by Ashley Stepanek
Dustin Tester is a petite powerhouse
photo by Erik Aeder
of a woman, a dynamic combination of muscular grit and girlish charm. She holds a degree in wilderness therapy, used to work as a rock-climbing guide, loves whitewater rafting, kayaking, soccer. But what she really is is a surfer. She first caught the bug when she paddled out in Launiupoko as an eight-year-old; now, some two decades later, she is the founder and director of Maui Surfer Girls (MSG), a surf school led by an all-female team.
The mission of MSG is to get people into the ocean, up on boards and feeling comfortable about being there. The school started five years ago to teach the sport to teenage girls; Dustin’s goal was to help her students gain self-confidence in their bodies and, by extension, self-confidence in their lives. "Catching a wave is sometimes easy, and other times you get tossed," she says. "The lesson is: You have to get back on and keep paddling for the next opportunity."
MSG now also provides coed and private lessons. On a recent day on Maui’s south shore, Dustin was teaching: She picked each of her students a board, then led all to the water’s edge. Safety first, she urged, cautioning against jumping off the board and onto the shallow reef and warning of wana, sea urchins with sharp spines. A twig served as a pen, the sand as paper, as Dustin drew the center of a wave cresting to its peak ("the sweet spot," as she called it). "Paddle out the channel to the peak, where you’ll sit in the line-up," she said. "Attune your eyes to picking out the right wave."
Boards were thrown down in hip-deep water, and students paddled unsteadily against the current, teeter-tottering to the channel. Lined up at the peak, they made fledgling attempts to catch waves. Some were too early, some too late, some wiped out. Then, ever so suddenly, with act-of-God timing, one was aloft, carried in an exhilarating rush of wave, wind and water. It was brief, but the new surfer wore a big smile, held her head a little higher—and paddled back out for more.
Maui Surfer Girls