Timothy Lara describes his Hawaiian Paddle Sports canoe tours as giving customers a safe cultural and educational experience.
"Would you rather them going out there unguided and kind of on their own, knowing nothing of the area, or having somebody who's there with them in a small group setting?" he said.
Lara wants to expand operations from Maui to Oahu.
But many in Kailua don't want another business using the bay or the islands offshore.
"If people are going to come in and begin operating operations that are going to further tax the natural resources, further tax the cultural resources out there, they should absolutely be a legal operation," opponent Nakoa Prejean said.
The state was told last week that Lara was selling canoe tours in Kailua using another company's permits. It told him to stop.
He said the sailings weren't paid trips and he misunderstood state regulations.
"Where me made a misstep was we didn't realize that they couldn't partner with my existing company. So my existing company cannot partner with their existing company and use those permits," he said.
Prejean is also in the ocean recreation industry. He said Lara's reasoning is a poor excuse.
"If you wanted to do the right thing as a legitimate operation from day one, you would have went and got your permits yourself," he said.
Prejean is trying to stop Lara from operating in Kailua. He accuses his Maui business of profiting off state waters without state approval.
"You can do the math. How many people could he have taken out in six years? Tens of thousands of customers?" he said.
Rowdy Lindsey is an ecotour guide with Hawaiian Paddle Sports.
"A lot of the environmentally conscious things we've done so far on Maui will also give us a leg up in Kailua," she said.
Prejean said it's all moot if the company doesn't have permits.
"It's false advertising. You're purporting you're operating a legal business in Hawaii to thousands of customers that you're taking out on the waters everyday. And you're not,"he said.
"I 100 percent believe that we're operating within the law," Lara said.
He said he applied for state permits for Maui in 2014 but hasn't received them, and he's firm on his plan to begin canoe tours in Kailua.
"I think a lot of this has just come from misunderstanding being perpetuated online," he said. "We are moving forward with the DLNR and making sure that we have everything in order."