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Rappelling is defined as a descent over a vertical or near vertical rock face using a rope that is fixed at a higher point. You can rappel dry walls like in our training area, or waterfalls, which is especially popular here in Hawaii.

Basic equipment for rappelling includes rope, a harness, carabiners, a helmet, and a friction device. When done properly, rappelling is a very safe sport. However, it does require a great deal of technical know-how, which is why it is important to go with a guide.

People often compare rappelling to ziplining. But in reality, the two are not much alike. In rappelling, the participant is in full control of their descent down the wall, whereas in ziplining, the participant is really just along for the ride – they do not control their progress down the line.

In the sport of rappelling, friction is key. In order to descend down the rock face, a rappeller must release friction. Friction is provided by a friction device, and serves to slow, and therefore control, the descent of a rappeller.

On our rappelling tours, we use a friction device called an SBG which has many different friction settings for different sized people.


Basically, the larger a person is, the more friction they will need on their device to produce a smooth and controlled descent. The smaller a person is, the less friction they will need. Your guide will set your friction device properly according to your body weight and skill, and teach you during the Rappel 101 safety lesson, how to add and release friction in order to control your descent.


While the rappeller is in full control of their descent, it is common practice to have a “safety net” in place should the rappeller make a mistake. The safety net on our tour is provided by a second guide called a “belayer”.

On our tours we make use of the Fireman’s Belay in which a second guide stands at the bottom of the wall or waterfall, and holds on to the end of the rappeller’s rope. The belayer leaves slack in the rope as the rappeller descends, but should they slip and fall, or let go of the rope, the belayer will pull the rope tight, locking the rappeller in place and preventing a fall.

Once the rappeller has regained control, the belayer will slack the line and the rappeller can continue their descent. 

Specific details, as well as basic do’s and don’ts of rappelling will be provided during the Rappel 101 safety lesson.

At this time you will have the opportunity to ask the guides all your questions, and then have a practice run on the dry wall prior to rappelling the waterfalls.