Big Wave Riders: Maui Watersports and Watermen

By: Brian Berusch

January 20, 2014

It’s unlikely that anyone would dispute the fact that the world’s top watermen hail from Hawaii. They may not all have been born here; but the waves, reef and wind here have certainly shaped and hardened them. We as spectators of nearly inhuman feats””as well as their desire to attempt death defying thrills””are persistently captivated by the sheer will and daredevil-like determination of Hawaii’s big wave riders.

Kelly Slater’s birth certificate may have been printed in Florida, but it’s his mastery of the hallowed (and hollow) tube rides at Oahu’s Pipeline surf break that led him to nearly a dozen world championship titles.

Laird Hamilton bounces between homes on Kauai, Maui and Malibu; but it’s his 60-foot drop-ins at the awe inspiring Peahi (“Jaws”) break off Maui””and the dedicated lifestyle regimen that he follows in order to achieve this feat””that earns him the respect of the Maui watersports scene, as well as of every waverider on the planet.


Big Wave Riders: Maui Watersports and Watermen, Aloha Windsurfing Clinic

Aloha Windsurfing Clinic teaching sesion © Aloha Windsurfing Clinic


Robby Naish may have been a scrawny, 12 year old windsurfer in Oahu’s Kailua Bay in the late 1970s, but he’s now the most winningest windsurfer on the planet””something that no other rider could even begin to approach in this lifetime. His foray into designing (and riding) kitesurfing as well as standup paddleboarding gear all stems from his time spent living (and raising a family) on Maui. His legendary status has skyrocketed in the last decade, with windsurfers and kiteboarders across the U.S. mainland, Europe and as far as Egypt bowing to his technological advancement of wave riding gear, as well as wind and kiting technique.


Big Wave Riders: Maui Watersports and Watermen, Kai Lenny

Kai Lenny © Maui Visitors Bureau


Dave Kalama began as the “wingman” for pal Hamilton, often seen jet ski towing each other into massive waves around Maui. He then did a stint as a team rider for Naish, before (recently) breaking off on his own to promote a line of his own gear, as well as tour the globe teaching paddle techniques. Kalama is a true Maui waterman: He’s proved himself time and again finishing in the top tier of racers in paddleboarding, surfing, swimming, canoe racing”¦ nearly every style of paddling known throughout Hawaii.


Big Wave Riders: Maui Watersports and Watermen, Cabrinha Kites

Cabrinha Kites © Tracy Kraft Leboe


Maui kiteboarder, windsurfer and photographer Pete Cabrinha has some interesting credentials; he has been attributed with turning high-flying Richard Branson on to kiteboarding. Cabrinha is a fixture at Branson’s British Virgin Islands “Kite Jams,” an annual event that brings a select group of kiteboarders together for a long weekend of mentoring, training and wave riding. In 2012 the first Maui Kite Jam brought Cabrinha and Branson together with a small, dedicated group of kiteboarders that found no shortage of frolicking both off and onshore.


Big Wave Riders: Maui Watersports and Watermen, Aloha Windsurfing Clinic

Out on the water with Aloha Windsurfing Clinic © Aloha Windsurfing Clinic


Finally, if all this is too tantalizing and you’re ready to shed your landlubber persona, the Aloha Windsurfing Clinic offers day-long facetime with one of two professional big wave riders who are sure to up your waterman (or woman) status. Matt Pritchard, a former Super XWorld, U.S. National and World Tour winner, teaches alongside Britain’s own female Wavesailing and Triple Crown champion Shawna Cropas (it doesn’t hurt that she’s also a swimwear model). If you’re really itching to immerse, the duo offer a five-day windsurfing and stand-up paddleboard camp at the tony Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, a part of their “Unforgettable Events” series.


Partnering with Delta means we can connect you to numerous destinations across the United States and Canada, booking flights to Maui couldn’t be easier.

Have you experienced the Maui watersports scene? Which big wave riders inspire you to get out on the water? Share your thoughts with us below.

Written by Brian Berusch


Brian Berusch

Brian Berusch traded in his Manhattan gym membership for a quiver of surfboards, trail running shoes and a one-way ticket to Honolulu more than a decade ago. Since then, he’s interviewed dozens of celebrities and covered the destination for more than 25 travel and lifestyle magazines. He’s an award-winning Editorial Director, a Today Show correspondent and most recently the publisher of two new magazines. He has yet to “get barreled” in the perfect wave.

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