The north shore town of Paia, Maui is now over 103 years old and boasts a history alive with diversity and accomplishment. The birth of the town can be traced back to the opening of the Paia Store in 1896. The real roots however, go further back to the creation of the plantation camps which housed workers of the Paia Sugar Mill which up until 2000 was Maui’s oldest operating plantation. The mill opened in 1880 and the store was eventually built to support the needs of the immigrant sugar workers.
The sugar mill’s success attracted workers from many different cultures and races who came to work in the mill or nearby cane fields. Many people of varied backgrounds converged in Paia and the history of the town was written. Paia’s people were a mix of Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean Puerto Ricans, Portuguese, and Native Hawaiian who lived and worked together in harmony.
The town continued to grow throughout the early 1900’s building schools, churches, stores and a hospital. The population also continued to grow and during this period, the population of Paia was more than 10,000 people, comprising over one-fifth of Maui’s entire population.
Paia did have its share of disasters. The first was a catastrophic fire that broke out in July 1930 and devastated the town. The flames ripped through Paia destroying the majority of the structures and left more than 150 homeless. Relief groups were organized and the people came together to rebuild their home better than it was before.
In April 1946, Paia experienced the largest tsunami in Hawaii’s recorded history, which was the result of an earthquake originating in the Aleutian Islands. Although 159 people lost their lives throughout the Hawaiian Islands, Paia only had one death. The town did suffer extremely extensive property damage and thus Paia launched into another rebuilding period.
After Paia’s rebuilding, workers in the Paia Sugar Mill which was the majority of the population began to abandon “camp life” which had been the lifestyle of the sugar workers since the beginnings of the plantation. They moved to Kahului (then called “Dream City”) and Wailuku where they could buy their own homes. People were encouraged to make this move and the town’s population rapidly decreased to 1,500. The camps were gone and more cane fields were planted in their former locations.
In 1978 a group of young guys discovered the perfect windsurf conditions at Ho’okipa Beach Park in Paia. From that day forth, Paia began to develop its reputation for being the “Windsurf Capital of the World”. As word quickly spread, in the ’80’s and ’90’s Paia saw an influx of windsurf enthusiasts from around the world searching for the windsurf mecca they had heard countless stories about. Many of them moved to the Paia area.
Today Paia continues to grow with all different people moving in from throughout the world. Paia has seen countless changes in the past 10 years and as change is inevitable will continue to do so in the future. Hopefully our town will remain the quaint “country town” it has become.