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Fleming and Windmill Beaches

D. T. Fleming Beach is located just makai (toward the sea) from the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua. Interestingly, in 2006 it was ranked number one in the world by Dr. Stephen Leatherman, who is currently the director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University. He is also known as Dr. Beach for his annual ranking of the nation's beaches.

In 1991, Kapalua Beach was rated number one. Note that Kapalua has not been downgraded — Dr. Beach's rules "retire" the number-one selection so that it is not in the running in subsequent years. Further, since 1991 was the first year he created his list, I conclude that by his criteria, Kapalua Beach is the best beach in the country.

Since I have not visited all the beaches in the U.S. (no doubt, a worthy ambition), I will limit "B. David's Best" accolate to those in the 50th state. By my criteria, it is my favorite popular, accessible beach in all of Hawai`i. However, there are some such as Polihua Beach on Lana`i and Papohaku Beach on Moloka`i that deserve special consideration even though they may be difficult to get to or not visited by hoards of beachgoers.


Back to Fleming Beach — it has one advantage that is rare on Maui — a lifeguard stand with lifeguards on duty. And with good reason, check out the advisory posted on the stand. In fact, these warnings are so ominous that I wonder why anyone who is not a great swimmer or surfer would enter the water here.

And if you did not check out the advisory sign, you could not miss the red flags planted in the sand. Note that these flag are quite tattered — suggesting that these flags have been planted here frequently and that the winds are brisk.

The waves in these photos do not look so threatening — compared to the monsters that hit beaches like the Banzai Pipeline on the north shore of O`ahu or Jaws Beach on the road to Hana, Maui. However, the shore break can break a body surfer's back and the currents can drag you out to sea. So, be careful.

Note that the people above are all using bogie boards and those to the right are on full surfboards. The further right you go at this beach, the more skillful you have to be. Me, I just stand on the beach and take photos of those braver and more experienced than myself.

And just then I saw this little girl on a bogie board with her mom. I'll bet these folks are local — and this little one has probably spent more time in the ocean in her young life than I have. Cute, huh?

Somehow, this image captures Fleming Beach better than anything — beauty and danger at the same time.

Moving along the shoreline road, one encounters Pulalau Beach which is also known as Windmill Beach because of an old windmill that drew water for the Honolua Ranch. It is long gone.

It is a beach with a mixture of sand, shells, coral and lava but very picturesque. In the winter you will find many surfers seeking the wave break produced by a ridge that extends about a mile off shore.

There is a dirt road that climbs down from the main road but which I would recommend you avoid unless you have a 4WD vehicle. Walking is a perfectly acceptable way to get to the beach. But do check out the view straight down — very special.

Down at beach level, the view is also awesome. And you will not be climbing over hundreds of bodies to find your special spot. On this beautiful day there was only this couple on the entire beach.

In the other direction (toward Fleming Beach) I noticed a helicopter — "noticed" is probably not the correct word since it is hard to ignore the noise of a helicopter even over the sound of breaking waves.

As I continued to observe what was going on, I noticed a few people standing on the rock outcropping below and to the right of the helicopter.

Eventually, I concluded that this was police helicopter since they were lowering someone down into the cove below — you can see two others already down there. My guess was a rescue but it turns out that they were recovering the body of a surfer. I learned later that he had gone out surfing those big winter waves that I mentioned above. When he failed to return home, his family alerted authorities. His body was later spotted by fishermen in a boat off this dangerous spot. 'Tis a pity. But at least he left this world doing what he loved to do.

Like Fleming Beach — beauty and danger at the same time.

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com