HOME AWAY FROM HOME

Born and raised on the North Shore of Maui, but now residing in the family’s native South Africa, traveling back to the crucible of foiling itself is always going to be a particularly sentimental journey for Nathan van Vuuren, and especially so after a visit hiatus caused by you-know-what… Luckily, the island spirit remains exactly as he left it.

Words: Nathan Van Vuuren
Water Shots: Mateo Dudu
Land Shots: @premierhawaii 


For just a moment, imagine a place that could truly be called “Heaven on Earth”.  A remote Pacific paradise island, palm trees by the beach, surrounded by a tropical warm ocean, fresh trade winds that work like clockwork, inhabited by a people that seem dedicated to preserving the lifestyle of authentic family and water sports activities. For most people on Planet Earth, a place like this will remain only but a dream, but as we buckle up and look out of an oval aircraft window in preparation for the seemingly endless journey back to the real world, the amazing memories of this place once called “Home” continue to be etched into our minds forever.

With the Covid pandemic causing endless travel restrictions from Cape Town, South Africa to the USA, it’s now been almost four years since we were last standing on the beautiful volcanic rock called Maui. A lot has changed in these four years since I was last here, competing in the Molokai 2 Oahu World Paddle Championships with only nine other invited SUP foilers. Those few months of training and leading up to the inaugural 32-mile foil race really felt more like a blur as the focus then was to paddle and prepare for an unchartered race against names that I had only read about. This trip was going to be totally different. Three weeks to play, test fresh gear, make new friends and, the most exciting part of all, to mix up the water sports with all the new wing and foil toys that have been developed over the past few years. The big question with only a few days to accomplish everything was where to start…

Being based on the west side of the island, near the iconic Honolua Bay and with a view over Māla Wharf, renowned for perfect waves, the timing of our arrival could not have been more fortuitous. Waking up the first day with the thundering sound of a new south swell with a perfect unobstructed direction, we knew the one and only spot that would have most of the local prone foil riders out would be a place that’s so often flying around within daily text messages, known as “GR”, or rather, Guard Rails. If you are fortunate enough to beat the early morning surf school traffic traveling to Laniopoko Beach Park, the only next feat before entering the tropical playground is to find a good parking spot under the Kiawe trees to help keep your gear in the car cool enough from the intense Maui heat.

As we arrive, the hype is real. The early dawn patrol crew are just finishing their session before starting their workday, while the second shift consisting of entrepreneurs, pros and visitors prepare for their daily flight on the water. If you look closely, you may notice a few camera operators documenting the action, but one local that is part of the scenery is Uncle Eddie (@QBSuped) who has been capturing the local foil scene since the beginning. Sitting against the guard rail, refreshed and relaxed after his earlier session, Eddie is the epitome of island style living.

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Zooming in on the lineup, this is where it’s all going down. Zane and Austin have just paddled out, busting wild new moves that are yet to be named. Kai Lenny arrives in the water after coming back to Maui amped on his global travels and is pushing the boundaries like only Kai can. And just when you think Maui foiling is only for the pros, Jim “Bones”, who is now in his seventies, comes flying past followed by Skeeter, Buck, and the other local crew young and old pushing the envelope while proving that this sport has no age limits. Being out in the water with legends, the local foil community and visitors, sharing waves, trading gear, and celebrating the stoke that only foiling offers quickly makes my foiling dream a living reality. One thing you may notice when you are foiling, especially at a place like Guard Rails, is how quickly the time flies. If it weren’t for the hunger pains crying out, we could easily spend hours upon hours flying and trying new, exciting moves. But it’s almost midday and the trade winds are starting to trickle in, and this means one thing: time to wingsurf…

With a quick poke bowl and sushi snack to get the energy levels back, we began cruising across to the north side of the island, which became our daily routine. Messages are coming in from the foil crew, “What’s on the menu today?”, “Wave riding at Hookipa!”, “Some all-round fun at Sugar Cove.” and, “Flat-water freestyle and speed wingsurfing at Kanaha Beach Park?”. To be honest, living on Maui, this often seems to be the most important decision of each given day. Where to foil next? The day is still somewhat early, and the north swell is head high, so it's the perfect time to stop in at Hookipa and share some wind and waves with the local windsurfers and wingsurfers. Hookipa is definitely deemed a higher-level riding spot with a small entry and exit beach, shallow reef, and an intense line-up of athletes. All of whom are flying down the line, ready to boost off the end section with what feels like cameras at every post, keeping awareness levels at red alert. After successfully surviving a session without any tears or breakages, it was time to mellow it down a notch and head down to the more relaxed Kanaha Beach Park.

Arriving in the parking lot, there’s sure lots to talk about with all the new gear being released by the top brands, with foil and wing designers walking around with their team riders, caressing and fine-tuning their new toys. Looking around, it can really feel like one is walking through the history books of modern-day water sports, with high-profile personalities on and off the water, living life as if there was no tomorrow. The wingsurf action is absolutely next level. Between the blur of images, I paused for a few minutes to reflect on how the North Shore scene seems somewhat surreal. Each given day feels similar while offering such a diverse mix of conditions, yet delivers totally different sessions than the one before! The day is flying by, and there’s time for one more stop before the sun sets and the hula dancers come out to entertain tourists at the luau feast. Maalaea mud flats are epic for offshore speed wingsurfing, but with the arms wasted from earlier wing sessions, it’s definitely time for a more relaxed, beautiful sunset session at 1000 Peaks. With Kane and Gabriella also out on the water, while local cameraman Mateo swims out, we were able to capture the last few tranquil moments on film. “Could it get any better than this?” is the big question we keep asking ourselves…

As the weekdays gradually start to blend into each other, things noticeably begin to slow down as the vibe in the air starts to change and Aloha Friday language draws near. The weekend is not just a time off work – it’s a time for celebration! It’s also a time to connect with riders from different islands. Rather than arrange an intense Saturday foil race event, Jason from FoilFever pulls the Hawaiian foil community together for a social downwinder. The pioneers arrive at Maliko Gulch ready to fly. Alex Aguera, Dave Kalama, and other legends looked more stoked than they did the day they first started to foil. What an experience it was to be on the water, flying down a 10-mile racetrack, with a bunch of amped-up foilers and wingsurfers who have one purpose: to have a blast!

Sunday arrives, and as much as it is a well-deserved day of rest, it definitely does not stop the planning for all the action for the week ahead. Zane is heading to a secret spot… Now, if you’ve had the privilege of being around Zane, you know anything involving the Schweitzer family is bound to be an adventure! Going behind the scenes, off the beaten track, and winging with no crowds and cameras around… it's moments like these that keep us coming back for more.

Time is running out, so we put together some last-minute product photoshoots with the Signature team. Stop in for some secret South Shore sessions. Travel to the East Side to get away from the crowds… We realize that we have not only heard but been fortunate enough to experience the slogan “Maui nō ka ‘oi” – Maui is the best. And in what feels like a blink of an eye, we are sitting back in the airplane, buckling up for a long trip back to the ice-cold Atlantic waters of our other home, Cape Town. The journey will continue with new stories and chapters waiting to be told, but the breath-taking times with friends and the memories of foil paradise, our “home away from home”, will definitely remain in our memories forever.

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