Midlife Crisis in Maui

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I turned 40 this month, that dreadful age that divides the old from the young. I have gained 14 pounds over the past few years. A few white strands play peek-a-boo with me while I blow dry my hair each morning. I have been feeling entirely unsexy and, well, just plain old. If you’re going to have one, you might as well have your midlife crisis in Maui. This is what I told myself and how I convinced my husband to let me jet off to Hawaii for five nights of me-time before my big birthday while he stayed home on childcare and puppy duty.

Catching a wave and over-coming fears in Maui

Catching a wave and over-coming fears in Maui (Photo credit: Maui Surfer Girls)

Am I invisible already?

In New York Time Food Critic Ruth Reichl’s memoir, Garlic and Sapphires, Reichl calls upon the aid of a friend to help her design disguises lest she be recognized and given special treatment in restaurants. In developing an elderly woman’s costume, her friend tells her this get-up will be especially effective because, “Nobody notices old ladies.”

During my flight to the Valley Isle to confront my fears of aging, these words came back to me in a flood. First, one flight attendant asked everyone in my row if they wanted a drink. Everyone but me, that is. I had to flag her down and ask for my Coke Zero.

A few minutes later a different flight attendant offered up food for purchase to all of the passengers, skipping me. It was already happening. I thought, “I am not even 40 yet, and I’m already invisible.”

Dustin Tester, Maui Surfer Girls founder and surf instructor

Dustin Tester, Maui Surfer Girls founder and surf instructor

What was I trying to prove and to whom?

I signed up for my second-ever surfing lesson in Maui. The last one took place a few years ago in Huntington Beach, California; it was successful because I got up on the board on my first wave and a few subsequent ones. That first lesson was a disappointment, however, because the waves were junk and I wasn’t ever up long enough to get in a good ride. I remembered the experience as exhausting, terrifying, nausea-inducing and elating…all at once.

My Hawaiian surf lesson took place with four other journalists, all of whom are naturally much more adventurous than I, and three of whom are younger than I am. Maui Surfer Girls Owner Dustin Tester, a petite blond woman (who recently turned 40 herself) and Sharky, a laidback male instructor, showed us how to do pop-ups on our surf boards on the sand before we paddled out into the ocean.

As I waited for my first wave with Dustin behind me, shouting at me to paddle, self-doubt swirled in my head. I questioned what in the world I was doing out here. Hadn’t I already attempted surfing? Wasn’t once enough? What was I trying to prove and to whom?

The wave came and I got up onto my knees instead of pulling myself into a standing position. I chickened out. Then it occurred to me that I was riding the wave on my knees and this didn’t seem so bad—maybe I could do this surfing thing after all. I attempted to stand but I fell ungracefully into the water.

I paddled back out and a few waves later Sharky swam over to me and asked if I was ready to try again. “Yes,” I lied.

“Paddle, paddle, paddle!” he yelled. “Arms up! Pop up! Look up and smile!” And there I was surfing and staring at the shore. And smiling.

I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone during this trip, I suppose to prove to myself that I could still have adventures, still grow as a person and take on new challenges.

Stand up paddle boards in Maui

Stand up paddle boards (What?! Did you think I was actually going to post one of those terrible photos of myself?!)

What should I focus on?

After the lesson, I asked Dustin why she started her surf school 13 years prior. She told me her dad had taught her to surf when she was 7 years old and she was tired of being the only girl in the line-up. She wanted to have some other women to surf with.

Although her surf school happily teaches men, women and children how to surf, Dustin beamed when she spoke of her all-girl surf camps. She said, “Surfing teaches girls that they can do more than they thought they could. It helps them to become less self-critical about how their bodies look and to focus more on what their bodies can accomplish.”

The next day I embarked on a stand up paddle board lesson along with one other writer; a 26-year-old gal who looks smokin’ hot in a bikini. Since it was very windy that morning with choppy waves, our surfer dude instructors Patrick and Jessie with Island Style Adventures Surf School told us we could paddle on our knees or while sitting for a few minutes until we got closer to a natural rock breaker where the water would be calmer before we attempted to stand on our boards. But after a minute or so in the water, Patrick said, “If you’re feeling brave go ahead and stand up.”

With wobbling legs, I stood, careful to keep my eyes focused on the shore and my legs centered on the board per Patrick’s instructions so I wouldn’t fall. I paddled along at a fast clip, my young companion trailing far behind me. I kept thinking about Dustin’s words from yesterday and told myself to focus not on my flabby belly but on the strength of my arms as they dug through the water, my core as it kept me steady, and the muscles in my legs that allowed me to stand on this Styrofoam board atop a wavy ocean.

The Road to Hana

The Road to Hana

What if I could still rock a bikini?

Back at the surf shop, photos from our paddle boarding tour rotated on a television screen. The man behind the counter asked if we wanted to purchase the photos. All of my confidence on the water drifted away as I saw myself in the pictures—my tummy hanging over my bikini bottom, my thighs ballooning out, my knees bent too deeply—I looked like such an old mom. After years of being the skinny girl who could eat whatever I wanted without worry, I said, “I’ll buy the CD if you take down those horrible pictures of me.”

Halfway back to the hotel I realized I’d forgotten my towel so I went back to retrieve it from the surf school. The man who sold me the CD said, “Hey, we were just talking about you. I was saying that you’re really too hard on yourself.”

Nonetheless, that afternoon I walked from my condominium resort, Kaanapali Alii to Whaler’s Village shopping center and purchased a tankini to better hide my imperfect body.

That night I went out to a local bar with two male journalists and a couple of female PR reps. One of the guys bought the first round for everyone…besides me. It was probably just an oversight, but it stung. I was back to invisible again.

A friendly reminder to smile at the Garden of Eden botanical gardens along the Road to Hana

A friendly reminder to smile at the Garden of Eden botanical garden along the Road to Hana

What if we all hung loose a little more?

The next day I left Kaanapali for a solo trip to Hana, a small town that is home to 2,800 residents, a few restaurants, two mini grocery stores, and not much else. I drove carefully along the winding, fruit stand- and waterfall-bedecked famous Road to Hana. I slowed before rounding a blind turn to cross a one-way bridge and then had to dodge a speeding pickup full of local boys. My immediate reaction was anger. I hissed inside my air-conditioned rental car, “What the heck* are you doing?” (*I may have used stronger language than this.) But then the teens leaned out the window of their beat-up truck as they whipped past me, smiling and shaking their hands in the friendly Hawaiian hang-loose gesture. I immediately softened.

After a couple of mellow days in Hana, I drove back to the other side of Maui. This time I drove faster, with more confidence. I waved at every car as we took turns pulling to the side on one-lane stretches of the two-way road. I smiled when they waved back or they threw a hang-loose sign my way. I sang along loudly to pop songs and stopped often, taking photos of the gorgeous scenery, thankful to experience this beautiful slice of the world.

Sometimes the other drivers didn’t wave. I looked at the faces of those non-waving souls and saw stress and worry and anger in them. “Oh,” I thought, “they aren’t locals. What they need is a few nights in Hana to take away all that pain.”

It’s been a few weeks since my trip to Maui but I can’t shake Hana. I wave to people in my neighborhood when I’m out for a morning jog or an afternoon walk with my dogs. Sometimes my neighbors wave back, but often they don’t. I keep waving though, willing Maui’s spirit back to me.

Read more about my Maui trip in Finding Myself on a Horse in Hana.

Where have you been that you were able to truly relax and reflect? Let us know in the comments below!

A Note from The Travel Mama: My trip to Maui was sponsored by VisitMaui.com, the Hula Grill, the Kaanapali Alii Resort, and Hana-Maui Resort. All opinions are mine, as always. All photos by Colleen Lanin unless otherwise noted.

About Colleen Lanin

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

  1. If you’re going to have a mid-life crisis, Maui is the place to do it. Amazing trip!

  2. Kate - Catching Up With Kate says

    I turn 35 this year…. I think I need to go to Maui too! It looks like it was an awesome trip and it is always good to have some time with your thoughts =)

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Kate – You still have five years to enjoy your 30s, girlfriend! Of course, a trip to Maui would be a spectacular way to celebrate ANY birthday!

  3. I had my 40 year old crisis last year so I can totally relate to this post. So awesome that you tried surfing again and SUPing. I have never been brave enough to try either. but both my daughters have SUped and I am going to encourage them to surf too. I love what the instructor said about caring less about what you look like and more on what your body can accomplish. Powerful!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Mama Mary – I hope you will try surfing and SUP! I suggest surfing first because then SUP will seem like a cake walk!

  4. Yes, I know exactly how you feel, except that now that I’m facing the big five-oh in the near future, 40 looks pretty good to me. Thank goodness for the restorative power of special places! I’m feeling great after a few days back in the Virgin Islands. Who knows? By the time I’m sixty, maybe I’ll feel good enough to flaunt a purple bikini. It could happen.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Sandra – You look fabulous for almost 50, my friend! I remember seeing a photo of you in a swimsuit when you were very pregnant once upon a time and you rocked that suit! I think you should brave the purple bikini. Or at least a tankini!

  5. I’m close behind you and haven’t figured out how I feel about it all yet. For me, that all too short weekend in Tossa de Mar, Spain was the most relaxed I have been in ages- and I think you know how I feel about moms in bikinis! I hear you though- but then again, we ARE too hard on ourselves to begin with. I might be 38- but I sure as heck don’t feel like an ‘old mom’!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Farrah – That’s because you’re not an “old mom”…I am! 😉 Actually, I still feel young and awesome on the inside but then I see photos of myself and it’s a reality check. Maybe if I cut down on the wine and chocolate. But what is life without wine and chocolate?!

  6. You have always been incredibly sexy and nothing has changed. I know you’re writing about how you feel, and I commend you for your bravery in that regard, but if you think you’re not sexy you’re wrong…crazy maybe…but definitely not not sexy.

  7. Claudia Laroye, The Curious Travel Mama says

    Congrats again on your big 4-0! You’re older, but wiser, prettier and stronger than you were in your 30s – trust! And good choice with Maui. See, you’re already so wise! 😉

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Thank you for your kind words, Claudia! I will get used to this being 40 thing sooner or later!

  8. I turned 40 this year too. I went to Seattle to celebrate, where I did not have to wear a bathing suit!! Interestingly, when my husband turned 40 three years ago, he took a surf class in Oahu, and has surfed every day since then!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Amanda – Good choice in selecting a destination where swimsuits aren’t required! 😉 I think it’s awesome that your husband starting surfing regularly in his 40s! I don’t think I’ll follow suit, but I still think it’s awesome!

  9. You are too hard on yourself! But I don’t blame you, society is hard on women/aging. Getting older is an accomplishment, something to celebrate. 40 is young, but you survived this long and you have wisdom to share. I at 32, am starting to feel some of those same things because I’m not in my twenties anymore.

    But who cares? Do I want to be in my twenties? NO. WAY, Love the age you are. At 80, you’re going to be like damn, 40 is sooo young. 🙂

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      AmandaH – You are so right. I also hated turning 30 and now I look back and think, “What was wrong with me? My 30s were fantastic!” I really think these life crises are about mourning the loss of a specific time in our lives. We all need to enjoy who are TODAY…and who we are going to be tomorrow too!

  10. I turn 40 in March. I think I want to go to Maui.

  11. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

    Katie – I highly recommend heading to Maui for your 40th! It’s a wonderful place to confront your fears and celebrate your life!

  12. Oh I miss Maui. My retirement place

  13. wanderingeducators says

    LOVE this!! and yes – glad you found your path – to hana, and a sporty outlook on your 40s! 🙂

  14. What a great way to celebrate a milestone birthday!

  15. Linda Anne says

    I agree that an awesome destination is a great place for a milestone birthday! I just turned 60 and went to St John (USVI) to celebrate. I learned to SUP in Maui last April and did it every day in Great Cruz Bay while in the VI. I don’t wear a bikini any more and wish I had less of a tummy (despite having no kids, gravity has not been my friend), but I’m comfortable in my own skin. Age is just a number and getting older sure beats the alternative!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      So true, Linda Anne! I love that you are celebrating life with travel and adventures like learning to SUP!

  16. Sharkymaui1@gmail.com says

    Aloha Collen! Mahalo nui loa for having fun with us and…smiling…never to old for that! Being a surfer has no age discrimination! I taught my grandmother to surf at the age of 84! It is all about “CAN”! Millions of people will never ride a wave. I hope to see you again so we can take it to the next level!
    A hui ho’u! (untill next time)

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Thanks much for stopping by and commenting, Sharky! Surfing with you and Dustin was awesome!

  17. Kate Schuhl says

    Colleen, you rock!!! Wow what a fantastic trip, your blog post is fabulous, you are such a great writer, I felt like I was there! Been to Maui once and didn’t want to leave, so gorgeous there! I can’t believe you surfed and you did fantastic, Congrats! I love Phil for holding down the fort so you could take advantage of such a treat! Love reading your blog and I love knowing such a celebrity who is not only a woman but a Super Woman, Super Mom, Super Wife, and just Super! You inspire me to get out there and live my life to the fullest, and I need that reminder every now and then! And please, you are NOT old, you are gonna love your 40’s, Good times! Love to all the family! And Happy Spring! xoxo

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Kate – you are too sweet, as always! Thank you for your very kind words. I don’t know about being Super anything, but I am so glad to serve as inspiration to you to live your life to the fullest. Yay!

  18. I love this story-such a good reminder of the importance of being kind to ourselves and finding ways to let go–and I agree- I cannot think of a better locale!

  19. Wow, I read your post and thought “Why didn’t I think of celebrating my 40th birthday in Maui?” I agree, if you have to turn 40 or have a mid-life crisis, why can’t it happen somewhere really fantastic?

    I can’t think of one place over others where I have truly relaxed, but I have had that experience several times when visiting the ocean- both Atlantic and Pacific coast. Not a beach full of people, but a beach that is nearly deserted where I’m free to walk the length of the beach, dipping my toes in the water, taking in the fresh scent of the ocean air, clearing my head and just being and reflecting. I can’t wait until my next trip to the coast.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Tonya – I so agree that the ocean is such a relaxing place to just be and reflect. My favorite time of the year to visit the ocean in my current hometown of San Diego is winter. It’s too cold for swimming, but the tourists are gone and it’s so beautiful and peaceful. Thank you for stopping by & commenting!

  20. Michele {Malaysian Meanders} says

    I really like that you went on this trip by yourself. For some reason, I assumed that a trip to Maui would include kids or at least a husband, but I like that you took time to focus on you. I sometimes feel as if I’m the “old one,” probably because I keep hanging around women who are younger than me. I should probably rephrase it mentally as the “experienced one.” Dustin has a great philosophy. It reminds me of a quote I read from Jennifer Lawrence about bodies being functional, not ornamental.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Michele – I highly recommend a solo trip to Maui, and to Hana in particular. I hadn’t heard that quote from Jennifer Lawrence but I’m going to remember it the next time I am being overly critical of my body!

  21. You are not invisible! Love the quote by Dustin of Maui Surfer Girls – attending their overnight camp for women on Maui (at age 37!) changed my life as well! A week with no kids, just surfing and hiking and getting massages – I’ve already signed up for the next camp – June 2016! Hope you can join us.

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