Every time we turned the corner and came down the hill, I couldn’t believe this was real life. The West Maui Mountains, often crowned by clouds, and the turquoise wild seas of the North Shore were laid out before us on our daily commute to work. My wife Christian and I had just landed dream jobs; kiteboarding instructors at Kanaha Beach, ranked the 2nd best kiteboarding destination by National Geographic, working for Action Sports Maui (www.actionsportsmaui.com), one of the top and longest running watersports schools in the world. The wind on Maui is so good because the trade winds that rip across the Pacific come in from the East-Northeast, wrap and accelerate around Haleakala, hit the West Maui Mountains and accelerate again funneling into the hot low-land plain in the middle of the island.
We initially came to the island to finish our International Kiteboarding Organization Instructors Course and were then offered the jobs with Action Sports. One of the most interesting things we learned is that wind behaves like water running downstream – when it hits objects and is funneled – it accelerates. This is called the Venturi Effect and on Maui it is in abundance. The teaching conditions can be tricky with a narrow beach, no shallow water, crowds, and often “wonky” wind at the launching area when the wind blows due east. Even with these little challenges it is still one of the best places to learn in the world.
One of our first days on the job Christian taught a 9-year-old girl in the morning and a 67-year-old man that afternoon. People from all over the world, from all walks of life, come here to learn this incredibly fun skill, and meeting such a variety of people is one of the best parts of the job. The kiting at Kanaha Beach is unmatched. On the inside there is relatively flat water with two little breaks and a slick right next to shore. A few hundred yards off-shore large northern swells in the winter often break overhead with a perfect wind/swell direction line-up. While out riding in some of the most perfect conditions in the world, looking back towards shore, the West Maui Mountains and Haleakala jut out of the crystal clear tropical water.
A few days before we left our stay on the Big Island we didn’t know where we were going to be staying while in Maui. Three years ago on our honeymoon we had spent 6 weeks living out of an old Isuzu Rodeo camping around the island, which was our back-up plan but not a great option with the training course and work. We reached out to our friend Adam who was a co-manager on an organic permaculture farm in Haiku. He wasn’t sure on space availability but said he would get back to us. The day before we left the Big Island, Adam called with excitement in his voice; “We got a sweet spot for you guys”, he said.
Driving up the hill on E Kuiaha the tropical rainforest felt so alive and abundant with fruit. We pulled into the driveway at what was to be our home for the next four months; The Haiku Aina Permaculture Initiative, also known as HAPI Farm. Rolling down the hill into the valley, coconut palm trees lined the driveway and incredible terraced gardens and orchards lined the hills. There was citrus, avocado, mango, lychee, papaya, banana, jackfruit, soursup, pineapple, noni, starfruit, lilikoi, greens, peppers, herbs, plants, and foods we hadn’t even heard of yet. At the bottom of the valley there was a small bamboo structure tucked next to a falling stream, this was our spot. Falling asleep that first night, the sounds of the jungle and stream were the sweetest lullaby.
HAPI Farm describes itself stating, “Integrating principles and wisdom of native Hawaiian spiritual culture, we are aspiring to create a model of soil renewal, reforestation, and human interaction with nature in a paradigm of respect, harmony, and adherence to the natural law.” The farm offers internships with a work trade of 25 hours per week in exchange for comfortable primitive lodging, amazing community kitchen, and all the abundance the aina (land) provides – which is a lot. The work itself can be challenging but very enjoyable. We learned how to harvest banana, climb coconut trees, plant and tend the gardens and so much more. Through working with the aina (land) we can reestablish a connection to that which allows us to live. When Adam was showing us around he grabbed a piece of tree bark and said take a little bite. Hesitantly we did so to find the sweet taste of cinnamon. He picked a flower called Spalanthe which gave your taste buds a ride through seven dimensions of flavor. This little friend is packed with loads of medicinal benefits and your first one was a rite of passage when joining the farm crew. When friends came to visit they would often say their visit to HAPI farm was one of the best experiences of their trip.
It’s funny when you’re from Buffalo, NY and spending the winter in Hawaii a lot of people want to come visit. In our four months on Maui we only had about three weeks total without visitors. Sometimes it was a little challenging balancing kite-instructor work, farm work, and hosting friends and family, but the joys of showing Majestic Maui to visitors was very special. One of the best parts about Maui is the variety of eco-systems and water conditions around the island. Not to be missed is the famous Road to Hana which was a must see for everyone who came. Passing Paia on the left Hookipa Beach Park is one of the most consistent surf breaks on the island with great views of the action and sunsets from the pali (cliffs). From there the road winds through the jungle and rugged coast. About three hours of driving takes you along 620 hairpin turns and 59 single lane bridges. Waterfalls and secret gems are littered along the road. During one trip to that side of the island, the famous surf break Jaws was going off and we postponed the rest of our plans for the day to watch in awe.
Once in Hana we always stop at Wainapanapa just before town, then Red Sands Beach and either treat ourselves to some of the best Thai Food we’ve ever had just down the road or Braddah Huts BBQ - although it is often sold out. From Hana many turn back but not us, continuing from there is where the real adventure begins. Kipahulu featuring the Seven Sacred Pools, amazing coastal camping, and incredible scenery is a great place to spend the night. The road from Kipahulu that wraps around the southern end of the island is one of the most remote places on the island and probably our favorite area. What makes it so special is the breathtaking coast mixed with rugged mountains right where the jungle meets the desert. There is a big bend in the road as you come down the hill and in the blink of an eye the lush jungle transforms into tropical desert with giant Yucca plants. Cruising through the Maui desert suddenly the gravel road turns into one of the best paved roads on the island crossing dry canyons with views looking upland into the steep mountains.
In this rugged region of the island there is an amazing stop called plenty kiawe where dirt roads lead you to the coast and there is some high-quality sport rock climbing. Climbing at this spot has been a pursuit since our first trip to Maui in 2011 but were never able to find a rope. This time some climbing partners from home; Scott, Laurel, Glen, and Bdude, came to visit with ropes and gear. When we arrived a party was going on at the camp spot next to the crag and a very welcoming crew mostly from Texas invited us to join their group. It ended up being a work party for the South Maui Fish Co. Food Truck located in Kihei and consistently voted the best fish on the island. Needless to say with genuine Texas hospitality they fed us well while we spent the day scaling the volcanic rock. The climbing itself was pretty good with a variety of difficulties. We started on some solid 5.7’s and 8’s and then projected a few harder lines in a cave area. When Scott and Laurel, the owners of the prized rope, departed the island in true Aloha spirit they left their climbing rope at the farm for future friends.
When there weren’t wind and waves Christian and I took up a new skill that had been on our wish list for some time: spearfishing. A few months earlier on the Big Island, while deep water solo climbing at south point, a spear-fisherman swam by and right in front of us got one of the biggest catches of his life. We climbed out at the same spot and talked story for a while. While we had both wanted to take up spearfishing, especially to pursue one of our lifelong goals of raising our family on a catamaran in warm water, seeing this local Hawaiian so free and focused in a whole new world made up our minds that now was the time to get started.
The wind died for a few weeks in February, which is a fairly rare occurrence, so we surfed and spent our days living off of a paddleboard, exploring new sections of coast and hunting for our dinner. We opted for a Hawaiian Sling which is a simple spear with a strong rubber band at the bottom that propels the trident. Not having an immediate need to feed ourselves, we shot at fish sparingly but focused on how long we could stay down, how deep we could go, how well we could use the underwater topography to sneak up on our prey, often taking practice shots at targets in the sand. The peacefulness that comes with spending hours in a such a state is almost unrivaled. When tired we would hop on our SUP’s, take a drink of water and relax. The SUP is the perfect tool for any waterman or woman and allows us to easily spend so much time on and in the water.
While Maui is truly a paradise with rain forest, desert, grasslands, temperate forests, alpine, streams, rivers, waterfalls, and huge variety of coastal conditions all seemingly within a 30-minute drive, its growth and success as a premier international tourist destination does not always have positive benefits to the local community. Maui is tied with Iceland for the highest tourist to resident ratio which is 6 to 1. This kind of visitation does generate a strong tourism economy but it exists alongside harsh poverty. In several coastal areas many native Hawaiians live out of abandoned vehicles near the water’s edge often fishing for sustenance. With the huge revenues generated from Hawaii’s luxury tourism economy surely there can be a cultural appropriate housing solution for people who had co-existed with these islands for centuries.
There is another component of Hawaiian Tourism that should also be recognized and that is the value of cultural exchange from Hawaiians to their visitors. There is a danger in today’s ever rapidly globalizing world to generate a monoculture centered around the values of the industrialized “West.” Retaining the diversity of global and indigenous cultures is the best defense we have against the risk of hyper monetization, digitization, and individualization associated with the modern world. Any given weekend in Hawaii on the beach demonstrates the contrast in values where extended families set up elaborate camps spending the whole weekend surfing, swimming, fishing, cooking, talking story, and making music. While living on the island we followed suit and had an incredible time spending our Pau Hana time camping on the beach waking up to the waves.
One of the best parts of our time on Maui was when our family came to visit. My dad and sister came in January and Christian’s parents came in April just before our departure. We enjoyed a whale tour, explored the island, swam at pristine beaches, and ate delicious food with amazing people. The positive impacts the sights, people, and culture of Hawaii had on our visitors’ quality of life was palpable. Being a visitor to Hawaii, as we are, offers a glimpse into the spirit of Aloha which has the capacity to open the world’s eyes to a good way of living. This way of life is rooted in taking responsibility for taking care of each other, where our food comes from, and the impacts our lifestyles have on the land and water.
On January 1st two of the farm crew Ben and Nick made a bet who could go longest without paying for food. The terms were they could eat anything as long as it was free (and a mutual exception to eggs from the farm which were $5 dozen). They went three months living off the abundance of the farm life and generosity of their friends (and maybe sometimes some table scraps). It was interesting to see they chose to focus on the cooperation rather than competition component of their friendly wager. Ironically the loser had to buy the winner a meal from Maui Kombucha and the bet ended when one party couldn’t resist a perfectly ripe soursup for only $1.
Our time in Maui became even more special because we received the biggest news ever while there. Midway through our time on the island we discovered we were going to have our first baby. The day we learned of our good fortune we packed a picnic and watched the sunset from the beach, snacking on cheese and crackers, sipping sparkling grape juice, and feeling tremendous gratitude for this beautiful life in such an amazing place. We have always wanted to grow our family but while in Hawaii watching the keiki (children) growing up in the water, being a part of it from day 1, made our feelings even stronger to raise our next generation. It is absolutely incredible to see how good and comfortable the little ones are raised in the Hawaiian culture and spirit. We are so grateful for the opportunity to see and learn from this amazing place and people.