Maui Surf Life
Two mountains, one valley, 120 miles of coastline, 80+ accessible beaches— Maui is a landscape that’s cranking out an ever-growing number of the best surfers on the planet. What is the island magic that’s conjuring this crazy amount of talent?
Where SoCal boasts the daily consistency of peeling beach breaks and O’ahu relishes it’s gentle off-shore breezes, Maui serves it’s surfers up tough love. Between prevailing trade winds, varied micro-climates, and swell shadow from five surrounding islands, kids here learn early to adapt, building the skills to make the best of a day, even when it’s on-shore and 1-2 ft. They cut their teeth on “Maui glass,” an affectionate (and highly sarcastic) term for the island’s infamous wind chop, learning to launch 540 airs or fly down 40’ oceanic mountains despite the conditions. They learn to work with the trade winds, adopting different sports and equipment to make the most of the conditions. Eventually, it becomes the grit they’re made of.
That said, when the wind backs off and the swells hit just right, Maui is a surf mecca. The world over, surfers dream of Honolua Bay’s glassy rights, Ma’alaea’s barreling Freight Train, and they pay homage to the beastly waves of “Jaws” that roll through to pound the coastal cliffs at Pe’ahi. All those epic waves on one small island, how else but through this diversity could Maui foster multi-talented big wave riders like Ian Walsh, Paige Alms, and Albee Layer, crazy aerialists like Matt Meola and Tanner Hendrickson, all alongside classic longboard sliders like Kelly Potts and up-and-comer Sierra Lerback.
When the trade winds are wailing Maui surfers just dig out different toys, making them some of the most adaptable and well-rounded watermen out there. Pioneers like Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama viewed Maui’s unique conditions as a boon to being a more diverse athlete. Kai Lenny took the idea and ran with it mastering just about every wind, wave, and paddle sport out there (and even some you’ve never heard of, keep reading...) On trade days, it’s more a choice of kiting Kanaha, heading up to Maliko to launch a downwind SUP run, or windsurfing The Point at Ho’okipa.
You needn’t look further than Kai Lenny’s latest assault on the open ocean, a surreal looking hydrofoil SUP, to see that Maui is an innovation epicenter for water sports. The island has incubated some of the most noted envelope-pusher/sport-definers of their time, like Laird and Dave in the early 90s who boldly whipped themselves into the first monster waves at Pe’ahi, starting the big wave tow-in surfing craze. Some twenty years later, Maui-based Brazilians Danilo Couto and Marcio Freire proved you didn’t need a jet ski to surf Jaws after all. The duo stunned the world as they paddled-in to the notorious break, subsequently starting a new craze for paddle-in big wave surfing. Where it was once deemed impossible to make these giant waves, this generation of surfers grew up watching these pioneers. Now they’re making their mark by pushing the envelope even farther, defying logic, reason, and, as it would seem, the laws of physics.
But it all starts somewhere—and groms here have always had it good. Kid- friendly breaks like Lahaina breakwall, Launiupoko, and Ho’okipa’s Pavilions (“Pavils”) serve up ankle-nippers year-round. The beaches are always filled with families camped for the day, a quiver of toys and hibachi in tow. Maui’s small- town feel remains undaunted, even as the decades roll by. For young surfers, friendships are forged in the line-up. As talent blooms, the camaraderie here drives competition in a uniquely positive way.
The strong community infrastructure, a web of parent volunteers and devoted local businesses and surf shop owners, have supported a consistent schedule of keiki surf competitions that are so long-lasting, some of Maui’s best known names in surfing have risen through their ranks. Perpetuating this aloha, these athletes are now giving back. Professional shaper Matt Kinoshita of Kazuma Surfboards was one of these groms, and is now sponsoring competitions himself. So was Ian Walsh, who founded his Menehune Mayhem contest to give back to the community that raised him at Ho’okipa. The contest is now in it’s 13th year, and has already fostered an entire generation of talented and bold surfers, such as Kain Daly, Joao Marco Maffini, Dylan Curry, and Sierra Larsen.
Building the character of Maui surfers is just as much about what happens when the waves aren’t up. As a matter of pride, kids here grow up country—four- wheeling through sugarcane fields, hurling themselves off jungle waterfalls, freediving for dinner, and building Friday night bonfires in lieu of burning-up a nightclub dance floor. Through jaunts to magical, remote places like Haleakala crater or mystical Hana, right in their backyard, the force of nature is burned in their soul. On Maui there’s always tako (octopus) to spear, a lei to string, or a jungle path that ends with a plunge into a freshwater pool.
Asked about Maui in a recent interview, pro longboarder Sierra Lerback said,