Today I discovered a fine line between pushing past intimidation and nearly drowning. My day began innocently enough. I managed to sleep until shortly after sunrise, which in case you’re curious is around 5:40am.
Between 6 and 8 am the ocean front walking path resembles a stream of ants as health conscious vacationers and locals walk and jog their way to fitness. Since I’m turning over a new leaf I decided to join them. Of course, my walking also involved photo opps.
About an hour later I returned to my room ready to venture forth. But what to do? Maui is experiencing impressive southern swells which has wiped out the beach snorkeling along the southern beaches and brought forth red flags along the swimming beaches.
Based on fellow tourists, and my tour book, I decided to head to Big Beach. Unbeknownst to me, it’s also a beach with a fierce reputation for tremendous shore breaks made even worse by the swells. On the bright side, the beach is beautiful.
Notice the red flag? What you can’t see is that the break is right on shore resulting in foaming, churning fierce whitewater several feet above eye level and a strong undertow making moving forward or backwards extremely difficult.
The first time I headed out to join the body boarders and brave few frolicking in the waves I was in for a rude surprise when I tried to dive through a wave. Instead of simply popping up on the other side, I was tossed, tumbled and dragged across the bottom until I had no idea which way was up or even if I’d surface. Several seconds later relief came as the wave released me in the churning sand. Luckily there was enough time to quickly swim past the break.
Once far enough out, it was a blast. The waves were huge and several of us enjoyed being lifted up and carried along for short spells, always mindful to stay far enough out. Getting out of the water was challenging, but doable. If you don’t mind being knocked around a bit.
Foolishly I decided to head back out a while later. After carefully watching the sets, I thought I found a good moment. I was wrong. My timing left a lot to be desired. The first wave crashed over and through me, taking me with it. Unfortunately as I emerged I was in that awful dead zone. Too far out to get to shore with the undertow and too close to shore to make it to the safe zone. Before I recovered from the first wave, once again I was tossed like a rag doll. For several seconds horrible thoughts of drowning seemed a reality.
Luckily the set finished with me and I was able to get to the safe zone. I chose to go further out instead of returning to shore as I needed time before fighting the surf to get out. After floating with the waves for a while, I was able to ride some small swells back to shore where I collapsed on my towel, exhausted, drained and admittedly thankful to not have needed a lifeguard to drag me out.
You might be able to get an idea of the swells in this photo. What I didn’t capture in a photo was the break, but the little girl playing in the sand was adorable.
No matter how much you think you know the ocean, waves and surf; no matter how good of a swimmer you are, Big Beach is a different animal. Yet, crowds of locals and tourists gather to frolic in the surf and sand. However the swells made a challenging beach even more so as lifeguards made announcements to warn swimmers of the dangers.
Having had enough, I left the park and continued down along the coast to the end of the road,which takes you through the lava fields. Talk about wild! Coarse jagged black lava rock stretches out on either side of the narrow strip of asphalt. It feels otherworldly.
Kihei is a great little beach town with easy access beaches, rows of restaurants, shops and hotels. It fits the stereotype of a beach town. A particular dive, Pupu Lounge Seafood and Grill, caught my eye and before you knew it, I was on their bamboo tiki patio with a bowl of fresh ceviche and a Mai Tai. The cocktail was purely medicinal as by now I was feeling the pain from Big Beach.
Next door, I discovered locally grown coffee and a shop with beautiful hand designed sarongs. Feeling more the thing, I decided one more beach was in order and chose Wailea Beach, just down the street from my hotel. As it was now a little after 3 pm, parking was plentiful.
Wilea Beach was great. Small waves and a break that didn’t knock you off your feet. Just high enough to pick you up slightly but easy enough that children could play and entering or exiting the water didn’t put your life in jeopardy.
After playing for a while it was time to head back to the hotel for a desperately needed shower. So, the sand here seems to have magnetic properties. Either that or Big Beach ground it so far into my skin that simply showering wasn’t enough to remove. I don’t even want to think about where I’ll be finding sand for days.
I also feel like I’ve been run over by a truck. One that dragged me for blocks. Arm and leg muscles are screaming as I head back to the beach path to sit and watch the sunset. Thankfully, it took a while as I really don’t want to contemplate standing again.
Throughout the rest of the evening, references of Big Beach to locals brought forth stories of broken bones and emergency room visits. Looking back, I was lucky. All in all, a good day albeit a painful one. I’m just glad I picked up a bottle of wine yesterday. Medicinal don’t you know.