For most visitors to Hawai’i, being on a tropical island is a new experience.
Also for most visitors, it’s a one-time experience that lasts perhaps a week before they head back to more temperate climes.
This is why souvenirs are popular, whether they’re bought at a gift shop or smuggled out of Volcanoes National Park (friendly reminder: never remove sand or volcanic rock from their homes)—they’re tokens of a past experience.
But a single item can’t properly represent the wide variety of new experiences you’ve gone through during your stay in paradise, it can act only as a reminder.
That’s why it’s important to make the most out of your experiences, so you can take home something that might be intangible, but much more meaningful.
One way of doing this is to learn something during your stay in Hawai’i.
Not only do you leave with a novel experience, you also receive a skill that you can develop and train even after you leave, whether at home, or during a different trip!
Traveling to learn or learning during travel has been a growing trend worldwide, commonly referred to as “educational tourism.”
Any time you’re in a new place, there’s always an opportunity to learn something new, and our islands are no different.
Here’s a list of 10 things you can learn in Hawai’i.
A lot of you read the title and thought “I want to learn how to surf!”
Well, you’re not alone, and the locals know it—that’s why it’s easy to find surfing lessons in Hawai’i, especially ones tailored for visitors, no matter where you’re staying.
Surfing isn’t as hard as it looks, either.
Most of the effort goes into keeping your balance when you’re on the board.
Catching a wave is a matter of being in the right place at the right time, which you’ll learn as part of your lesson.
By the end of your surfing class, you’ll have learned how to stand up, catch a wave, and even do a few basic tricks!
2. Stand-up paddling
Another ocean sport, stand-up paddling (or SUP for short) has been growing in popularity recently.
One reason is because it’s easy: the board is wider and more stable than a regular surf board, so it doesn’t require as much skill.
The gear required is simple, too, since you just need a SUP board and a paddle.
As soon as you learn how to keep your balance on the board, you’re good to go!
Keep in mind it’s something of a workout, too: your shoulders and core are most used when standing on a board and paddling, so you get to work on that beach body while at the beach!
3. Scuba diving
You heard that right: scuba isn’t as complicated as it seems, at least in the beginning.
You can get certified to go scuba diving with a quick lesson, and what better place to do it?
The reefs around Hawai’i are not only an awesome motivation to go scuba diving, but they’re also the perfect place for beginner divers.
There are multiple levels of scuba certification, so don’t expect to be deep diving within the span of your Hawaiian vacation (unless you’re really, really dedicated), but there’s plenty to be seen even for beginner divers that regular snorkeling just won’t get you.
And if you’re already certified, there are ocean dives for experienced scuba divers too!
A lot of the entries on this list are outdoor adventures, and that’s for a good reason:
Hawai’i’s natural environment is absolutely gorgeous, and learning these skills lets you explore or experience it in ways you couldn’t before.
Rappelling, for example, is a great way of experiencing hikes and waterfalls in Hawai’i that you won’t be able to access without the gear and skill involved.
Yes, you read that right: you can rappel down waterfalls.
Don’t worry though, your instructors won’t throw you off a plummeting stream to begin with.
You’ll start with a more controlled descent in a training area before moving to your first waterfall.
While rappelling down a waterfall can be tricky due to the slipperiness, you’ll have all the gear, instruction, and help you can get, so there’s nothing to worry about.
What better way to relax when you’re in Hawai’i?
Yoga is a great way to get a workout but also collect your thoughts with some light exercise.
It’s also really easy to get into, and everyone can benefit from some yoga.
Yoga classes are available to both beginners and the experienced, so they’re worth checking out for anyone.
Who knows, maybe after trying it out in Hawai’i, you’ll make it a healthy habit when you return home!
6. Indigenous knowledge
This is one of the less-adventurous items in the list, but it’s no less important.
Hawai’i not only has a rich cultural heritage, but was also home to a civilization that was able to sustainably maintain a population of one million before electricity or modern development.
As such, the traditions, skills, and habits of Native Hawaiians should be learned, spread, and passed down to future generations as a way of learning to live in harmony with our natural environment.
This doesn’t mean sleeping under the stars miles away from running water or electricity.
Rather, it means learning the skills that the ancient Hawaiians used such as weaving baskets out of hala leaves, pounding poi, and coconut husking—the traditional arts and crafts that were both recreational and practical.
7. Horseback riding
It’s not very well known that Hawai’i has many ranches, but the paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) tradition of cattle rearing is almost as old as the cowboy culture of continental U.S., both stemming from the Mexican vaqueros.
These ranches are still up and operating today, and most still raise cattle and ride horses.
Moving with the times, these ranches now allow visitors to explore their beautiful acreages via horseback, ATV, and even new zipline courses.
If you haven’t ever ridden before, don’t worry: the horses are trained, friendly, and used to novice riders.
You’ll also have guides with you at every step (or trot) of the way, so there’s nothing to worry about: just keep your balance and make your way around the ranch at your own pace.
8. Survival skills
While related to learning indigenous knowledge, this is much more extreme.
Learning traditional arts and crafts are one thing, learning basic survival skills is a whole ‘nother ball game.
While you’re never more than a few miles away from a town in the islands and it’s fairly easy to orient yourself (mauka and makai) wherever you are, survival skills come in handy when you most need them: in an emergency.
You’ll never know when you’ll have to make a fire, trap a wild chicken, run away from pigs, and figure out what’s safe to eat or drink in the wilderness.
In fact, these skills will probably be more useful to you back home rather than on a small island where you can’t get lost for more than a day.
For those of us for which the advice “throw yourself at the ground and miss” hasn’t been very successful, you can actually sit in the (co-)pilot’s seat of an aircraft for a quick pilot’s class.
Here in Hawai’i, you can find lessons that double as flightseeing tours, adding an extra thrill to your vacation sightseeing.
I’d recommend an air tour of the islands to anyone, since it really lets you see the landscape of Hawaii and the sheer amount of geological diversity that thrives here.
What better way to spice up a flight than by doing the flying yourself?
Sit at the helm of an airplane or helicopter, taking instructions from an experienced and friendly pilot that will guide you at your own pace (and be ready to take the controls if necessary).
Most places also give you a neat certificate to take home to prove you’ve flown your own aircraft!
This is probably the perfect learning opportunity in Hawai’i.
Fishing is easy to pick up, available at any body of water, and lets you take something home for your efforts.
It’s also family friendly, since anyone that doesn’t want to fish can always just hang out on the boat—in fact, 90% of fishing is just hanging out, anyway.
Fishing tours generally provide the boat and fishing gear, and a lot also provide food and drinks for your day out on the water.
It’s common that they also let you keep what you catch, with the exception of fish that are too small or specific areas that are catch-and-release only.
Some vessels are also equipped with an on-board grill, so you can cut, clean, and cook your catch as soon as you get it!
If nothing else, I hope you learn a lot about Hawai’i during your visit—about its culture, history, and unique ecology.
Our islands are always worth visiting, and definitely worth learning from!
That’s our list! Looking for other kinds of lessons? Have you learned something in Hawaii that you couldn’t learn anywhere else? Let us know in the comments!