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While the Valley Isle plays host to some of the biggest events in world surfing, visitors aged 6 to 60 can opt for the sidelines or, instead, can take the plunge by paddling out and learning how to ride the waves—while showing the planet some love.
Surf’s always up on West Maui with Maui Surf Clinics, also known as The Nancy Emerson School of Surfing, the island’s very first surf school, which was founded by the legendary, international pro surf champ Nancy Emerson herself. Maui Surf Clinics has been changing people’s lives for over 35 years.
Maui Surf Clinics is credited with churning out big time success stories like six-time Triple Crown of Surfing and Association of Surfing Professionals World Tour Champion Sunny Garcia—Nancy’s former student and protégé. Not to mention winning over surf enthusiasts like Maria Shriver, Keifer Sutherland, Richard Chamberlain and Beau Bridges, who have all tested the waters Maui Surf Clinics-style.
Setting the bar high with Nancy’s foundation-building Learn-to-Surf-in-One-Lesson technique, the lessons are extra special due to the equal attention paid to both ocean awareness and surf etiquette. All staff are C.O.R.A.L.-card certified, which means they’re trained and educated about the environment, culture and preservation of the islands ecosystems.
With a focus on fun, learning to surf responsibly with this unique team—in the birthplace of the sport—is an experience for the soul. Expect to get schooled at ease and with plenty of encouragement on board control, sport history, surfing etiquette and education about the ocean and tides.
These days, Kristin MacFarland runs shop. Nancy passed on the torch as owner to the stunning Santa Fe, New Mexico native over five years ago. To Kristin, surfing is a spiritual confidence booster that brings one closer to nature.
“The reef is our big, precious resource,” explains seasoned instructor, Aaron “Sharky” Huish. “Everything is alive. It’s good etiquette as a surfer to realize that.”
Unique to Maui Surf Clinics, attention to small, eco-conscious detail becomes second nature. Taught as part of common surf technique, students practice easy gestures like dismounting a surfboard without making coral contact. Students are also taught how to avoid setting foot on the ocean floor and stirring up sediment, which can damage the reef’s fragile ecosystem.
“The bottom in surfing is out of bounds. Obviously, [the less] time you spend there, the safer it’s going to be for you,” and for the environment, explains Sharky.
“You’re going to get the joy of riding the surf out of this, but I also want you think of giving something back. That’s what is truly called the Aloha spirit,” he says. “Every little thing we do has an impact. If you see any trash floating in the water, pick it up and put it in your pocket.”
It all goes down just off Front Street at Lahaina Breakwall/Harbour, the scene of former MTV reality series, Living Lahaina.
Believe it or not, Maui Surf Clinics’ lessons start on land with surfboard 101. Forget ancient wooden boards. Grab an Australian longboard equipped with a fin and leash and enjoy greater flexibility. Next, master stance, board control and safety.
“No matter what size board, you always want to stand in the middle. It’s called the sweet spot,” demonstrates Sharky from his surfboard on the sand. “Athletic stance. Knees are shock absorbers. Stand tall, you’re going fall. Stay low, you’re in control. Hips manipulate board. Pressure to the back foot. Point where you want to go. Relax, breathe.”
Trust us, you can make it happen. It’s all about taking your time and enjoying the ride. Best of all, the Breakwall is perfect for all levels. Plus, everybody can watch and cheer you on. Just picture it: a beautiful sandy beach under a cloudless sky with a breathtaking backdrop as you look up into the west Maui mountains while riding a glassy wave.
“You just can’t beat it,” enthuses Sharky. For him, surfing means health and happiness: “It encompasses everything that a human is. It’s mentally challenging, and [there is] a spiritual aspect to riding waves that have traveled thousands of miles.”
“You go out there and don’t think of anything else,” breathes Kristin. “It’s a free feeling. Very present.”
There’s No Place Like Maui.
It goes without saying that, with its ideal waves and climate, Maui can’t be beat for surfing. The sport is engrained in the culture. “Whenever there’s news of a big swell, the island is buzzing. There’s a surfboard on every car,” describes Kristin.
“So many different things set Maui apart from the other islands,” offers Sharky. “Being in the middle [of the Hawaiian islands], it allows it to be more peaceful. The waves still find their way in, and the weather has a tendency to be sunnier, especially in Lahaina, which actually means relentless sun.”
“The beauty and warmth of water, and the foliage, the flowers, plants and waterfalls. I haven’t found any other place I’d rather be,” says Sharky. “I could imagine the paradise Adam and Eve had. This is getting pretty close.”
Maui Surf Clinics rates start at US$78 for a two-hour lesson. Lessons spread out over several days range from US $245 for two hours/day over three days, up to US $2,350 for private lessons with a chief coach at five hours/day over seven days.