We awoke early on Saturday for eggs at Betty’s Beach Cafe and reported to Goofy Foot Surf School by 9am. Brothers Keith and Nick were our instructors, with one teaching my youngest (who’s 7) and the rest of us with his brother.  After some instruction on the beach, we went out into the water, and all 5 of us were able to get up on our longboards!  My 9-year-old son decided after a couple of runs that he needed further challenges, so he did a “cheat 5” and a “switchfoot,” which is apparently rare for one’s first time on a surf board.

Here’s my bride, showing perfect form:

Here’s our youngest, coasting toward the shore:

And our 11-year-old, keeping her eye on the prize:

Here I am, about to hit a cruise ship or some rocks:

Here’s my boy, switching feet:

After we turned in our boards, we walked to the Cool Cat Cafe for burgers (Maui’s best burger!) and browsed the nearby shops for a bit before checking into our last hotel of the week – the Marriott Wailea Beach Resort.  We intentionally waited until the end of our trip to go here, since 1) it’s super nice 2) it’s got tons of activities for children 3) it’d be a nice place to relax some before we had to fly home and 4) we knew the kids wouldn’t want to leave the property.  Sure enough, after being there a couple hours, the children were asking if we could come back to Maui and just stay there the whole week.  It has beaches, pools with water slides, a movie theater, a huge gameroom, walking trails, a luau, outdoor chess, swings, and more.  It’s also expensive, so I was happy to use points to cover our stay.

That night, we had some of the best sushi I’ve ever had anywhere, at Sansei Seafood (another reservation we made pretty far in advance).  But before I sampled said best sushi, we sat at our table while women’s competitive surfing was on TV, and we talked about all we’d seen and done that week. I glanced to my left, and there was a large table with 3 generations represented.  In the middle sat a man about my age.  Tattooed on his left forearm in black cursive were 2 words in large script that I could easily read from 20 or so feet away:  Fuck Cancer.

At first, I thought, “there are children sitting across from him–why would he have such a profane expression permanently put on his body in plain view?  are those nephews and nieces?  his kids?” But after that initial thought, it was “who died of cancer that impacted him so much that he’d have that ink on his arm?  a spouse?  a best friend?  a parent?  is he a cancer survivor who wants to remember his triumph over the disease?”

Given the large number of friends (4 lawyers, all women, all in their 30s) I’ve lost to cancer and our 100-mile hike for a cancer-centered charity, it consumed me for several minutes when I should have been talking to my family or enjoying my raw fish.  My soul ached for this tattooed stranger to my left such that I nearly stood up, walked over to him, and asked about it, but I worried whatever he said would make me weep in front of his family and mine and ruin a good dinner, so I ordered a cocktail and went back to watching surfing after saying a silent prayer for the stranger who hates cancer whom I’ll never meet.

We arose at 4:20am, quickly donned winter coats, and headed out for the winding uphill climb to Haleakala Observatory. We parked the car at 5:30am and walked to the observation tower; it was 20-something degrees outside and windy, but we were determined to experience the famous Haleakala sunrise.

Unfortunately, the dense cloud cover prevented our seeing quite the sunrise I’ve heard about and seen in pictures, but it was still a worthwhile experience and the first time I’ve seen the sun rise with a bunch of eager strangers at 10,000 feet.

Around 9am, we descended a bit and went by the visitor center, where the children could turn in their junior ranger workbooks and earn more badges and patches for their backpacks.

Then, we hiked a portion of the Sliding Sands trail, which is the closest experience I’ll ever have to hiking on Mars, unless Space X seriously speeds its progress.

And then we drove a bit down the mountain to hike Hosmer Grove Loop trail, which was more like walking on Endor, but with better-clothed Ewoks.

We left Haleakala National Park and stopped at Kula Country farm to pick strawberries for a mid-morning snack and then pressed on to Wailea to have lunch at Pita Paradise (a suggestion from the tour book “Maui Revealed“) that included an ice cream baklava cake that has to rank as one of the best desserts I’ve eaten anywhere, ever.  This was also a good place to take off our winter clothes and dress like we were in Hawaii.

Our next stop was Makena State Park, or “Big Beach,” for some good old fashioned family time on the shore.  See how happy I am with Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast” in my hands?

A few hours later, we checked into the Royal Lahaina Resort in Lahaina, which we chose because we found an online coupon for it (but really liked), and we wanted to stay in Lahaina that night to eat at what’s often lauded as the best restaurant in Hawaii (and top 25 in the U.S.) — Lahaina Grill.  I’d been looking forward to dinner there for weeks.  My son impressed our server as the specials were being described, by asking what kind of fish is used in the filet mignon.

The meal was excellent.  We shared snapper and shortrib entrees and then several desserts with several coffees.  I loved every aspect of it and would consider it one of the best meals I’ve ever had.

Given how early our day began, we were all exhausted when we got back to the hotel at 9:30pm.  The next morning, the children would have their first surfing lesson!

We awoke early and watched the sunrise from our lanai in Hana and then headed counterclockwise along the road we’d followed the day before (since construction prohibited our continuing clockwise as we’d planned).

On the way, we stopped to check out the black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park–another phenomenon I’ve wanted to see my whole life but had never seen in person–arriving at 7:30am.  It did not disappoint.  I loved walking along the tiny black pebbles of “sand” along the ocean.  We explored a lava tube cave leading to the water and a blowhole nearby before getting back in the car to head to our scheduled tour of O’o Farm.

To make our start time at O’o Farm required driving faster than one should probably drive along a road with over 600 curves in the rain, and the children were not enjoying the experience in the back seat.  Nausea set in before long, and not long after, our youngest was leaning out her window to spew all over the side of the Explorer.  Not to be outdone by his sister, a few miles later, our boy followed suit, and about a half hour after that, his little sister added to her artwork on her side of the vehicle.  I kept driving, because 1) I didn’t want to be late, 2) it was raining, and 3) it’s a rental.

We arrived right on time at the farm–10:30am–and got to take a guided tour that including pulling various fruits off trees and eating them as we went (which was a nice way to refill emptied tummies).  We gradually filled our guide’s basket with the vegetables we learned about as we walked, and at the end of our tour, a chef prepared the veggies we’d just gathered, added some chicken and shortrib, and we had a delicious meal outside.  Farm to table.  Quite literally.

After lunch, we toured the Kula Botanical Garden, a peaceful, quiet place with lots of native foliage to see, touch, and learn about, and after that, Ali’i Kula Lavender farm, where I enjoyed smelling all the lavender one nose can smell.

That night we stayed at the rustic Kula Lodge, where we’d be well positioned to get up early and watch the sun rise from 10,000 feet the next morning.  Our room had an interesting configuration that featured a loft for the 11 and 9yo to sleep in above our bed, and the youngest had a mattress under the stairs, which made her feel like Harry Potter at the Dursleys’.  We set the alarm for 4:20am, excited to see an “other worldly”  national park the next day.