Maui Surf Lessons: Becoming a Gnarly Surfer Girl

December 5, 2013 15 Comments »

Maui Surfing Lessons
Heading to the beach for my first surfing lessons near Lahaina.

A lanky bronzed guy with a baseball hat came up to us and said, “Hi, I’m your surf instructor.” Hmmmm – something is wrong with this picture. My Maui Surfer Girls instructor is a male.  That wasn’t quite what I was expecting – I felt as if I had already wiped out my Maui surf lessons before I even started.

However, I quickly learned there was no need to get caught up on gender as Sharky and the rest of the staff at Maui Surfer Girls were super at teaching a bunch of novices how to surf – and that’s all I could ask for. Frankly, Sharky was an anomaly, as 90% of the teachers and staff at MSG are female. In addition to Sharky, we had our instructor Carol and were lucky enough to have the forward-thinking owner, Dustin Tester, as one of our instructors as well.

Maui Surf Lessons – Could I Really Do This?

I had some doubts. Could they make this 43-year-old Midwesterner a surfer girl?

As someone growing up in landlocked Peoria, IL – I never really became one with the ocean, its waves, currents, or sea life. Therefore, I was nervous about surfing – yet the athletic overachiever in me was pretty stoked to try.

I hoped it wasn’t going to be like my failed attempts to learn and love snow skiing.  But I also knew every year that goes by I become a bit more fearful and uncoordinated – so I better tackle this now!

Luna surf dog maui
Luna the surfing dog

If a Dog Can Surf, Then I Can Learn How to Surf

Then I looked over and saw that Dustin’s dog, Luna, was on a surfboard in the water. If Maui Surfer Girls could teach a dog how to surf, then I had hope!

Luna the surfing dog is just one of the many things that make Maui Surfer Girls unique. The MSG mission is to “empower girls through the sport of surfing” – and they take this mission seriously. They run surf camps for girls each year where they do more than simply surf – but also focus on building self-esteem and confidence for teen girls.

maui surf lessons start on the beach
Professor Sharky schoolin’ us in the art of surfing

I had determined that I was in good hands for the day of surf lessons – even if my Maui Surfer Girl instructor was a guy. We gathered around Sharky for our ‘land instructions’. He threw sand on the surfboard and I wondered if he was going to make some offering to the surf Gods.

Instead, he started writing in the sand on the board – Aloha (hello), Mahalo (thank you), and Ohana (family). – he pointed out that all of the words had “ha” in them meaning breath or breathing.

Discover things to do on Lanai: not your typical Hawaiian Island

Then he wrote the word “Nalu” the Hawaiian word for ‘wave’. He looked up at us with his sunbleached hair poking out of his hat, and white zinc on his nose, and said in true surfer dude style – “You have to feel it.”

I knew right then that my ultra-logical side was not going to like surfing. I knew I was going to need to beckon the adventurous, creative side of my brain and tell my right side to stop thinking. Easier said than done.


Maui Beach Surfing

Sharkey, Dustin, and Carol started to demonstrate how to surf on land. They talked about centering on the board using yoga terms and positions. When broken down into the steps it actually seemed pretty simple.

My logical type A side of my brain memorized the steps pretty easily, however, I wondered and worried about how I would speed up the steps while balancing on the board in the water.

Surf lessons maui
Practicing the yoga steps on land.

Learning to Surf with Softboards

We used softboards which were perfect for beginners – big and ‘sticky’ – much easier to get up on. MSG gave us long sleeve shirts to protect us from the sun and board rash, foot booties that provided some extra grip, and they told us to put on body glide for rashes.

At least I looked bitchin’ even if I wasn’t able to ride a wave properly. We did a group cheer and we were ready to go be surfer girls!

maui surf lessons
Hang Ten!

I knew that surfing was a great workout – I mean really – have you ever seen a fat surfer? However, until you get out there and start paddling out time after time do you really understand the core workout that surfing provides? Surfing takes a great arm, neck, and lower back strength and stamina to paddle out. Luckily, the instructors would help us get out there when they saw we were getting tired – it was sort of like getting a tow.

Catching My First Wave

I lay there on the board tense and poised. I looked behind me and couldn’t really differentiate a good wave from a bad wave but Sharky yelled at me “Paddle, paddle!” I sort of got the hang of it. I could first hear it – the sound of the wave coming behind me, then as I paddled furiously I could feel it.  A swell lifted me up and I heard Sharky yell “Now!”.

I quickly tried to go through the yoga poses in my head and before I knew it I was wobbly on two feet trying to adjust and find the center sweet spot. It didn’t last long – but I got the sounds and feel of it.

I surprised myself by getting up on 2nd try – wobbly and uncoordinated – but I did it!

Maui surfer girls lessons
Sharky cheering me on as I ride my first wave!

Once I had achieved success on the board, I knew they had created a surfing monster. I never stopped for the entire time during the lesson. Every time I got up – I thought about how I could do it better

and even though I was exhausted I turned around and paddled back out again. Determination and my type A personality took over. I didn’t think surfer chick and type A really went together – but today it did.

What Gear Should You Bring to a Surf Lesson?

You will be out on the water for an hour or two, so sun protection is the most important thing you can bring!

Rashguard – I love the rashguards from Carve Designs
Leggings – your legs and knees can also get banged up a bit – so you may want to bring some leggings too that are good in the water.  Carve has those too!
Zinc Face Sunscreen is the best way to fight the sun
Baseball hat – I also like a baseball hat when I surf
Travel TowelI love this Nomadix one that is lightweight, and great for the beach!

Nomadix Travel Towel

Perfect for Travel, Beach, Camping, Yoga and Fitness (Africana (Single Sided))

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Catching the Surfing Bug

By the time we came in, I had stood up on the board a number of times and was to the point of trying to leave the steps behind and simply ‘feel it’ like Sharky taught us. This was only a little beginning glimpse of what it was like to ride the waves in Hawaii thanks to the team at MSG who gave us plenty of encouragement.

They had me hooked, I knew that I would be back for more. Maybe, just maybe this Midwestern land dweller could be a gnarly surfer girl after all.

Note: After this first Maui surf lesson, I really was hooked, I’ve gone surfing all over the world now: Australia, Sri Lanka, Maine USA, Panama, and El Salvador. It’s one of my favorite things to try. I’m still a beginner, but I get better each time!

Maui Surfer Girls surf lessons
Dustin, Sharky, and me after a successful first day of surfing!


How You Can Take Maui Surfing Lessons:

There are over 20 surf schools in Maui, but the complete experience that Maui Surfer Girls offers sets them apart from the competition. We are one of only a few surf schools on Maui with a CORA permit from Maui County. All of our surf instructors are CPR and First Aid certified at all times.

Disclosure:  I was a guest of the Maui Visitor Bureau for this trip.  However, all of the opinions expressed here are my own.  I was able to choose my own activities that were of interest to me and my style of travel.

surfers and surfboards on Maui Hawaii beach

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