A native of Ashland, Oregon, Micah Wolf is now a permanent resident of Maui. After opening the first location of his snorkel equipment rental store, the Storkel Store, in Lahaina in 2012, Wolf now has now has three locations on the island.
According to Wolf, Oregonians are a permanent and ubiquitous presence on Maui. "It was spring break here last week," he says. "Literally, seven out of ten people I talked to were from Oregon!"
We called up Wolf on a dreary winter day here in Portland to ask him about Maui's draw, skorkeling, and the underwater sights.
Why so many Portlanders on Maui?
The weather, obviously. And there’s a geographical thing, it’s close to access. But Hawaii, in general, has an appeal. It's very liberal to a certain extent. People in the Northwest really enjoy the outdoors, exploring and hiking, and obviously Hawaii provides a lot of that. People are interested in doing healthy things.
Why did you get into the snorkeling business?
Out of all the activities [you can do here] it’s the easiest thing to do. You don’t have to wait in line, you can go whenever you want. It’s the most affordable thing to do. For people who want to go off the beaten path and plan their own day, snorkeling seems to be a good fit for that. You can go on an adventure, do a little hike, go down to the beach, get in the water. Exploring the natural beauty that Maui has to offer, getting out there and getting immersed in a bamboo forest or waterfall. A big part of Hawaii is the water aspect. I think there’s a connection there with Portland, which is close to the river.
We’re making money because Maui is a very beautiful place and people want to come here. But like any recreational area if it’s not taken care of and respected, and there’s not some long term thinking and it’s just about short-term profit, then we have the potential to degrade the reefs and make it so it’s not such a beautiful place to play. That’s the other thing we’re focusing on, is being involved locally at a grass-roots level to make sure we protect the reef.
Where are your favorite snorkeling spots?
Like on Mount Hood, it’s based on the conditions. And it can change from day to day. The most popular spots—Honolua Bay, a beautiful marine reserve, massive amounts of fish, for example—someone can find on their own. But the LA Times just did an article on our Snorkel Safari, where you go out with a local guide—a world-class free diver. They take max six people. It’s a very private, intimate thing.
Last week, it happened to be raining, and unless someone lived here they wouldn’t have known where to go. But there’s all these micro-climates here. Ten minutes south, it was completely glassy and sunny. So the guides know the conditions so they can tailor something to the group.
What’s the holy grail below the water?
There’s a thing that happens on the Snorkel Safari, that we can’t guarantee. But most of the time, the snorkel guide will go down to the bottom of the ocean and will grab some kind of sea creature, like an octopus, or red slate pencil urchin, and bring them up in a safe way that doesn’t harm them. And it allows the snorkeler to touch it, hold it. It’s something we try to do every tour.
And everyone wants to see a green sea turtle. And there’s a lot. You’re not allowed to touch them or bother them, but it’s something you can check out. I have some Hawaiian friends who are just amazed at how many sea turtles there are right now.
For more information, visit thesnorkelstore.com.