unpack your bags for you, take care of any restaurant reservations or even set up activity options."
Along with a range of water adventures, including snorkeling, kayaking, surfing and, of course, standup paddling, each for an additional fee, Schanze said St. Regis Princeville butlers regularly help guests take advantage of Kauai's many hiking paths, including the Kalalau Trail, one of the island's major North Shore attractions.
"That trail makes the Napali coastline very accessible, and we'll get granola bars and water ready for you in a backpack," Schanze said, adding that butlers also try to determine a guest's hiking skill level so "we can discuss what kind of trails fit you best."
And while shoe-shine service is the most popular request at the St. Regis' flagship property in New York, hiking boot cleanings are the most common one for the Princeville butlers. And you won't find them in fancy suits at the Hawaii property; butlers there wear beige vests and slacks with lavender shirts and ties.
"We figured traditional black and white wouldn't really work well with Hawaii culture," Schanze said. "It's also much too warm to have people wearing long, black suits in the sun, because our butlers are not only assisting in the rooms but also at the pool."
Other popular butler treatments include packing guests' bags prior to departure, morning beverages such as locally grown coffee or fresh fruit smoothies served in room, or even in bed should guests be interested, along with the e-butler service, enabling travelers to make last-minute requests, like dinner reservations or having a bottle of Champagne sent to their room, all while using their portable devices from anywhere on Kauai.
"We want guests to spend as much time as possible doing what they enjoy," Schanze said. "Again, it's that gift of time we hope people will take advantage of."