Be Careful on Big Beach| Travelling in Hawaii

What I’m about to write to you fits into the “quite humiliating” category,  along with the “silly tourist” category and the “I’m so glad I didn’t die” one as well…  I could easily leave this story out of my little Maui Memories series, but my husband and I figured maybe the telling of it would help some of you out for future reference.

Of all the things we read and researched before we left for Hawaii, nothing really touched on this subject.

So, here goes!…

Yesterday’s post explained our upcountry adventure up to Haleakala Crater.  By the time we got down off the mountain it was about 4 pm (I think?).  We were full of energy and excitement in this beautiful new (to us) world and we wanted to find a beach and go swimming.

As the map below shows, there are a LOT of beaches in Maui to choose from.

maui beaches

Again, we consulted Fodor’s guide as to his recommendations on beach sites.

His highest recommendation (in 2008) was Big Beach.  The description of it made it sound so heavenly and dreamy.  We drove and drove, passing up a multitude of beaches before we finally reached our destination.  It was now 4:45 pm.  The parking lot wasn’t full, but neither was it empty.

We walked in anticipation up the wide tree-lined sandy path that led to the beach.  Alongside us walked a young man in his board shorts with a big boogie board tucked under his (very tanned) arm.

The first thing I noticed was a large lifeguard stand.  No lifeguard was in it, since the sign underneath said they went off duty at 4:30.

Also posted on the lifeguard stand were signs like this:

shorebreak sign

(Keep in mind that these signs are posted at EVERY beach.)

Obviously, I didn’t quite understand what they meant…

We proceeded to walk up to the beachfront and look for a spot to put down our things.  As we got closer and closer to the water, I felt fear welling up in the pit of my stomach.

“Oh, my, “ I told my husband,

“these waves seem really big…umm…like kinda scary…”

At this point I was a bit mad at myself.  As a completely unathletic person, swimming is the one and only thing I’ve always loved to do.  I certainly didn’t want to find myself “afraid of the water” at this stage in life!

We found a spot at the beach that we chose to claim as our own.  On one side was a couple relaxing on their towels.  Beyond them was a family with little kids running through the shoreline surf.  Directly to the other side of us was our new “surfer dude” friend (that should have been a clue!) and beyond him was a couple up to their necks in water floating away and having the time of their lives.

I, on the other hand, was scared.

Those waves right in front of me seemed so BIG!

My husband boldly walked out and stood waist deep in the water.  As the waves came in, he just gently floated up and down with them.

“Come on,” he coaxed,

“you just have to walk out here far enough and you’ll be fine…”

I was determined not to be a fraidy cat and started tentatively into the water.

Before I could even blink, a wave had knocked me to my knees and splashed over my head.

We were laughing by now.

“Oh, great!,” I laughed,

“so much for not getting my hair wet!”

I stood up and proceeded to take a few more steps, but before I could get “far enough out” another wave was coming.

I turned my back (BIG, BIG mistake), and from the corner of my eye, I saw the next wave.

It was at least 1 foot higher than my 6 foot husband’s head.

I remembered from the one experience I had in the ocean’s waves (over 27 years ago!) that you needed to “jump” when a wave was coming.

I did.

And landed back firmly on the ground right before the wave hit me.

(Go ahead and laugh.I know it sounds funny…)

But, at the time, I was NOT laughing.

It was perhaps the most terrifying experience I’ve had in my life to date.  {The only other thing I can compare it to was the time I was in a roll-over car accident.  I was more scared under that wave at Big Beach.}

The wave slammed my face deeply into the sand and drug my body right up on to shore.

{The good news is, I found my swimsuit could successfully hold about 7 cups of sand!!}

I’d like to say that, like falling off a horse, I “got right back on” and headed back into the water.  But, I didn’t.  I was shaking like a leaf and absolutely terrified.  I couldn’t even stand to see my husband out there in those “nasty waves”.

Seeing the distress on my face, he came back in.  {Thank you, Darlin’.}

Our first beach experience didn’t last long…


I felt really stupid about my lack of “how to swim in the ocean” knowledge, and I didn’t want to leave Maui with that as my last beach memory.    A few days later, we were recalling our story  to our snorkelling guide.  He was a happy, talkative guy who loved everything about Maui.  As we told the details, he instantly got serious.

“That’s not funny,” he said,

“That’s one of the most dangerous beaches here.  In fact, we call it ‘Break Neck Beach’.  People break their necks there all the time.”

Just a tiny bit of research on the internet confirmed his statement.  (Although the “all the time” needs serious definition!Winking smile…)

I tell you this story NOT to scare you away from the beach.  Nor do I think you should avoid Big Beach.  You really should go there.  It’s beautiful!  But, we learned that it’s very important to choose the correct spot at the beach.

Watch the waves a while before you go in.  If the sand has a giant “cut” in it (like our spot did), that’s an indication that the waves break really close to shore.  Those waves, I think, belong to the surfers not “floaters” like me.

If we ever get a chance to go back to Maui, I would be more bold and ask the locals more specific guidelines as to what to look for when searching for the right swimming spot at the ocean.  There are dangerous areas and dangerous currents.  They know all about it, and I’m sure they’d be happy to share their wisdom with you.


I’m sad to say I don’t have one picture of Big Beach.  We locked our cameras in the car when we went to the water that day.  But, I’m happy to say that that wasn’t my last beach memory…

We ended up swimming again at this beach (on our last morning there):

Kannapali Beach in front of Whaler's Village

Kaanapali Beach.

It was our favorite.

We found a lovely spot and  spent as much time as could bobbing in the waves and watching the clouds…(No terrifying wave experiences were involved!)

For the other posts on our Hawaii trip, click the links below:

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  1. I had a similar experience in Maui (I can’t remember if it was Big Beach or not), but I was boogie boarding and a HUGE wave came and let’s just say that it wasn’t pretty. I did “get right back on the horse,” but the image of the huge wave approaching still shows up in my dreams! Yikes! I sure learned my lesson: Don’t mess with the ocean! (Which I should have already known as an islander) – Glad to see that you salvaged the day!

  2. Oh my!! What a scary experience! So glad it turned out okay.

    We went to Big Beach because our “tour guide” at the hotel told us about Little Beach that was just over the rocks and we had to see it for ourselves! Little beach oh my….was a nude beach! Needless to say we did not stay long – just enough to laugh a little and say we were there (hehe)!!

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