Diving In: A Family Guide to Water Sports in Maui

A few years ago I read a novel about a woman who decided to learn to surf in Hawaii for her 40th birthday. I thought Hawaii sounded like perfect place to turn 40, so I set out to make it happen. Well, I may not have learned to surf, but I did celebrate my 40th in Maui with my family and we did get to try our share of water sports. We found that no matter your level of fitness or adventure, there is plenty of fun to dive into in Maui.

Maui has plenty to offer the active traveler, but the real action is at the beach, where you can surf, snorkel, kayak, scuba, paddle, Jet Ski or just dive on in. The three main resort areas are in Wailea Beach in South Maui, where you can find resorts like the Four Seasons and the Wailea Resort; Kaanapali in West Maui, once named America’s Best Beach; and Kapalua, home to the Ritz Carlton and prestigious golf courses.

We stayed in Kaanapali at the Sheraton Maui, which gave us a perfect view of the nightly cliff diving ceremony at Black Rock. Guests can give it a try too, but we can tell you that climbing up there it isn’t as easy as they make it look. Instead, we explored some more organized water sports. 

Sunset at Black Rock in Kaanapali

Cliff diving ceremony at sunset at Black Rock in Kaanapali

Water Sports in Maui

Snorkeling — In Kaanapali, beach goers can snorkel with sea turtles right off the beach but the waves were a little too rough for us with a young child, so we opted for a snorkel cruise to the calmer waters around Molokini instead. Molokini is a submerged crater off the coast of Maui with a protected wildlife and marine area, where visibility often exceeds 180 feet. This seemed like the perfect place for our daughter to try snorkeling for the first time. Not only are the waters calm, but many snorkel operators offers kids flotation devices with a built in porthole so kids can easily see the fish below while having the support they need to gain confidence.

A family guide to water sports in Maui Hawaii

Photo courtesy of Hawaii Paddle Sports

When she first climbed in that initial shock of chilly water made her nervous and, not being a strong swimmer, she had trouble keeping her body up and her face down. But then she gave the flotation device a try. Built like a boogie board with a window in it, it allows kids to easily stay afloat while still seeing the wonders below. Once she realized how beautiful the reef and tropical fish were just below her toes, she was hooked and soon was snorkeling on her own.

Snorkeling Molokini is very popular, so it tends to get crowded. I know I ended up with more than a few feet in my face. To avoid the overcrowding, some operators like Redline Rafting Company offer smaller tours that can access areas the bigger boats can’t, like Molokini’s back wall. Many of the tour operators, like Pride of Maui, also stop at Turtle Town after a visit to Molokini, to let you get up close to Maui’s most gentle residents, the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles.

If you want to go deeper, Pride of Maui also offers Snuba (a hybrid between snorkeling and scuba diving), and scuba diving at Molokini and other sites around Maui. I’ve tried scuba diving but I’m not a big fan of going under water so for now, I leave that to my husband while my daughter and I stay on top of the water.

Tip: Most tours go to Molokini in the morning, when the snorkeling is at its best. Keep in mind that it can get very crowded in the crater so be sure you know which boat you were on so you get back on the right boat. When we went, the boat trip over was pretty bumpy so take some Dramamine if you are prone to motion sickness.

Kayaking and Canoeing – My husband and I have an unsuccessful track record when it comes to outrigger canoes. On our honeymoon in Bora Bora, we tried paddling and just ended up going around in circles, never quite able to get the hang of it. Kayaking is a little easier and we’ve created some nice family memories kayaking, including some in Hawaii. It is one of those things that even a novice can try, but if you want something where you can explore more than just the beach in front of your hotel, a kayaking tour is the way to go.

A family guide to water sports in Maui Hawaii

Photo courtesy of Hawaii Paddle Sports

Maui Kayak Adventures offers four different kayak tours, depending on your skill level and where you are staying on the island. The Honolua Marine Preserve tour goes up the rugged coastline of Kapalua until you arrive at the Marine Sanctuary at Honolua Bay, where you can jump out for a snorkel. The Olowalu Turtle Gardens tour is not for inexperienced paddlers or families with young children, but it does offer great opportunities for snorkeling with sea turtles at the section of the reef where the turtles hang out. If that doesn’t suit you, a kayak tour to Turtle Town gives you the opportunity to snorkel with the turtles before the larger snorkel boats arrive. Hawaii Paddle Sports also offer kayak tours for all levels, even beginners.

Tip: Some tours are only open to children 12 and older so ask ahead if you are planning a family kayak trip. I’ve found that when kayaking it helps to wear protective clothing to keep out the sun, apply sunscreen and bring plenty of water.

Surfing – In college I hung surfing posters on my dorm room walls but the closest I ever got was a flirtation with a surfer and catching some waves on my boogie board. The older I get, the less likely I am to try it but if you want to learn to surf, Hawaii must be the place to do it. Surf instructors there are so confident they will get you up and surfing that operators like Hawaii Paddle Sports offer guaranteed classes (if you don’t get up and surf in one lesson, your next lesson is free.)

A family guide to water sports in Maui Hawaii

Photo courtesy of Hawaii Paddle Sports

Tip: Private lessons are the way to go so that you can learn to surf, and not just stand up on the board.

Stand Up Paddleboarding – Stand up paddle boarding (or SUP as the cool kids say) has become much more the rage since I was in Hawaii or I would have definitely tried it then. I love that SUP is great for all ages and can also be an excellent low impact workout. Outfitters like Hawaii Paddle Sports offer private lessons in various locations, including the opportunity to paddle with the whales in season. I’m not sure if I’d be thrilled or frightened to be on a board with whales nearby but it would be exhilarating. Trying SUP is definitely on my list of “must dos” next time I’m in Hawaii or elsewhere.

A family guide to water sports in Maui Hawaii

Photo courtesy of Hawaii Paddle Sports

Tip: I’ve heard from other bloggers that the lift of the sea when paddle boarding can cause motion sickness so be prepared and don’t venture too far if you are prone to illness.

If all these water sports are just a little too much for your family, you can always get out on the water with a sunset cruise or whale watch expedition and get a chance to see Maui from the water.

A family guide to water sports in Maui Hawaii including go to outfitters for snorkeling, scuba, kayaking, surfing, paddle boarding and more

What water sports have you tried? Do you have a favorite?

Note: This post was sponsored by Pride of Maui, Maui Kayak Adventures, Hawaii Paddle Sports, and Redline Rafting Company. All opinions are my own. Feature photo is courtesy of Hawaii Paddle Sports.

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3 Comments on “Diving In: A Family Guide to Water Sports in Maui

  1. Nice post. Super thorough. My wife and I tried to get to Maui for our 40th birthdays as well (this past summer) but we couldn’t swing it. We went there on our honeymoon 13 years ago so I know how awesome and magical the island is. Anyway, just wanted to say I enjoyed your post and I look forward to reading more!

      Thanks Eric! My husband and I hoped to revisit our honeymoon location too and haven’t had a chance yet. Maybe at our 20th!

    Hi, fabulous post! we are coming to maui in june with our young daughters and were wondering if the snorkeling would be better in the west vs. south in the summer? thanks!

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