Bodysurfing and "sponging" (as body boarding is called by the regulars; boogie boarding is another variation) are great ways to catch some waves without having to master surfing—and there's no balance or coordination required. A body board (or "sponge") is softer than a hard, fiberglass surfboard, which means you can ride safely in the rough-and-tumble surf zone. If you get tossed around (which is half the fun), you don't have a heavy surfboard nearby to bang your head on, but you do have something to hang onto. Serious spongers invest in a single short-clipped fin to help propel them into the wave.
Polynesians first traveled to Hawaii by outrigger canoe, and racing the traditional craft is a favorite pastime on the Islands. Canoes were revered in old Hawaii, and no voyage began without a blessing, ceremonial chanting, and a hula performance to ensure a safe journey.
D.T. Fleming Beach. In West Maui, D.T. Fleming Beach offers great surf almost daily along with some nice amenities: ample parking, restrooms, a shower, grills, picnic tables, and a daily lifeguard. Caution is advised, especially during winter months when the current and undertow can get rough. Honoapiilani Hwy., below the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, HI, 96761.
Kamaole III. Between Kihei and Wailea on the South Shore, Kamaole III is a good spot for bodysurfing and body boarding. It has a sandy floor, with 1- to 3-foot waves breaking not too far out. It's often crowded late in the day, especially on weekends when local kids are out of school. Don't let that chase you away; the waves are wide enough for everyone. S. Kihei Rd., south of Keonaekai Rd., Kihei, HI, 96753.
Little Beach. If you don't mind public nudity (officially illegal but practiced nonetheless), Little Beach on the South Shore is the best break on the island for body boarding and bodysurfing. The shape of the sandy shoreline creates waves that break a long way out and tumble into shore. Because it's sandy, you only risk stubbing a toe on the few submerged rocks. Don't try body boarding at neighboring Big Beach—waves will slap you onto the steep shore. To get to Little Beach, take the first entrance to Makena State Beach Park; climb the rock wall at the north end of the beach. Makena Rd., Wailea, HI, 96753.
Paia Bay. On the North Shore, Paia Bay has waves suitable for spongers and body surfers. The beach is just before Paia town, beyond the large community building and grass field. Park in the public lot across the street and leave your valuables at home, as this beach is known for break-ins. Off Rte. 36, Paia, HI, 96779.
How to Catch a Wave
The technique for catching waves is the same with or without a board. Swim out to where the swell is just beginning to break, and position yourself toward shore. When the next wave comes, lie on your body board (if you have one), kick like crazy, and catch it. You'll feel the push of the wave as you glide in front of the gurgling, foamy surf. When bodysurfing, put your arms over your head, bring your index fingers together (so you look like the letter "A"), and stiffen your body like a board to achieve the same effect.
If you don't like to swim too far out, stick with body boarding and bodysurfing close to shore. Shore break (if it isn't too steep) can be exhilarating to ride. You'll know it's too steep if you hear the sound of slapping when the waves hit the sand. You're looking for waves that curl over and break farther out, then roll, not slap onto the sand. Always watch first to make sure the conditions aren't too strong.
Most condos and hotels have body boards available to guests—some in better condition than others (beat-up boards work just as well for beginners). You can also pick up a body board from any discount shop, such as Kmart or Long's Drugs, for upward of $30.
Auntie Snorkel. You can rent decent body boards here for $6 a day or $18 a week. 2439 S. Kihei Rd., Kihei, HI, 96753. PHONE: 808/879-6263. www.auntiesnorkel.com.
West Maui Sports and Fishing Supply. This old country store has been around since 1987 and has some of the best prices on the west side. Body boards go for $2.50 a day or $15 a week. 843 Wainee St., Lahaina, HI, 96761. PHONE: 808/661-6252. www.westmauisports.com.