Snorkeling in Maui Helped Me Conquer My Fears

Posted What to Do by Eric Rubin on July 31, 2014

While most vacation’s focus on relaxation, my recent family vacation to Maui provided me with an opportunity to overcome my fears and redeem myself. My wife and I went to Maui on our honeymoon in 2002. It was an absolutely memorable trip filled with a drive down the Hana Highway, an early morning excursion to Mt. Haleakala’s summit, and the best piece of fish I’ve ever had at Mama’s Fish House. It was an overall blissful week with my new bride.

There was, however, one day that has seared itself into my memory and has kept me exploring nothing but dry land ever since. I went snorkeling in Maui and almost drowned.

Everything that could have possibly gone wrong on that snorkeling trip did. Without going into too much detail, we booked an expensive tour to Molokini. When we got there, it was windy and the crowds were thick. My too-tight goggles caused an absolutely awful headache. And to top it off, I got a severe cramp in my back thigh while swimming around trying to find an elusive sea turtle. It was so bad that I was unable to continue swimming and almost drowned. Thankfully, our guide jumped in quickly and he helped get me back on the boat. Needless to say, I was scarred.

Flash foward ten years and two kids later and I was back on Maui, determined to conquer a demon that had kept me landlocked for more than a decade.

Finding the perfect snorkeling in Maui

Photo courtesy of Maui Guide Book

After exhaustive research online in advance, I decided on a DIY snorkeling adventure, rather than tour boat. I then focused on finding the best beginner spot that the entire family could enjoy. That’s when I found Kapalua Bay. This little inlet is considered one of the best places for snorkelers like me, as it’s in a protected cove with tons of coral, tropical fish, and sea turtles.

Located about 20 minutes north of Lahaina off Hwy 30, it can be a bit hard to find. Before heading out, I stopped by Maui Snorkel Store in Lahaina where we were staying, and made sure to get precise directions. They provided snorkeling tips for beginners, good places to eat lunch near the beach, logistical information regarding parking, and advice on the best time of day to go.

I was feeling quite confident, despite my previous experience of nearly drowning and the nagging fact that this beach lacked a lifeguard. Regardless, I was determined to get past my fears.

Snorkeling in Maui: The adventure begins

Early the next morning, I went ahead and rented gear for my wife, older son, and me. I heard that the best time to snorkel at Kapalua Bay is between 7 - 10 am. Since we had everything prepped and ready to go, we woke up at 6:30 am and were in the car by 7. It was only a short trip down Highway 30 and the scenery was absolutely breathtaking as we watched the early morning sun begin to heat up the island. The roads were quiet and the kids were behaving, making this a great start to what I was assuming would be my last shot at snorkeling redemption.

For those who have been to Maui before, you’re aware that a lack of signage is a common trait on most beaches, hikes, and natural wonders. I knew this so I came prepared with detailed directions from both my hotel and the rental store. Sure enough, I missed the parking lot. Luckily, getting lost on Maui is much different from getting lost at home. Even in the morning we were all smiles. It’s just kind of hard to be in a bad mood in paradise.

The beach

We parked, grabbed our beach gear, and made our way to the north end of the beach where the snorkeling is best.

As we came upon this small stretch of sand, I was absolutely blown away by the peaceful solitude of this serene bay. On any beach excursion, my automatic first step, or instinct, is to touch the water. I took my two boys to the edge of the shore while my wife used our towels to claim our slice of beach heaven. It was a calm, sunny, uncrowded morning. Conditions were perfect!

It was then I remembered that mother of all leg cramps from my last snorkel experience. But, this time I was ready! I spent 20 minutes stretching every muscle in my body, as the rental shop recommended. It turned out to be a great tip. Soon, the entire family was doing sun salutations – even little Jonny.

The water

Warm and inviting, the ocean was waiting. My older son and I grabbed our equipment and walked into the water. Because there were no lifeguards, I splurged and got a floating, safety belt for both of us.

The minute I submerged my masked face, an entire world was exposed. To be honest, I was expecting to see some fish, some small coral reefs and to have an overall fun morning snorkeling in Maui with my family. I certainly wasn’t expecting what I saw.

Fish everywhere! It was epic, absolutely stunning. I had no idea what types of fish I saw, only that I must have encountered at least 50 different species in the first 15 minutes.

And then, off in the distance, I saw something a bit larger than your average tropical fish swimming towards me. My heart started to race. Was this a friend or a foe? I decided to float there and wait for this “thing” to come to me as it was obviously headed my way.

Sure enough, within a minute or so, it was clear that this was a friend. A big, old beautiful friend – a sea turtle! And it wasn’t just one friend, but two. Maybe I was getting soft in my old age, but I created a story in my head that this was a dad sea turtle and his son, exploring us! I looked over at my son and gave a thumbs up. He was doing amazing with his breathing and we stayed there, staring at these peaceful swimmers as they grazed for algae.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

After about ten minutes, the turtles moved on and my son and I popped our heads out of the water. We both had smiles as curved and wide as the bay we were swimming in.

“This is amazing! I even saw Nemo!” he said to me.

“Me too! This is about as good as it gets. Right?” I replied. “How are you doing otherwise? Tired, feeling OK?”

“I feel great. Let’s keep going!” he exclaimed.

So we went on exploring for about another hour. We experienced seemingly untouched coral and massive schools of neon fish. My legs were holding up great and I was feeling a mix of bliss, excitement, and awe. I motioned to my son that it was time to go in and let the wife have a turn.

The lunch

Photo courtesy of My So Called Food Blog

I was feeling great. We all were. We had been at the beach now for about 4 hours. The sun’s rays were getting stronger and our family was out of snacks. Needless to say, snorkeling all morning had made us extremely hungry. I’d asked the hotel concierge if there were any off-the-beaten path lunch spots near the Kapalua Bay beach and he told me about Gazebo Restaurant in north Lahaina.

We took his advice and made our way to this small restaurant, which is housed in an actual gazebo behind some apartments next to another gorgeous beach. Much to my surprise there was a small line, making this less off-the-beaten path that I’d prefer. But we decided to wait anyway. Thank heavens we did!

I got a plate of the best fried rice I’ve ever had. It was a huge portion of rice, spam, egg, bacon and onions. The boys wanted banana pancakes with coconut syrup and my wife got the Kalua pork lunch. As if this day couldn’t get any better, the whole meal cost us $40. For 4 people on Hawaii, that’s a pretty awesome deal.

The rest of the day

After finishing off our spectacular lunch, we headed back to the resort for a nap. Normally, nap time can be a struggle as we try to put the little one down alone. This time, we all wanted to doze off for a bit. We turned the lights off, got into bed and within 10 minutes everyone was asleep except for me.

I laid awake for a bit, thinking of our highly successful snorkeling adventure earlier that morning. I thought about how my first Maui snorkeling trip had paralyzed me from experiencing the underwater beauty of the ocean. And as I laid there, I wondered what other adventures I might be missing out on.

My time at Kapalua Bay was more than just a thing to do on Maui while on vacation – It was a wake up call.