Stand Up Paddle Boarding

Stand-Up Paddle Boarding in Sapi Island, Sabah

(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).

Tour package to Semporna

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
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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