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In 2008, Maui kayak guide Tim Lara had the opportunity to paddle an outrigger canoe to Kahoolawe, the smallest of the eight Hawaiian Islands. At the time, nobody was doing snorkel tours by canoe, so in 2010, he started Hawaiian Paddle Sports to offer visitors to Maui the type of snorkel tour usually done with kayaks, but instead on outrigger canoes.
“You can paddle a kayak anywhere in the world,” Lara said. “But the thing that makes Hawaii special is the culture, so we really want people to get the opportunity to paddle a traditional Hawaiian vessel.”
A unique part of that culture is the philosophy of He waa he moku, he moku he waa, which means “a canoe is an island, an island is a canoe.” In other words, a canoe operates as a community, just as an island sustains a community. Lara expands on this belief by donating funds and time to local nonprofits. Family-friendly Hawaiian Paddle Sports is also the first company on Maui — and one of only seven organizations in the Hawaiian Islands — that is a certified B Corporation, a for-profit company that meets strict standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.
“We’re not just taking people out to have a good time in the ocean; we’re also strengthening our community and protecting the environment,” he said.
Before my tour group departed from Makena, in south Maui, we began with a traditional Hawaiian blessing, E Ho Mai. Our guide, Rowdy Lindsey — a Hawaii Ecotourism Association 2016 Maui Ecotour Guide of the Year— asked for wisdom and guidance before we set out. I immediately felt connected to the ocean and to my fellow paddlers, making the experience spiritually significant.
Lara incorporates what he learned while sailing on Hawaiian deep-sea voyaging canoes into the tours, providing clients with education about the traditions of outrigger canoe paddling and how Polynesians migrated to Hawaii using celestial navigation. After a short paddle, we beached our canoes, and Lindsey and our second guide, Jason, explained that ancient Polynesians aligned coconut rope lashings on the hulls of their canoes with the stars to navigate thousands of miles across the ocean. We even had the chance to make our own rope from coconut fibers.
After returning to the water, it was time to snorkel. As we swam above a spectacular reef, Lindsey and Jason pointed out the sea life — being careful not to touch or disturb anything — and explained the ecosystem surrounding us. In particular, Jason pointed out that the coral in that area decreased by 50 percent in the last year due to warmer water temperatures caused by the El Nino effect, and that it will take many years for it to regenerate. As we paddled back to the beach, a green sea turtle crossed our path, and I felt privileged to have shared the ocean with it that morning.
“Hawaiian Paddle Sports’ outrigger canoe and snorkel tour is more than just an activity,” Lindsey said. “For many visitors, it’s the only time during their vacation they get to experience Hawaiian culture. I love sharing a Hawaiian sense of place and shaping their memories of Maui in a positive, authentic way.”
The three-hour tour is $149 per person and includes snorkel gear and free digital photography. There is no age limit; Lara leaves it to the discretion of parents whether their kids can participate.