Maui’s Hawaiian Island Surf and Sport (HISS) opened in 1983. When its original owner, Len Cappe, retired in 2012, he sold the shop to his long-time business partner Dennis O’Donnell, who first joined HISS in 1986. We caught up with O’Donnell, who shared some of his experience and insights about Maui’s strong SUP scene with us. — Tom Fucigna
SUP mag: What’s your background and when did you first get into standup?
O’Donnell: I grew up on the east coast and was involved in many different sports. After graduating from Penn State with a Business Marketing degree in 1984, I moved to Maui. I learned windsurfing just as the sport was taking off around the world, and I would go surfing if the winds were too light to sail. I first tried SUP in 2005, mostly on the North Shore of Maui.
SUP mag: When did you get into the SUP market?
O’Donnell: We sold our first retail SUP board in 2005 – it was hand-shaped by Wayne Cochran. It became obvious very quickly that this new sport was going to take off globally, because it appeals to such wide demographics.
SUP mag: Tell us about your location and some of your favorite paddling spots.
O’Donnell: People from all over the world come to Maui to enjoy the stunning views and clear, warm water. Some of the greatest SUP athletes in the world live here, including Dave Kalama and Laird Hamilton, as well as Connor Baxter, Kai Lenny and Andrea Moller.
We have dozens of beaches to launch from, and there are perfect areas for flat water cruising, plus surf spots with waves from tiny to large. The Maliko to Kahului Harbor 9.5-mile downwind run has become world famous, and the Westside has “Thousand Peaks,” which is a five mile stretch of many breaks for wave riding, especially in the summer time.
SUP mag: What do your SUP customers like?
O’Donnell: Our customers use SUP for exercise and fitness including Yoga, endurance training and weight loss, plus anything from fly fishing or whale watching to socializing, and just generally bonding with the power of the ocean.
SUP mag: Do you offer SUP classes or tours?
O’Donnell: Yes, we do offer a SUP class, but honestly 99% of renters forego any instructions, versus kiteboarding and windsurfing, where 99% do take at least one lesson. We don’t offer any fitness classes or tours, as Maui County ocean/beach rules require specific permits to conduct any type of “instruction.” These permits are extremely limited and very hard to get. The schools we use have permits for surfing, kiting and windsurfing, with SUP being taught only at a few limited beaches. We do offer all our renters and board purchasers a free “dry land” mini-clinic at our shop. This seems to be all most customers need to have fun and be safe.
SUP mag: What brands of gear do you carry?
O’Donnell: We’re a full-service ocean sports shop specializing in anything and everything related to surfing, SUP, windsurfing, kiteboarding, skim boarding, bodyboarding, and snorkeling. We also have an outstanding selection of boardshorts, swimwear and much more.
For paddles, we stock Werner, Ke Nalu, Hawaiian Island Surfboards, and Makai SUP Maui. We have everything including ultra-light race paddles, all-carbon, fiberglass and aluminum, and they’re available in one, two or even three pieces for traveling. We also have many SUP accessories from Dakine, Chinook, NSI and GoPro.
SUP mag: What size, or types, of boards have been popular, and what’s the latest trend?
O’Donnell: Because the sport appeals to such a wide variety of customers, we carry boards from under 8 feet to over 14-foot race boards. We have also started bringing in inflatable SUPs, which are perfect for those traveling or with limited storage space. We have a very large rental fleet, and offer a “try-to-buy” program which is very popular.
SUP mag: What about accessories?
O’Donnell: The downwinder or channel-crossing paddlers all like hydration packs.
Padded blade and paddle covers, and padded boardbags help protect your investment. GoPro cameras mounted on board, head or paddle are also popular.
SUP mag: How has standup paddling integrated into the local surf lineup?
O’Donnell: When SUP boards first started showing up back in 2005 and 2006, there was some concern about how they would blend with the existing water users. Certain locations like Honolua Bay or Ho’okipa beach are pretty much considered non-SUP, but outer reefs like Kanaha and Spreckelsville are perfect for SUP. As more traditional surfers have started trying, and liking, SUP the sport has become more accepted. We explain to all of our renters and customers about the need to share our ocean resources with ALL water enthusiasts.
SUP mag: Are many of your customers into multiple water sports?
O’Donnell: I would say the majority of our customers enjoy many different water sports. Maui is a very windy location, so a lot of us still windsurf or kiteboard. We also have a lot of people who like to dive, snorkel or swim every day.
SUP mag: Do you find first-timers gravitating towards SUP as an entry point to water sports and surfing?
O’Donnell: Since the learning curve of SUP is pretty fast, yes, we are seeing customers who like the simplicity of this sport. They feel safe and comfortable standing on a big, wide stable board.
SUP mag: Where do you think the SUP market is headed?
O’Donnell: I think the SUP market will continue to grow as the health and stress-relief benefits become even more known. Almost every lake, river, reservoir, ocean or other body of water around the world can be used for SUP.
Board and paddle building technology will continue to improve, making things lighter, stronger and less expensive. Inflatable board technology is also improving dramatically, opening up even more opportunities.
SUP mag: What else would you like our readers to know about your shop or location?
O’Donnell: Every person on our staff is passionate about the ocean. We love sharing our 30 years of Maui knowledge and aloha with anyone that comes in to our shop. We are here to help make the sport safe and fun for everyone. This commitment is one of the reasons that Hawaiian Island Surf and Sport has been voted “The Best of Maui: Standup Paddleboarding Shop” by Maui Time magazine five years in a row!