Updated: October 1, 2022
As I pulled the curtain back for a peek at the weather on the morning of our stand up paddle boarding tour in Maui, I couldn’t help but cringe.
The sky was blanketed with dark and menacing clouds, and the wind tossed the palm trees outside my window violently from one side to the other.
Out in the distance, white caps covered the water. Water that, on a clear and sunny day, dazzled with its multitude of bright blues and greens. This time, it was a dark and stormy mix of greys and deep blues.
We called up Maui Stand Up Paddle Boarding, the paddle boarding company taking us out for a coastal paddle that morning, to double check that the tour was still on.
On our previous visit to Maui, we’d had to skip our paddle boarding tour due to stormy weather. This time, they assured us it was okay to go out, but the water might be too rough to travel up and down the coastline as originally planned.
Instead, we’d stay closer to shore, inside the protected cove at Makena Landing Park, the typical meeting point for Maui Stand Up Paddle Boarding tours and many of their affiliated companies (they operate kayak tours, mermaid tours, and many other adventure activities).
There, we were told, the water would be relatively calm and we wouldn’t have to battle fierce winds; and no matter what, we’d be surrounded by the majesty of Maui that has captivated us from day one.
Hans and I agreed that it still sounded like a pretty sweet deal, and since we didn’t want to reschedule yet again not knowing when we’d be back on the island, we threw on our swimsuits, slathered on our reef safe sunscreen, and hopped in the car for the short drive from Kihei to Wailea.
A Day of Stand Up Paddle Boarding in Maui, Hawaii
We parked our rental car and sauntered toward the beach to meet our instructor for the morning and were greeted by the smiling face of Laurie, a Kihei local whose sunny disposition made us forget all about the less-than-ideal weather.
Before we could get in the water, though, we had some important ground to cover.
She first shared some background on the company, including their mission of responsible tourism and promoting ocean stewardship, reminding us that protecting the marine environment is everyone’s duty.
Maui Stand Up Paddle Boarding is certified by the Hawaii EcoTourism Association, making it an obvious choice for responsible travelers who want to minimize their impact.
Laurie also educated us on the major issues Maui’s own marine environments are facing while giving us actionable steps we could take in our own lives to protect the ocean we so love and depend on.
For example, wearing reef safe sunscreen is a must; this means sunscreen with minerals such as Zinc oxide and Titanium dioxide as the active ingredients, which cause minimal harm to reef systems when the sunscreen inevitably comes off your skin in the water (“water-resistant” or not, it WILL come off in the water).
And in fact, as of May 1st, 2018, Hawaii became the first state to pass a bill banning the sale of sunscreens containing chemicals known to harm coral reefs, such as oxybenzone and octinoxate.
The new rules won’t go into effect until 2021, though, so it’s important to be aware of what’s in your sunscreen and choose wisely.
Some companies will use misleading labeling to give the impression of being reef safe even if they are not, so reading the ingredient list is the only way to know for sure.
Avoid sprays whenever possible and cover up if you plan to be in the sun for extended periods of time.
Here are a few trusted brands of mineral sunscreen you can try:
Remember, too, that these sunscreens aren’t meant to absorb fully into the skin, as they act as a physical barrier to UV rays. So wear those white streaks as a badge of honor, ocean stewards!
Once we’d discussed this and other important ocean conservation topics, we were putting our boards into the water, paddling beyond the gentle waves while still on our knees for balance.
Upon standing, being the semi-athletic people we are, all it took was a quick once over for us to get the hang of the paddling technique.
Balancing, on the other hand, took a bit of practice.
While Maui Stand Up Paddle Boarding does offer paddle board lessons, we’d signed up for a tour, meaning we had the entire two-hour session to explore.
SUP tours are perfect for those who have the basics of stand up paddle boarding down, but may need help discovering the best spots Maui has to offer.
Due to the weather, we wouldn’t be going far; we knew we’d get a good workout as we paddled around among other tour groups, but otherwise figured we’d let the day surprise us.
Stand up paddle boarding (often abbreviated simply as “SUP”) is a sport that makes use of your whole body from head to toe.
To balance, your legs and core work in tandem to absorb the movements of the water beneath you, keeping you on the board and dry. Your arms (and every muscle connected to them) make use of the paddle to propel you through the water and direct your board in the direction you want to go.
Throughout the morning, Laurie monitored our form, making sure our paddles were held properly and our strokes were at just the right angle to move us powerfully forward.
The water was clear enough and shallow enough for us to see to the bottom, sandy in some parts and populated with lively coral systems in others.
We also knew this was a great place to spot Maui’s resplendent green sea turtles, so we kept our eyes on the water’s surface for signs of turtle activity.
Each time I return to Maui I learn something new about these creatures–honu, in Hawaiian–and this time, the main lesson was how to tell the difference between a male and a female.
“Big tail, big male!” went Laurie’s chirpy refrain.
Only moments later, we got to put our new knowledge to use as a big male sea turtle bobbed to the surface between our boards. His big tail made it obvious he was, in fact, a big male, and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t known this simple identification trick before that day.
It’s always a treat to be in such close proximity to such a magnificent creature, so it should come as no surprise that the three of us gazed in reverence at this turtle for as long as he cared to hang around.
His head poked above the surface of the water as his mouth fell agape; I wasn’t sure if he was drinking, breathing, burping, or some combination of the three, but I didn’t much care. I was just happy to bask in his greatness.
His size indicated that he was already quite an old fella, perhaps 40 years or more in age. Although, as we also learned that day, it can take 20 years or more for a green sea turtle just to reach sexual maturity!
After a few moments, this big male’s big tail made its last appearance as he took a dive to deeper waters. And so we kept on paddling, chatting with Laurie about everything from marine life, to life on Maui, to yoga, and everything in between.
When we’d seen the cloudy weather that morning, we’d thrown all our expectations out the window, so one green sea turtle sighting was already more than we had even hoped for.
Of course, that’s the beautiful thing about letting go of expectations–when you do so, you open yourself up to the spontaneous and the unexpected. The universe always rewards a grateful heart.
And reward us the universe did, because not even five minutes later, we had our second sea turtle sighting of the day, this time a female.
I hadn’t been looking for more turtles, really, but when I noticed a shadowy figure below the surface to my right, I pulled a U-turn on my board as fast as I could while alerting the others to our good fortune.
This little lady hung around for a few minutes too as she gulped down some air for her next dive. The air-breathing reptiles can stay underwater for hours at a time, as it turns out, so we celebrated our two surface sightings as if we’d just won the lottery.
When the topic of yoga popped up, we learned that Laurie also happened to be a yoga instructor on the island.
Naturally, this led to me pestering her with questions about SUP yoga (which is exactly what it sounds like–yoga on a stand up paddle board), something I’d always heard about and seen photos of, but had never had a chance to try.
Yoga on dry, stable ground is one thing, but it’s quite another to try those very same, seemingly simple poses when you’re on a board that’s bobbing and moving in unexpected ways.
So when Laurie busted out a solid headstand on her SUP board, we were more than a little impressed.
SUP yoga requires an enormous amount of strength on top of good balance, and while I don’t really have either of those things, I couldn’t resist trying a few poses myself.
I began with a playful vinyasa, moving from downward-facing dog to upward-facing dog and back again, testing the waters both figuratively and literally.
It was every bit as fun as I had imagined it to be, with the added excitement of knowing I was just one misstep away from a saltwater bath.
Once I felt confident that I wasn’t going in the water, I managed to strike a pretty decent Bakasana (crow pose–the photo doesn’t do it justice, alright?).
I ended my brief affair with SUP yoga with everyone’s favorite, Savasana (aka corpse pose, aka the end-of-class restorative pose where you lay on your back and…that’s pretty much it).
When Laurie alerted us that only ten minutes of our session remained, we didn’t want to believe it.
It had been a surprisingly magical morning stand up paddle boarding in Maui–in spite of the cloudy weather, in spite of the cooler temperatures that made the idea of getting wet wholly unappealing, and in spite of the fact that conditions weren’t “perfect” that day
We weren’t ready for it to end.
But as with all good things, this, too, had to come to an end. We paddled back toward the beach, using the momentum of the waves to carry us to shore much faster than we could go on our own.
Hawaii happens to be the birthplace of stand up paddle boarding, so if you’re going to take SUP lessons anywhere, Maui is a fantastic place to do it.
And if I can offer you just one little piece of advice, it’s to not let cloudy weather discourage you. A wonderful experience on stand up paddle boards doesn’t require sunshine, just a good attitude and a willingness to learn (and maybe get a little wet).
Stand up paddle boarding in Maui is an experience you won’t soon forget!
About Maui Stand Up Paddle Boarding
You can find out more about Maui Stand Up Paddle Boarding tours, lessons, and paddle board rentals on their website. Individual tours are available, as well as private group tours.
Free digital photos are always included (your instructor will carry a GoPro and email you the photos the same day) so you can relive the memories for years to come.
Your friendly guides work hard to provide a safe and enjoyable experience, and like others in the service industry, they work for tips; be sure to bring some cash with you (15-25% of the tour price) to show your appreciation.
You can purchase reef safe sunscreen prior to your trip, but if you forget, the tour company will have some available for purchase.
Mahalo to Maui Stand Up Paddle Boarding for inviting us to participate in this tour as their guests; all opinions expressed in this article are those of The Sweetest Way.
GoPro photos provided by Maui Stand Up Paddle Boarding and edited by me.
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