12 Tips for a Better Maui Windsurfing Vacation

It’s mid-February and spring break season is approaching. That means we’ll start seeing more and more vacationing windsurfers here on Maui starting soon. First time vacationing windsurfers often have a lot of questions about their Maui windsurfing vacation. With that in mind, I’ve brainstormed a few tips for those of you planning to come to Maui on your windsurfing vacation.

1. Come at the appropriate time for your ability level and what you want to do

You wouldn’t know if from the windsurfing magazines, but there’s NOT consistent wind and waves all year long on Maui. The north shore wave season typically runs October through April, with the best bet for waves being December through March. But, during those same months the wind isn’t as consistently windy as it is in the summer. So, if you’re a hard core wave sailor looking to score waves and you’re willing to put up with the potential of a week or more with super light winds, come in December through March. If you’re more about scoring a higher percentage of days with sailable wind, plan on coming between April and October. You’ll still get some waves in April and also in September and October but May through August the waves on the north shore are small and wind swell generated so there’s very little down-the-line wave sailing those months. So, if you’re a beginner to intermediate learning to waterstart, get in the footstraps or jibe, your best bet is to come to Maui during the consistently windy summer months. If you’re an advanced wave sailor, plan your Maui windsurfing vacation for the winter wave season.

My wife Karen did a more thorough explanation of when to plan your Maui windsurfing vacation on her blog.

2. Relax

Head upcountry at the end of your day and catch a Maui sunset

Once you’re here, relax. As the bumper stickers say, “Slow down, this ain’t the mainland.” There’s absolutely a slower pace on Maui. That’s part of its appeal. So slow down and go with the rhythm of the island. The no sailing before 11am rule on Maui’s north shore means you have plenty of time to sleep in in the morning, take a yoga lesson, a walk on the beach, or enjoy a leisurely breakfast in Paia before heading to the beach to sail. Don’t worry about spending every minute of daylight trying to windsurf. Head upcountry to Rice park in Kula in the late afternoon and catch a stunning Maui sunset. The more you relax and enjoy all that Maui has to offer, the better your vacation will be.

3. Pay Attention

Pay attention to signs posted by lifeguards

While you definitely should relax, don’t go catatonic. Whenever you windsurf in any new location, be it Maui, the Gorge, Hatteras, wherever, it’s a good idea to tune into the local knowledge. Pay attention to what the locals are rigging, where they’re launching, where they’re avoiding. Don’t see anyone out? There’s probably a good reason for that. Pay attention to signs and warning from lifeguards. That strange looking wave at Kanaha that’s breaking at right angles to all the other waves? Don’t see anyone trying to ride that? There’s a reason for it. That’s “Weird Wave.” Avoid it. Pay attention to the rules. No windsurfing before 11am except for absolute beginners. Pay attention to windsurfing and wave sailing right of way. Check out GP’s windsurfing right of way post from a few months ago for more on that.

4. Understand Maui’s wind pattern

The typical trade wind pattern brings E – NE trade winds to Maui’s north shore. These trade winds are generated by high pressure in the north Pacific. But, when the high pressure gets pushed away from its usual spot by an advancing cold front, winds will go light or even turn from the south. After the cold front passes, the winds shift from the North. When this happens, your best bet for strong winds is to head to Kihei.

5. Learn

Beginners learning at Beginners Cove at Kanaha

There’s always something new to learn in windsurfing and Maui is a great place to learn and advance your skill level. Conditions on Maui can be quite different from what you’re used to and it can be easy for some people to get frustrated. Do yourself a favor and sign up for at least one lesson. Whether you need to learn to water start, learn how to get in the footstraps and harness, stay upwind, jibe or even how to wave sail, you can find a qualified, trained instructor to help you move to the next level. There’s also several camps and clinics throughout the year, led by top level pros.

Another great way to learn is to head up to Hookipa some afternoon after you’ve exhausted yourself and sit on the bluff and watch the pros. The bluff at Hookipa provides the perfect view to watch first hand.

Check out my listing of windsurfing schools for more information (scroll to the bottom)

6. Rent Gear

Unless you’re coming for a month or more, it’s going to make more sense to rent gear than to bring your own, especially with the outrageous airline baggage fees. There’s a lot of shops to rent gear from on Maui and they’ve got the latest stuff for you to try. It’s a great way to try out some out some new gear that you might be considering purchasing.

If you are coming for more than a month, it might be a good idea to just buy some used gear when you get here. There’s tons of bargain deals on used gear on Maui (including here on this site). Most rental shops also sell used gear and you can usually find someone selling gear at the Uppers parking lot Kanaha. Look for sails or boards leaning up against the railing with prices and phone numbers attached.

Check out my where to get gear page for more information

7. Pick the right place to sail for your ability level

Big waves at Uppers Kanaha

Maui has a reputation for big waves and extreme conditions. But there are appropriate beaches and launches for every level – from beginner to PWA pro. For most people, Kanaha is going to be the best-suited location. Kanaha can offer sheltered flat water away from breaking waves for beginners all the way up to extreme mast high plus waves at Uppers when there’s a big swell. If you’ve got the money to splurge you can find beach front accommodations between Kanaha and Hookipa at Camp One, Sprecks or Kuau. If you’re an advanced to expert windsurfer looking to duel it out with the pros and the best in the world, you can try Hookipa. Keep in mind though that many rental shops gear insurance won’t cover sailing at Hookipa due to the infamous carnage-inducing rocks there.

8. Spend some time in Paia and Haiku

Maui is home to many professional windsurfers and is headquarters or R&D central for many windsurfing companies. And the twin epicenters of the windsurfing world on Maui are Paia and Haiku. Head up to the Pauwela Cannery in Haiku and check out where many top name shapers and sail designers come up with their creations. In the FWD Hawaii shop you might be able to watch top shaper Keith Teboul shaping the latest custom board for a PWA pro through the window.

Amble around Paia for the most authentic flavor of Maui windsurfing. You’ll find some of the best dining out deals on Maui in Paia. There’s some very good food at very reasonable prices all within a few blocks radius. And you just might run into your favorite PWA pro there as well.

9. Be open to try something new

Unless you’re here in July you’ll find that it might not blow every single day. Don’t worry. There’s plenty of other things to do. Consider stand up paddling or surfing. If you see single digits in the WindGuru forecast for the day, it’s unlikely that it will get windy enough to sail. Try something new that day. If you see low double digits there’s a chance it will be windy enough to sail. Mid- to high double digits and you can count on it.

10. Realize, and accept, that Maui isn’t cheap

Face it. Maui is not the cheapest windsurfing destination in the world. Hawaii has the highest cost of living in the U.S. From gas, to food to beer, you’ll find that just about everything here is more expensive than back home. There are ways to do Maui on a budget and save money (look for that in a future blog post), but do yourself a favor and don’t be so cheap that you cheat yourself out of a good experience. For example, there are cheap hostels to stay in, but is the money you save really worth the bed bugs, cockroaches, centipedes and cane spiders? Maui is an incredibly beautiful place with world-class windsurfing but if your main focus is to constantly save a buck, you’re going to miss the experience.

11. Don’t leave valuables in your car

While Maui may seem like a tropical windsurfing paradise, it’s not without its problems. Smash and grabs and car break-ins are unfortunately fairly common – at beaches as well as in parking lots in Kahului, Paia and elsewhere. You may think you’re being very clever “hiding” your keys under your bumper, but believe me, every low-life thief on Maui knows that little “trick.” Take your keys with you and don’t leave valuables in your car. If you’re going to spend the day windsurfing, bring your drivers license and some cash if you’re going out afterward and you won’t have to worry about someone breaking in and getting your credit cards.

12. Plan ahead

Lastly, plan ahead. Start your Maui vacation web surfing before you get here. There’s a ton of useful information online. Wondering where you should stay? There’s a good, fairly recent thread on the iWindsurf forum with lots of good information on where to stay. Keep tabs on what’s going on here on this blog as well as the other Maui windsurfing blogs I’ve got listed in the sidebar to the right. Contact the shops ahead of time to see what kind of deals you can work out before you get here. If you’ve got a question about windsurfing on Maui and you’re not finding the answer here or in other windsurfing blogs, Google it. The more you get planned and lined up ahead of time, the more time you’ll have to relax and windsurf once you are here. Good luck, happy vacationing and a hui hou.

4 Responses to “12 Tips for a Better Maui Windsurfing Vacation”

  1. Jamin February 19, 2011 at 11:42 am #

    Great advice! And there are tons of things to do when there’s no wind. Such as a hike into Haleakala.


  2. jeffbennett February 19, 2011 at 3:11 pm #

    Nice photos and write-up Ben! Thanks!

  3. Debbie February 23, 2011 at 7:33 am #

    Great information Jeff. Thank you.


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