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Water Sports on Maui

The next time you’re driving down the highway on Maui, take a look at all the toys stacked in the back of trucks: quivers of surfboards and paddleboards tightly strapped down on racks, sails, booms, harnesses, and paddles for windsurfing, kitesurfing or canoeing. Then, of course, there’s snorkeling gear and maybe a couple of scuba tanks to go along with a “three prong” for spearfishing or poles for casting from shore.

The ocean surrounding Maui is truly a playground and the number of different watersports can often be overwhelming. On a 10-day vacation to the Valley Isle, it’s possible to do a different watersport every day and still go home having only scratched the surface.

The most popular watersports on Maui include snorkeling at places like Molokini Crater, or riding waves as part of a surf lesson in Kīhei, Kā‘anapali or Lahaina. Even these standard offerings, however, have different sub-offerings to choose from like Snuba diving at Molokini Crater rather than snorkeling, or surfing in an outrigger canoe instead of on a regular board.

Windsurfing and kitesurfing aren’t quite as casual since they involve a fair amount of practice. But Maui is full of kitesurfing schools that offer weeklong lesson packages for visitors who really want to learn. If you just want to see some windsurfers in action, head to Ho‘okipa outside of Pā‘ia and watch sails flip through the air or Kanaha Beach Park, near the airport, to see windsurfers, kitesurfers and hydrofoilers.

The sport of standup paddleboarding (SUP) is arguably the most popular watersport on Maui for visitors and locals alike. Morning hours are best for beginners since the ocean is usually calm, whereas afternoons are better for experienced paddlers who want thrilling “downwinders.”

Scuba diving is another popular watersport on Maui where you can explore everything from scuttled whaling ships to caves off the coast of Lāna‘i — even a sunken World War II bomber.

You can spend the morning paddling a kayak in search of Hawaiian green sea turtles or learn how to spearfish and help clear the reef of invasive species. There are even watersports on Maui like bodysurfing, where no equipment or money are required to splash around and have some fun in the sun.

That said, the caveat when it comes to watersports on Maui, is to know what’s going on with the weather ahead of time. Wind, waves and runoff can affect your ocean experience.

Famous Honolua Bay, for example, is the perfect venue for snorkeling and diving from May through the end of September. Honolua Bay in winter, however, is a place where snorkels are swapped for surfboards since waves can reach 20 feet. Rain, too, can affect conditions, as runoff from a deluge on the mountain can cloud visibility.

Molokini Crater is another place that’s greatly affected by conditions. The crater is perfect for snorkeling or diving during southern or easterly winds. When the wind direction turns north, however, the water becomes too rough and snorkeling tours are forced to look for more protected places.

North winds, on the other hand, are good for Kīhei “downwinders,” which brings us back to why you’ll see trucks stacked with so many toys. In a place like Maui, where there are so many options for having fun in the water, it’s best to be prepared for whichever way the wind blows.

Photo courtesy of denisdore

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