Sail Away With Me

Maui’s Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Adventures attracts attention

By: Marty Wentzel

This is the first Image
Out at sea with Hawaiian
Sailing Canoe Adventures.
"Welcome to our office.”

Sage and Liz Spalding greeted me from beneath a stand of shade umbrellas on Polo Beach, in the Southwest Maui resort of Wailea. Dressed in bathing suits and T-shirts and armed with genuine smiles, the couple was getting ready for another day of work that most people would envy. Owners of Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Adventures, they take clients out on two-hour trips aboard a traditional-style ocean vessel rooted in history and modified for modern-day comfort.

The Spaldings are a textbook example of how to turn a passion into a profession. Sage, raised on Oahu, started paddling canoes at age 11 and got involved in canoe sailing by the time he was 16. Liz, from Maui, started working on sailboats during high school. Their individual paths led them to the California Maritime Academy, where they met.

“When we decided to start a business centered around our mutual love of sailing, we both knew we needed to do something that no one else does,” said Liz. “We wanted to focus on being cultural, eco-friendly and very Hawaiian.”

They bought the canoe Hina, named after the goddess of the moon, because it was built near the cave on Molokai where Hina was said to live. With safe, smooth rides in mind, they made such alterations as enlarging the trampoline and improving the sails. Today, they still do all of Hina’s dry-dock work and maintenance when needed.

In August 2005 the couple launched Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Adventures, the only tour of its kind on Maui. In the past year, business has grown by 200 percent, said Sage.

“People like the intimacy of the trip,” he said. “We’re starting to see repeat guests.”

Holding six passengers and two crew members, Hina impresses passers-by with its fiberglass hull, wood crossbeams, spacious trampoline and red sails. It definitely attracts attention on Polo Beach. “When people spot the canoe on the sand, they walk up and ask how they can come along for a ride,” Liz said.

During my tour, Sage got the passengers involved right off the bat. After introducing us to Hina, he counted to three and we all rolled the canoe down the sand and into the water, then slid up onto its trampoline. Sage settled into a seat in the hull and paddled us forward as the sail started responding to the breeze.

“It’s amazing how these canoes can surf in the wind,” he said. “I’ve been in some pretty gnarly conditions and they perform amazingly well.”

Steering us to his favorite snorkeling spot, Sage dove underwater and tied the boat to a mooring, while Liz handed out snorkeling equipment and made sure everyone knew how to use it. The setting was perfect; before we had even jumped into the water, we could see turtles popping up their heads around us, and once immersed, the view got even better.

Back onboard, we took turns learning how to paddle the craft. Then, Sage navigated it up and down the Wailea coast at a smooth and speedy clip, as dolphins spun and played in our wake. As Liz offered us water and juice, Sage described the unique features of the Hawaiian sailing canoe. He shared background on ancient navigational techniques and talked about the history and culture of the islands, all in an easygoing yet knowledgeable style.

When the tour came to a close, passengers and crew once again collaborated, this time pushing Hina safely up on the sand. As I said goodbye to the Spaldings in their so-called office, I could tell they were already looking forward to their next trip out. Clearly, for them, Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Adventures isn’t just a job, it’s a joy.


Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Adventures
P.O. Box 791703
Paia, HI 96779

Rates: $99 per adult, $79 per child aged 5-12
Commission: Call for details.

Two-hour tours depart daily at 10 a.m. from Polo Beach, fronting the Fairmont Kea Lani Maui. Private trips and customized charters are available. Clients must be able to swim. No pregnant women or children under five.