Unless you’re a native or a windsurfer, you may have never heard of Paia Hawaii. This small but welcoming town on the Northshore of Maui has a long and rich history dating back more than 100 years.
Situated on the northern coast of Maui, this small town is a favorite of visitors, both for windsurfing and as a place to stop on The Road To Hana.
With less than 3,000 residents, this charming town appeals to visitors with a wide range of spots and incredible beaches still surrounded by sugar cane. This modern city keeps its diverse history intact, and many of the old sugar plantation buildings are still standing.
What Does Paia Mean?
The word literally means “noisy.” The city began as a small Polynesian village by the sea along Maui’s upwind coast. This Hawaiian term was chosen because of the loudness of the waves that came across an offshore reef. When the waves came at the right size and direction, the sound was quite loud. Visitors and residents alike called it “paia.”
Today, Paia is still “noisy” as a bustling tourist and beach town, as well as the business center for its diverse Hawaiian society. It’s a thriving city that not only serves the needs of the community as well as its visitors, but preserves and protects Paia’s unique and colorful history.
The Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co.
Paia’s history begins in 1870 with the planting of the first sugar cane crop by Samuel Thomas Alexander and Henry Perrine Baldwin. Their initial 12 acres became nearly 600 acres, and the mill opened 10 years later.
The immigrant sugar workers were a diverse group. In addition to Native Hawaiians, workers were also Portuguese, Korean, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, and Puerto Rican. That diversity is still reflected today in the city.
Paia, Hawaii formally became a town when the workers needed facilities. Plantation camps came first for the workers, followed by a store in 1896. A hospital, schools, churches, and more stores followed, and the population eventually grew to 10,000, a full one-fifth of Maui’s total population.
Disasters And Difficulties
In July of 1930, a fire destroyed much of the town’s structures, and over 150 people were homeless. The people banded together and rebuilt the town, even better than it was before.
A tsunami in April of 1946 caused more extensive damage that required rebuilding in Paia. Started by an earthquake in the Aleutian Islands, it was the largest tsunami in Hawaii’s recorded history.
After this second rebuild of Paia, workers began migrating out of the area and into Wailuku and Kahului (called “Dream City” at the time) so that they could buy their own homes. Abandoning the fields, the mill and the camps, Paia’s population rapidly decreased to about 1,500. The camps were then replaced with more planted sugar cane.
In the late 1970’s, windsurfers discovered that Paia’s Ho’okipa Beach Park had ideal windsurfing conditions. Word spread and the area grew with enthusiasts in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and many moved here permanently. Paia became known as the “Windsurf Capital of the World.”
Today Paia still enjoys visits from windsurfing fans as well as tourists who want to find a beautiful beach or take the drive on The Road To Hana. You’ll find local businesses, including restaurants, boutiques and shops as well as restaurants with a diverse menu of local favorites.
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