Issue 20.3: June/July 2017
Native Intelligence: Maui

The Water Gardeners

Story by Shannon Wianecki. Photos by Mallory Roe.

Twenty-five years ago, windsurfing lured two French business students to Hawai‘i. Carine Camboulives and her partner Manu Bouvet found perfect waves on Maui’s north shore but very little infrastructure to support traveling surfers and windsurfers. The entrepreneurial couple launched a travel agency to help fellow wave riders find sports equipment and accommodations close to the best surf breaks.

The French expats became fixtures at Ho‘okipa, a windsurfing mecca, and soon turned pro, sponsored by BIC Sport and NeilPryde. Rather than compete in contests, they travel in search of new waves, documenting their adventures on video. With two daughters in tow, they explore off-the-radar surf spots in far-flung places such as Zanzibar, Rapa Nui and the Marshall Islands, putting a spotlight on environmental issues as they go (you can see their windsurfing adventure videos on YouTube).

After ten years on the road, Camboulives and Bouvet decided to set down roots—literally. They bought an aquaculture farm in Ha‘ikū, not far from Ho‘okipa. They started Maui Water Lily Farm in 2003, selling aquatic flowers and installing water gardens in hotels and private residences. Now, with the farm well established, the family is free to travel again in search of waves.

The farm to which they return couldn’t be more serene. Giant dragonflies dart past pink blooms sprouting from three large ponds. Mosaic plants spread across the water’s surface like rainbow fractals. Pond frogs moo periodically like cattle. “It’s a whole ecosystem with fish, frogs and algae to oxygenate the pond,” says Camboulives. The mosquito fish provide an essential service: They gobble up the mosquitoes. Water lilies have a rhythm; they open and close with the sun. This confused one client, who called in distress. “My flowers died!” she said. “No,” Camboulives reassured her. “They’re just sleeping.”

The couple’s inexperience didn’t dissuade them from diving into aquaculture. “We come from Paris, so we know how to work hard,” laughs Camboulives. They sought help from the farm’s former owner and the steady stream of European windsurfers who tend the farm in exchange for lodging. They also learned from their customers. To prevent the water lilies from snapping shut during weddings, local florist Asa Ige doused them with everything from hair spray to boiling wax. Camboulives was skeptical at first, but Ige’s doctoring has kept the lilies open long enough for many a marriage vow to be recited.