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Maui Wave Riders

Surf school ‘ohana lives aloha.

February 18, 2010
Scott Broadbent

The Castletons are proving every career counselor’s contention that to be happy, “Do what you love.” They have turned their passion for surfing into a thriving business. And they feel blessed to share their love with others.

“Surfing is the most exhilarating thing a human can do,” said Tommy. “The thrill of catching the perfect wave is addictive. It captures you and you want more. There is no bigger rush.”

Maui Wave Riders (MWR) started small, “out of the back of a van with 13 surfboards,” said Tommy. Today, MWR has two locations in Kīhei and one in Lahaina with about 40 full-time, part-time and on-call instructors.

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Their passion for surfing has sparked a thriving business.

Appropriately, Tommy and Alisa met on the beach. Both were raised in San Clemente, Calif., and were introduced by a mutual friend in ninth grade in the late 1970s.  They were sweethearts at San Clemente High School before drifting their separate ways—Alisa to college in San Diego and Tommy to a job that would shape his future—as a worker bee for Surfer Magazine, which Tommy calls the “bible” of surfing.

While “empting trash and cleaning toilets,” he was befriended by World Champion surfer Corky Carroll. “Corky took me under his wing,” said Tommy.

Before long, Tommy, who began surfing at age 12, was being invited to photo shoots for Surfer Magazine and other publications. He secured a few sponsors, became a professional surfer and traveled to exotic locations like Indonesia for photo shoots. But a trip to O‘ahu changed his life. One taste of the legendary waves on O‘ahu’s North Shore and he was hooked.

For the next five years, “I was all about surfing Pipeline,” he said. “I think Pipeline is still the best wave on the planet.”

Tommy honed his surfing skills, attended Chaminade University, then returned to San Clemente. One day, he decided to check in with his old girlfriend’s family. “He called and I answered,” said Alisa. “We hadn’t spoken in three-and-a-half years. One year later, we were married.”

The Castletons spent several years working for a wetsuit company, scrimped and saved and embarked on an epic adventure, traveling and surfing the waves of Mexico, Fiji, Australia, Indonesia and Tahiti. When they returned, Tommy’s mother, who had moved to Maui, invited them for a visit. They were captivated by Maui’s beauty and made it their mission to live here.

For nearly four years, Tommy taught surfing at Maui Surfing School in Lahaina. In 1996, son Noa, who has become an excellent surfer in his own right, was born.

“For years my mom was saying, ‘Why don’t you just open your own surfing school?’” said Tommy. So in 1997, they bought that first van and set up shop. Maui Wave Riders was born.

Alisa, who admits to being slightly less obsessed with surfing than Tommy, handles scheduling, financial matters and administrative functions. Tommy deals with purchasing, personnel and marketing—coining the phrase that MWR caters to “beginners and cowards.” The Castletons say they are fortunate to have the support of an incredible staff.

Over the years, MWR has taught the rich and famous and their families to surf. Among them: Jeff Bridges, Serena Williams, Eli Manning, Danny DeVito, and recently, members of the cast of the reality show “Little People, Big World. “We try to accommodate everyone,” said Alisa. “We have taught autistic kids and visually and hearing impaired people.”

“The majority of our instructors are Hawaiian,” said Tommy. “They love to share their aloha spirit and truly respect the ocean.” Others come from Mexico, Samoa and New Zealand, as well as the Mainland.

The Castletons acquired a family property near their current location at 2021 South Kīhei Road, where they are planning to build a 3,600-square-foot Hawaiian-style building for their business and a tenant. They hope to begin construction this summer and open in 2011.

Alisa said they feel very fortunate to do what they do. “We really see our business as a surfing ‘ohana,” she said. “We want everyone to be part of our family. We are pleased when students tell us learning to surf was the highlight of their vacation.”

“We have taught people from three-and-a-half years old to people in their 80s,” added Tommy. “We truly believe surfing changes lives.”



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