One of my favorite places to paddleboard on St. John is Hawksnest. It is not too long of a drive from Cruz Bay (little under 2 miles from Mongoose Junction, my old Grande Cherokee makes it there without overheating….), parking is close to the beach (so you don’t have to carry your board to far) and the palm trees and watercolor is just amazing.
It is not the right place for an absolute novice, it gets a bit more wind than Maho (which is ideal for beginners) and there is a reef of which you should stay clear and which produces some small waves, sometimes also a mean shore break. But if you have paddled before, have the right technique to keep moving in wind and don’t loose your balance on small bumps, Hawksnest is the place to have fun.
You can also paddle over to little Hawksnest or Gibney or if you are a good paddler go all the way to Cinammon and Trunk Bay (just don’t paddle into swimming zone at trunk – the lifeguards will yell at you)
How to get to Hawksnest
- Take North Shore Road from Mongoose Junction up the hill, passing Caneel.
- After about 2 miles, you will see a parking right next to the street to the left.
Tips for Paddleboarding Hawksnest
- Park your car to the right on the parking lot, the walk to the right vantage point will be shorter
- If you would like some sun before or after paddling, choose a spot at the right (East) end of the beach which gets shade last. During the winter month, the last sun on Hawksnest is at about 4PM
- Enter the water to the right of the reef or in between the 2 reefs. Do not paddle over the reef (unless you have a tide watch and know it is high tide), it can be very shallow.
- If there are waves, be careful when exiting the water. Wait for a wave to pass, paddle to land on your knees, grab your board and run before the next wave comes. If you just paddle to beach and take your time getting out of water a mean shore break can turn you upside down and you (or someone else) might get hit with the board.
- Watch out for swimmers and snorklers, choose the quiet end of the beach when coming in.
- You might want to bring some fresh water to rinse off after paddling
Hawksnest Beach Facilities:
- Pit toilet
- Changing rooms
- Grill & picnic tables
- No shower or running water
- No food or drink for sale, no smoking or glass bottles allowed on beach
it is believed that the name either comes from the hawks inhabiting the island or from the hawksbill turtles which is nesting nearby. Personally, the rocks at the point on the Western end of the bay somehow remind me of hawks.
If you still have energy after your paddle, go for a snorkel over the reef (watch water level and make sure it is calm enough). It is amazing, there is orange elkhorn coral and an abundance of fish. Last time we saw some Reef Squid, Seargent Majors, French Grunt Fish, Blue Tang, Four Eye Butterfly Fish and more. Don’t have snorkeling gear? Add a snorkel set incl. the new Easybreath Full Face Masks to your SUP Rental. Check out these photos we took snorkeling at Hawksnest here.
Next Stop: Peace Hill
After a great day of snorkeling and paddleboarding you might want to take the short drive to Peace Hill for a picnic or to watch the sunset. More info on that is here.
Paddleboarding Hawksnest Photos
Gibney / Oppenheimer Beach History Trivia
The small beach to the right of Hawksnest is called Gibey / Oppenheimer Beach. In 1950, the property was purchased by former New York City residents Robert Gibney and his wife, Nancy Flagg Gibney. The original 40-acre (160,000 m2) parcel of land purchased by the Gibneys has been divided and sold in a number of ways through the years. Some of the beach area is now part of the Virgin Islands National Park. A small piece of land, on the far northeastern section of the beach, was sold in 1957 to J. Robert Oppenheimer, an atomic scientist and member of the Manhattan Project. This land was eventually donated to “the people of Saint John” by his daughter after her death. The house was later refurbished by the government and opened as a community center.
The remaining Gibney property is private and contains the original Gibney home, a house built for the late John Gibney, which is now occupied by his widow and son, two guest houses that are used as rental property for vacationers, many fruit trees, unique island foliage and gardens. The Gibney Beach Cottage is one of the few rentals directly on the beach in St. John and the other guest cottage is located in the garden area among the vast fruit trees. The beach area in front of the vegetation line is open to the public.
Source and more history: wikipedia