maui sup boards: two first-timers learn the sport known as ‘sweeping’

DCIM100GOPROMy relationship with the ocean is as follows: I enjoy looking at it and being on it, but I’m not particularly keen on being in it. I know, I know, this is Maui. But not everyone who lives here is required to be an avid waterwoman (or man), right?

Stand up paddling—also known as paddle surfing, “sweeping,” and SUP—meets my personal ocean criteria (so long as I don’t fall in, that is), but taking part in a class where I might embarrass myself in front of a group of strangers isn’t an appealing thought. So when I had an opportunity to do a private lesson/tour with Maui SUP Boards, I decided it would be a perfect way to try the sport that’s gone viral—not just here in Hawai‘i, but anywhere there’s a body of water.

Turns out my gal pal Janet has had SUP on her bucket list also. It’s a calm late winter morning when we drive around the pali, which has been painted a brilliant green from the season’s plentiful rain. The windmills at Kaheawa Wind Farm are turning lazily in the light breeze. As we round the corner, the ocean looks like glass—perfect, we think, for our maiden SUP voyage.

Our instructor Warren meets us at the unpaved parking lot just south of Leoda’s Kitchen & Pie Shop in Olowalu. We follow him and his truck to Olowalu Beach where we park and get ready for our adventure. Warren is an affable guy who tells us he started Maui SUP Boards last year so he could spend less time working at a desk, and more time being out on the ocean. Born and raised on O‘ahu, Warren has lived and surfed on Maui since 1988. He also has an American Red Cross lifeguard certification which helps me feel better about venturing out into the deep blue sea today.

SUP (hoe he‘e nalu in Hawaiian) has existed, in some form or another, around the world for thousands of years. But, according to SUP World Magazine, modern stand up paddle surfing has its own Hawaiian roots as well. In the 1940s, surf instructors in Waikiki, like Duke Kahanamoku, and Leroy and Bobby AhChoy, would take paddles and stand on their boards to get a better view of the surfers in the water and incoming swells. From time to time they would surf the waves in themselves using the paddle to steer the board. What became known as “Beach Boy Surfing” was born.

Maui surf superstars Laird Hamilton, Dave Kalama and friends are given credit for the modern rebirth of SUP. They began doing it for exercise, and to train their core and legs for big wave surfing. Then, in 2004, another Mauian, the legendary waterman Archie Kalepa, was the first person to cross the Moloka‘i Channel solo on a standup paddleboard during the Quiksilver Moloka‘i to O‘ahu Paddleboard Race. His time? A grueling six hours. Yikes.

Janet and I have no such aspirations. We just want to successfully stand up and enjoy a couple of hours on the water. Seems doable. And Warren seems to be a patient sort. We begin on the beach, where he gives us the rundown on technique and what we’ll be doing out there. He tells us there are three main keys to success: utilize propulsion while attempting to stand up (in other words make sure the board is moving forward a bit); place your feet hip-width apart on either side of the board’s handle; and look forward towards the horizon, not down, as your body tends to follow your eyes. He instructs us on how to hold our paddles (there is a right side up and a wrong side up) and how to properly stroke.

Next Warren fits our adjustable carbon paddles to Janet’s and my respective heights (there are several ways to measure the proper height). The paddles are incredibly light considering how long they are. He attaches leashes to our ankles, and we’re off on our Naish boards, that are super wide and very comfortable. Warren suggests kneeling on the boards and sitting on our feet (similar to child pose in yoga), and paddling around awhile to get a feel for them before we attempt to stand up. I find sitting cross-legged more comfortable, but Warren says it will be more challenging to stand up from that position. I take the chance.

As we head away from shore, the clarity of the water is amazing. While Janet and I happily paddle, Warren is taking a plethora of photos with his GoPro camera, which he’ll e-mail to us later that evening at no additional charge. Warren asks if we’d like to try standing up, and we both tell him we feel ready to conquer it. Janet goes first, and stands up on her first try! When it’s my turn, I’m a rock star, too! Warren is correct that it’s more difficult to stand up from a cross-legged position, but I’m still glad I took the chance. Warren declares us both “naturals.”

I now understand why this sport is so popular: it’s really relaxing and it’s a great workout, too. We practice maneuvering techniques as we caravan farther away from shore. When it’s time to take a break, Janet puts on the snorkel mask Warren has brought for each of us and puts her face into the water to look for fish. I decide it’s time for a little rest, and lie supine on my board for awhile, gently bobbing along with the gentle current.

Warren leaves it up to us what we want to do next, so we again stand up successfully and begin paddling farther out towards several snorkel boats that have anchored. We’re going in search of turtles. We know they’re out there but, alas, no sightings today. But we do see legions of coral formations, and I continue to gawk at the incredible clarity of the water that modestly displays its gorgeous gradation of multiple shades of blue and turquoise.

We three share a laugh when we hear the captain of one of the snorkel boats announce over the loudspeaker: “Drink up, folks, because we’re not allowed to have alcohol in the harbor!”

When it’s time to bring our session to a close, we paddle back to shore, where Warren has cold water and snacks waiting for us. Our two-hour private lesson has flown by! Warren praises our efforts, and invites us to come back any time.

Janet and I have worked up quite an appetite. It must be true that SUP provides an excellent calorie burn. Rather than driving farther west into Lahaina, We opt to stop at the Ma‘alaea General Store for lunch, where we munch on tasty sandwiches and crispy fries from their grill, while sitting outside and watching the harbor activity. We’ve surely replenished the calories we just burned (and likely more), but losing weight wasn’t our objective today.

Although we are far from being designated “waterwomen,” Janet and I are in high spirits after our lesson with Warren from Maui SUP Boards, and look forward to doing it again soon.

–heidi pool

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