Island Address Book 10-13-2006

Laura Richards, General Manager of the Hanalei Colony Resort, On her passion for Paddling

By: Dawna L. Robertson

Ask a kamaaina (an island local) how they found their perfect place in paradise, and the response often seems as lengthy as their journey. That’s definitely not the case with Laura Richards, general manager of Hanalei Colony Resort, on Kauai’s luscious north shore.

Living in Fayetteville, Ark., Richards spotted a fantasy island-style poster of Lumahai Beach looking toward Hanalei Colony.

“I said that I wanted to live in that poster,” she fondly recalled.

And she has for 20 years.

Family in tow, Richards relocated to heavenly Haena and headed straight to Hanalei Colony seeking employment.

“The manager knew I had hotel experience,” said Richards. “She wanted to train me to handle the front office position in case the Hanalei Bridge closed, and she couldn’t get to the property.”

With generous showers enhancing the north shore’s splendid greenery and ample waterfalls, the Hanalei Bridge tends to flood from time to time. As a result, area access can come to a halt.

So Richards knew she’d have her opportunities at the front desk. What she didn’t realize was that she was on the fast track to the general manager position by the following year.

Today, Richards is also on the fast track, so to speak, when it comes to outrigger canoe paddling. A member of the Hanalei Canoe Club, she has groomed her passion for competitive paddling in distance races. To her credit are multiple grueling Molokai Channel crossings, several state championships earned with her team and the honor of being awarded the team paddle when clinching the 1994 State Championships in the AA Division.

Richards revels in the team aspect of competitive paddling.

“The best thing is having six people in a canoe totally connected as one energy,” she explained. “That’s a beautiful feeling.”

Although her club competes throughout the Hawaiian Islands in open ocean races, they often hold technique training in the Hanalei River. So Richards is familiar with recreational options for non-competitive paddlers as well. Rather than racing in an outrigger canoe, she highly recommended that visitors experience island adventures in single or tandem kayaks.
While most islands are geared to kayaking excursions on gentle bays, Kauai is home to the only navigable rivers in the chain. So on Kauai, rivers rule.

“Several good companies offer kayak rentals for paddling in the Hanalei River,” Richards shared. “And the Wailea River is also fun because it travels right up to the Fern Grotto.”
She also noted the ease of exploring Kauai’s Kalihiwai River with a launch at Kayak Kauai.

“Regardless of the river, you can rent a kayak to take a nice leisurely outing by yourself or with friends,” she said.

“Or you can take a guided tour. So you can really make it any experience you want.”

Along Kauai’s lazy rivers, paddlers spot rare nene birds and night herons.

“The Hanalei River meanders under a one-lane bridge past taro fields,” Richards said.

She suggested taking a picnic, jumping in to cool off and soaking in the incredible surroundings. “You reach a point where the only sounds are nature,” she said.

And that, according to Richards, is the beauty of paddling in paradise.


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