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Stand-Up Paddle Boarding in Sapi Island, Sabah

Stand Up Paddle Boarding

(Update (Jul 2015): This activity has stopped until further notice.) I wish I had tried it earlier. Stand-Up Paddleboarding (S.U.P in short) is such a fun new way to explore the beauty of our sea and corals, as if it is specifically designed for beautiful islands of Sabah. Imagine how it feels to ride on a “sea bicycle” that allows us to cruise around the island freely, even for non-swimmers. Stand-Up Paddleboarding is getting popular in many countries and Paddle Below the Wind has introduced this trendy watersport to Sabah since Aug 2014.

Sapi Island and Gaya Island
Pic: The sea of Sapi and Gaya Islands look impressive, but S.U.P will let you see something better than this.

Stand-Up Paddleboard uses surf style board and an adjustable long paddle, like a cross between kayak and surfboard. Besides paddling to any spot you like, you also can surf with S.U.P. It’s a great exercise too because you can paddle, surf and snorkel with S.U.P. I tried it the first time with my brother-in-law from Australia and S.U.P is his favorite trip during his 2-week stay in Sabah.

girls doing Stand Up Paddle Boarding
Now you can experience Stand Up Paddle Boarding in Sapi Island, which is only 10-minute boat ride from Kota Kinabalu City (KK). The best time for Stand Up Paddle Boarding is between 9am and 11am, when the sea is calm and clear. The visibility is superb when the morning sun lights up everything under the sea at 45° angle.

If you prefer watching video, you may check out this 3-min video of my SUP trip in Sapi Island:

S.U.P at Sapi Island

To go to Sapi Island is easy, just hire a boat from one of the 3 boat terminals in KK City. Though Paddle Below the Wind accepts walk-in customers, it’s better you tell them what time you come in advance (see contact info near the end of this article).

Paddle Below the Wind
Pic: The S.U.P booth of Paddle Below the Wind is just next to the reception building at the entrance of Sapi Island.

Borneo Stand Up Paddle Boarding on Sapi Island
Pic: S.U.P booth on Sapi Island. Kayak is also available for rent there. Just approach their staff to sign up for a S.U.P tour. You will fill up an indemnity form and meet your S.U.P instructor.

routes of Stand Up Paddle Boarding on Sapi Island
Pic: the route of S.U.P at Sapi Island. I tried Area 1 (left in yellow circle), which has a lot of corals, an excellent location for snorkelling.

instructor and Stand Up Paddle Board
My instructor is Richard from Wales UK and also the owner of Paddle Below the Wind. He has been kayaking and surfing all over the world for many years. While travelling in Sabah, he fell in love with Nora, a Sabahan, now they are married with two lovely kids. Before the 1-hour S.U.P tour, we walked to the beach 10 Metres away for a 10-minute S.U.P lesson in shallow water.

taking Stand Up Paddle Boarding lesson on the sea
Stand Up Paddle Board is wider than surfboard, it’s about 10 to 12 feet long and weighs about 10Kg, light enough to be carried by most girls in one hand. This cool toy costs more than RM4K.

close up of Stand Up Paddle Board
Pic: you can secure your snorkel gears, water bottle and other things under the diagonal strings. Note the small black socket where you can mount your GoPro camera for action shots.

leash to the paddleboard
Pic: A long leash links the board to my ankle, making S.U.P my personal life raft.

trying Stand Up Paddle Boarding
Richard taught us the basic paddling techniques and poses (standing, kneeling and sitting). I prefer to stand because it gives me a higher vantage point to see the underwater world better.

Stand Up Paddle Boarding on the sea of Sabah
As a beginner, at first I struggled a bit to stand on the floating board. To balance well, you have to look at your front instead of your feet. We got used to it within 10 minutes and paddled away. The board becomes more stable while moving. The sea was calm so I didn’t fall into the water even once.

corals and Sapi Island

corals in the crystal clear water
Very soon we were already far away from the shore. It was a sunny day and I could see everything more than 5 Meters deep under the surface. I could even see scuba divers.

Stand Up Paddleboarding
It’s a wonderful experience to be able to look at the thriving corals under my feet. My S.U.P was like gliding on a glass on top of a coral garden. My first reaction was, “WOW! I didn’t know Sapi has so many corals”. Boat is forbidden to enter this zone (but S.U.P can) because it’ll crush the corals in shallow sea.

taking photo on Paddle Board
Pic: It was me busy taking photos far behind Richard. Thanks Richard for being patient lol.

I was so excited by the stunning view. It’s nature in its best. The coral area is big and dense, probably spanning across a sea area of over 200 Meters. Despite going to Sapi Island so many times, this is something totally new to me. I stopped paddling many times to take photos like crazy. Remember to bring your smartphone or camera (with Waterproof Case) or you will regret.

Corals of Sapi Island
It’s so hard for me to keep calm seeing these blooming corals, which is far away from beach and unnoticed by ordinary tourists who are already happy with white sandy beach.


We paddled to a few best snorkelling spots about half a KM from “tourist beach”. The corals there are mostly pristine and not damaged by any tourist activity.

go down for snorkelling

snorkelling and paddleboarding around Sapi Island
Pic: you can pick your favorite snorkelling spot.

jumping into the sea
Pic: Be careful with where you enter the water, avoid stepping on corals in shallow water or you will risk damaging the corals and cut yourselves.

corals under the sea surface of Sapi
The water is so crystal clear that we can take decent photos of coral even with cellphone. There are corals in variety of shapes and colors. I saw table corals, staghorn corals, yellow spiral corals, lettuce corals, brain corals, etc. and many schools of fishes foraging among them.

staghorn corals

yellow spiral corals

snorkelling and photo taking
I’m so happy to see Nemo, parrot fishes and giant clam.

corals of Pulau Sapi

table corals

snorkelling with Nemo

Borneo S.U.P in Sapi Island
Our S.U.P also reached a few “hidden” beaches without much effort, which is only accessible to tourists who are willing to trek a long distance on slippery rocky trail along the coast. If you want, you can make a round trip to explore the whole Sapi Island, which takes about 20 to 30 minutes by S.U.P.

rocky shore of Sapi Island
When I indulged in photographing the corals and fishes, Richard signaled me to come to him, like he found something interesting. We saw a big monitor lizard in the water, with a fish in its mouth. We tried to get closer to have a good look then we found another small monitor lizard sunbathed on a boulder on the beach. This is a view you won’t find near the beach full of tourists.

resting on the Paddle Board
Pic: You also can rest on the board.

Stand-Up Paddle Boarding is addictive. Honestly I didn’t have enough of it and wish to do it all day long.

Info & Booking

The fee to experience Stand-Up Paddle Boarding by Paddle Below the Wind in Sapi Island is RM130 (≈US$40) per person, which includes:

  • 10-minute lession
  • 1-hour of guided S.U.P
  • Snorkel, mask and life jacket

Note: Entrance ticket to Sapi Island and Return boat transfer (between Sapi Island and KK) are not included.

view of corals from Stand Up Paddle Board

S.U.P tour is available from 9am to 1:30pm on Sapi Island. You may contact Nora or Richard for info and booking:
Tel: +60 17-8960341
E-mail: paddlebelow@gmail.com
Website: www.paddlebelowthewind.com
Facebook: BorneoSUPpaddlebelowthewind
To stay comfortable during S.U.P, please wear sunblock lotion, hat and sunglass.

S.U.P at Tanjung Aru First Beach

Paddle Below the Wind also offers S.U.P and surfing lessons at Tanjung Aru First Beach (required booking in advance). For only RM40 (≈US$12) for a 45-min trial session, you can “de-stress” yourselves after work and enjoy the sunset view.

Stand-Up Paddle Boarding briefing in Tanjung Aru Beach

Stand-Up Paddleboarding to sunset

surfing with Paddle Board

More Photos

Please feel free to check out my photo album if you want to see more photos:
photo album of Sabah Stand Up Paddle Boarding

Photos taken in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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Snorkeling in Sipadan Island

Snorkeling in Sipadan

Being described as an “Untouched Piece of Art” by Jacques Cousteau, Sipadan Island is always high on the chart of best dive sites and frequented by scuba divers from all over the world. To promote Sipadan, travel agents like to use underwater photographs of divers, as if the only way to see the beauty of Sipadan is to wear over 30 pounds of diving gears and sink to the sea bottom.

So, is swimming and snorkeling in Sipadan just a waste of time? Read on, you will see that Sipadan is also best for snorkeling.

Sipadan Island (Pulau Sipadan)
Sipadan is the only oceanic island of Malaysia and its reef is built on a volcanic seamount which rises steeply from a surrounding seabed more than 500 Meters in depth. In brief, Sipadan is a mushroom-like island in the deep ocean. This 13.5-Hectare island, which takes only 20 minutes to walk one round, looks like an ordinary tropical island, but there is a lot of going on under its water.

sea of Sipadan Island
Pic: the deep blue seawater is the 500 Meters drop. Sound scary, but a lot of corals bloom on its steep wall and become “hanging garden”, which is famous for Wall Diving.

snorkeling in Sipadan Island

In my last visit to Sipadan, I snorkeled in 3 sites, which are only 3 to 6 Meters deep and not far from the island.

If you prefer to watch video, the following is the 2.5-min video of my snorkeling tour in Sipadan:

Site #1: Mid Reef

The visibility of Mid Reef is good in the morning. The water is about 3 Meters deep, so I can get a close and clear view of flourishing hard corals.

big fan coral
Pic: big fan coral, which is bigger than me.

underwater world of Sipadan
Pic: 500-Meter drop at the left

Fishes like to congregate near the edge of island. I saw thousands of reef fishes in different colors and sizes in coral reefs, like butterflies among the flowers. A popular TV host from National Geographic Channel once said he was dazzled by the fishes here LOL.

giant clam
I also spotted a live giant clam about 3 feet in wide. Due to overfishing, it is extremely rare to see such a big one in the wild.

school of Barracuda
A school of Barracuda just appeared in front of me, as seen in tourism brochure. This magnificent view was totally unexpected because I thought I only can see this in deep water.

Site #2: Turtle Tomb

I was so happy with what I saw. Quickly I proceeded to the next site, the Turtle Tomb.

corals of Sipadan
The sunlight was getting bright so the visibility is superb. My underwater camera could record everything clearly.

swimming sea turtle
It was not too long for me to find a sea turtle swimming gracefully, then came the second, third and fourth one. Sea turtles are just everywhere. Surprisingly, they didn’t bother about my presence so I could see their natural behaviour up close.

sea turtle of Sipadan
Some turtles were resting at the bottom. Like the one above was just a few feet below me. To avoid disturbing it, I stayed still and let current pushed me away. It looked fairly relax and didn’t try to hide or flee.

bumphead parrotfish of Sipadan
Then I noticed something big and dark moving under me. It was a group of Bumphead Parrotfish foraging around corals.

Bumphead Parrotfish under our feet
Can you believe it? Nearly hundred of Bumphead Parrotfish were so close that our fins almost touched them.

school of Bumphead Parrotfish
I only saw Bumphead Parrotfish in seafood dinner before, without knowing that it is such a fascinating creature.

Site #3: Barracuda Point

I had my lunch after two snorkeling trips. After a short rest, I couldn’t wait to get back to the water again.

snorkeling in Pulau Sipadan
Sipadan is located in Coral Triangle, which is also known as Amazon of the Sea and important habitat to over 3,000 coral fish species and 76% of world’s coral species.

thousands of Jackfish
When I thought the best part was over, I saw a big swarm of “something” coming to my way.

My goodness, it is a school of Jackfish, probably ten of thousands of them. This is crazy!

fishes of Sipadan

swimming among the fishes
A guest swam to them and soon engulfed by wall of Jackfish. Before this, I thought such view was something only happened in my dream. I strongly recommend you to watch the video.

The fishes didn’t look stress though we were really close, a result of long years of full protection by this marine park.

In conclusion, the snorkeling experience in Sipadan is almost as good as diving. However, to see richer variety of corals and bigger sharks, you still have to dive deeper. Every diver says they regret to dive in Sipadan. Why? Because they have seen the best (Sipadan), other dive sites can’t impress them anymore. So I advise you to keep Sipadan as the last. 🙂

origin of Sipadan
In case you wonder how Sipadan got its name. The name is from the word Siparan, which refers to a dead body of a person named Si Paran, whom had been found restlessly on the beach of Sipadan.

Visit Sipadan Island

To visit Sipadan Island (Pulau Sipadan in Malaysia language), you need an entry permit from Sabah Parks, the management of Sipadan Island Park. To reduce the impact to the environment, Sabah Parks imposes a daily quota of 120 people to Sipadan. The tour is always fully booked, so you need to apply at least 3 months in advance. The easiest way is to get a licensed dive operator to arrange the diving trip for you, they also can book the accommodation and provide the airport transfer.

jetty of Sipadan Island
Pic: the reception counter at the jetty. Everyone must register here before entering the island. You will be denied entry if you don’t have a permit.

boardwalk to Sipadan
Pic: the boardwalk to Sipadan Island. Do you notice the big tall tree? It is a huge strangler fig tree (see photo below).
big tree on Sipadan Island

toilet of Sipadan
Pic: The island has adequate amenities such as public toilet for tourists.

resting area of Sipadan Island
Pic: there is a few shelter and benches for you to rest and have meal.

You may watch the 90-sec walking tour video to see the surrounding of Sipadan:

FYI, there is a Turtle Hatchery on Sipadan.

More Photos


Do you know any other nice spots for snorkeling, besides Sipadan? Please share with us.

Photos taken in Semporna, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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