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Maui Kiteboarding

Oct 1, 2008

Author: Tomoko Okazaki and Kyle Touhey

Closest Airport: OGG
Best Winds: Feb-Nov (winds all year)
Best Surf: Oct-Mar
Average Kite Size: Small (or really small)
Cost Factor: The full range… you can do it very cheap if you have to, but the niceties of travel comfort may suck you in and bleed you dry. 

Maui is the place where kiteboarding evolved. Laird Hamilton, Marcus “Flash” Austin, Lou Wainman, Elliot Leboe, Robby Naish, Pete Cabrinha and Don Montague are just a few of the pioneers from here. Strong trades makes this island one of the most popular kiteboarding destinations and training grounds for pros.

Yes, Maui is famous for big waves like Jaws, but Ho’okipa does not allow kiteboarders, and the only place you can go to ride waves is Lanes, where there is no beach. You must go over dry reef, which is slippery but very sharp. Even most of the locals stay away from there.

There are three other location besides Lanes: Kite Beach , Kihei and Waiehu. The majority of kiteboarders go to Kite Beach, located on the lower side of Kanaha Beach Park. You are not allowed to kite before 11 a.m. on the North Shore, so please follow the rules. Kihei gets wind in the afternoon when the north side of the island is onshore and light, or when it is blowing Kona (which happens a lot in winter). Unlike the North Shore, there is no regulation to separate windsurfers or time to go out, which means you can get out in the water at 6 a.m. if you want. Waiehu is for experts only, since it only has a tiny beach to launch and the wind is often straight onshore. If you make a mistake, you end up getting tangled up in palm trees, or worse. When Kite Beach is unbearably gusty, this place gets good. —Tomoko Okazaki

Kyle Touhey's Maui Kiteboarding Guide

If there’s one “must do” trip that should be on everyone’s list, it is Maui. Its one particular short stretch of windy coastline stands out in a kiteboarder’s mind like Orion’s belt in the night sky. It is astounding that within 15 minutes drive of the eclectic little North Shore Paia town you have the most famous kitesurfing, windsurfing and big wave surfing spots in the world. Going to Maui and riding some of these spots leaves you with a sense of wholeness as a kiter. Sometimes it also leaves you with Hoale Rot on your face, but that’s another story.

Kiting at Kite Beach, Kanaha, Naish Beach or Lanes connects you with so many historical moments in the life this sport. It’s like going to a museum, but instead of being separated from the exhibits by velvet ropes or glass you can become part of it all. It’s like going to the Louvre and being the one to make Mona Lisa smile

 Maui is such a great first adventure trip because it’s just so damn easy to do! You have all of the newest gear in the world for sale a few minutes from the beach. There are cheap lodgings ranging from hostels to affordable bungalows better suited for families or significant others. Car rentals are cheap, and we have a habit of renting ridiculously luxurious cars as a point of humorous frivolity. There’s plenty else to do for non-kiters, and even though you’ll definitely get a tan, the temperature is oddly always perfect. 
 You can easily get there from anywhere in North America, and if you take a few minutes to look online you will easily find cheap direct flights from most major cities on the West Coast. It is totally plausible to leave work one evening and arrive in Hawaii just in time to meet your friends at the Fish Market for a late Ahi burger supper. A long-weekend later and you’re back in the office with a tan, a still-fat wallet, and a cocky smirk knowing that you’ve had so much more excitement than Jimmy from the cubicle next to you.

The place may hold certain mysticism, but rest assured that it is definitely not a “pro’s only” venue. Don’t be afraid that you’re not good enough because even though you’ll easily find yourself riding and maybe chatting with some of the world’s best, the spots provide something for everyone. There are a dozen kite schools along Kite Beach and Naish Beach. With plenty of friendly kiters and big sandy beaches for launching and landing, there’s no reason to be afraid. Where else can you cruise around shirtless in a board-filled Mustang GT and drive up to the beach to see the latest seagull-look-alike prototypes being tested?

The best part of Maui: the place sets up perfectly for wave riding. You read all the articles and see the photos these days and the whole focus is on waves. Well even though you might not have perfect blue-green curls at home, in Maui you are in a perfect place to see what all this fuss is about.  There is a reef a few hundred meters offshore and upwind where the waves start to break. This makes them break in a predictable location and dissipate long before you would get in trouble. You can get close and try working up from your first ripples to larger waves along the coast without the fear of being slammed by shore-pound and destroying gear.

For us and many of our friends, Maui has become an annual pilgrimage during the fall, if not more often. The Autumn seems to provide a perfect escape from the impending doom and gloom of Winter in Canada to an excellent balance of wind and wave conditions. Maui gets bigger swells in the winter and bigger winds in the summer, but if we are going for only a short trip, then it makes sense to go during the shoulder seasons when it is more likely to get out on the water every day with a great mix of both. 

This year more than ever, our focus was on tracking down some decent waves, and the forecast did not disappoint. Riding at Lanes was on the menu most days. There are not too many places close to North America with that kind of right-hand reef setup (great for natural-footers to rider frontside) and we were totally stoked at the idea. Having ridden there many times before, we were all too aware of the dangers of launching and landing at this spot. There are many other easier launches, but the prospect of heavy waves kept us coming back for more. It must have been obvious that we were out-of-towners as during the whole of our stay you could have driven past that spot any time between 11 and dusk to see Kyle and Stefano still bottom turning without care to stop for food, rest or water (PS. Thank you RedBull & Rockstar). That is the kind of enjoyment that we get out of this place.

We both remember our first trips to Maui many years ago. There was a feeling of being lucky to be permitted access to such a place. At the same time, it was accompanied by a dread of doing the wrong thing and being scrutinized for it. But what we know now is that those fears were just internal and that most places are just as friendly as home. With every new adventure taken, there is more comfort and excitement to go on the next. Maui was a great place to start all of that.
 So break free of your home world and start exploring what this planet has to offer. Maui is the perfect trip to get that first taste of adventure and excellent conditions with low risk and a sensible budget… and it’s probably windy right now.


Getting There
Most major cities on the West Coast of North America offer very affordable and easy direct flights. To give an idea of price, if you pay more than $500 for a ticket then you’re getting a bad deal. With the rising price of fuel though, that will likely be far from true by the time this goes to print.

Gear Transport & Rental

The agents for the airlines are already wise to all of your clever schemes for smuggling your ‘golf’ gear to Maui. With oversize baggage, I’ve found that the best card to play here is the ‘nice guy.’ You won’t outsmart them, so you’ll have to charm them.

Otherwise, most local shops offer board demos/rentals and even offers kite rental. Book ahead before you go if you plan to leave the gear behind.

The winds in Maui are quite predictable. They are also quite strong and can be very gusty, so be ready. A clear sunny day will bring E or NE trade winds from across the ocean. The North Shore spots get an extra push because of a local thermal and Venturi effect created from the air heating and rising and the winds channeling in the valley between the volcanoes. It’s not unheard of to kite every day of a trip, but also be weary that overcast skies can kill the wind or make it ever gustier.

Places to ride
Kiting on Maui’s NorthShore connects you with so many historical moments in the life this sport. It’s like going to a museum, but instead of being separated from the exhibits by velvet ropes or glass you can become part of it all. It’s like going to the Louvre and being the one to make Mona Lisa smile.

View Larger Map


Kite Beach and Naish Beach: Right close to the Kahului airport, Naish beach (aka. Action beach or Flash Beach) is probably the most accessible choice, along with Kite Beach - a “must do.” Both have sandy launches and a friendly vibe. But remember we’re talking about Maui here, and you can’t talk about Maui without mentioning the waves. Launch from either of these spots and head to outer reefs like Boneyards, and Lower Kanaha for some classic, clean, low-consequence wave riding.

Lanes: If your skills are up to par and you have a taste for excitement and powerful waves (along with the occasional cut below the knees) then drive east up near Ho’okipa to Lanes for some world class wave kiting.
The point is, there is something for everyone on Maui: beginners, intermediates and pro’s alike.

Local Scene
The place may hold certain mysticism as a sort of holy place for kiteboarding, but rest assured that it is definitely not a “pro’s only” venue. Don’t be afraid that you’re not good enough because even though you’ll easily find yourself riding and maybe chatting with some of the world’s best, the vibe on the island’s sunny beaches brings out the good stuff. Maui is famous for its peanut gallery, but just like anywhere else they are probably just giving their buddies the gears and will let you pass unscathed. If you feel some localism is at the wave spots. Don’t worry - if you give respect you will get it. When it gets big out there, everyone is too focused on themselves to worry if you are a kook or not.

Best Wind Direction
The best wind is the typical NE trade winds. Overcast days can shift the direction more E, causing gustier conditions – it’s best to get away from the beach as quickly as possible.
Occasionally during winter, the winds will shift SE (ie. “Kona Wind”). The best bet is to head to Kihei bay on the south shore.

Access Issues

  • The rule is no kiteboarding on Maui's North Shore before 11am. Don’t break this one. Take the time to sleep in and watch the winds build.
  • No kiting in the area upwind of the airport. This shouldn’t need any further explanation.
  • Some surf and windsurf spots (like Ho’okipa) are out of bounds to kiters. If you don’t see anyone else out kiting, there is probably a reason.

Local Hazards
Watch out for shallow reef. For the most part they will be visible by looking where the waves break. The worst you should expect is a couple of cuts and bruises, but that can ruin a trip, and a lot more if not properly treated.

Also, there is a problem with vagrant locals at times. They are harmless at the beach, but do pose a serious threat of theft for your belongings. Be aware.

Ability Level
Maui has something for everyone, from absolute beginner taking first lessons, to seasoned pro’s looking for double overhead waves.

Fear Factor
Maui’s fear factor comes only from the overwhelming immersion in such a watersports oriented culture and location. As for the kiteboarding itself, it can be a little windy and gusty at times, but on the whole to people and spots are very friendly and inviting. Don’t be afraid, try it!

Must do’s

  • Kite in the waves.
  • Kite from Kite Beach.
  • Kite with a legend, like Lou Wainman or Robby Naish.
  • Walk around Paia town.
  • Rent a SUP for no wind days.
  • Wear sunscreen!
  • Catch a Willie Nelson concert at Charlie’s Bar.


  • Land on a turtle.
  • Stay at Charlie’s bar after 11:30

Maui’s south shore is packed full of condo’s and hotels just itching to get your medium to high-end business, and are a great bet if you are looking for creature comforts. If you want more of a local feel, try to rent a B&B or house near Paia town. New regulations might make this a little harder to do, so start trolling the internet for that perfect under-the-table deal. For the budget traveler, there are a few hostels on the North Shore. My pick would be the Banana Bungalow ( ) for its fun vibe.

Car Rental
Luckily for cost offset, rental cars in Maui are typically quite affordable, even from Major chains. It’s worth upgrading your credit card to save on rental insurance though. If you need something bigger for your extra gear, check out for reliable vans and minivans. Theft can be an issue, so keep away from obvious tourist cars like convertibles, and try to blend in as much as possible. Try even putting a sticker over the rental agency’s logo.

For the ultimate in low budget, most people will tell you to check out

Top places for food

  • You must eat at the Paia Fish Market. No questions.
  • Livewire Café (Paia) makes the best Cappuccinos.
  • For a fancy meal out with the wife/girlfriend, catch a sunset at Mama’s Fish House.
  • Eat a Spam Washubi from a Minit Stop gas bar. Make sure someone witnesses it.
  • Ahi Poke is a local dish which, for lack of a better term… Kicks Ass!

I remember my first trips to Maui many years ago. There was a feeling of being lucky to be permitted access to such a place. With every new adventure taken since, there is more comfort and excitement to go on the next. Maui was a great place to start all of that. 

Internet resources: , , , , , , , ,


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