Waterwoman, Aloha Advocate
Maui Jim Ambassador Mariko Lum Talks Sports, Plastics and Preservation
From soccer star to stand-up paddleboard champion to entrepreneur to hospitality ambassador: What could possibly be next for Hawaii native Mariko Lum? Whatever adventures lie ahead, chances are they’ll revolve around one — or all — of her first loves: sports, water and giving back.
A soccer player from an early age, Mariko earned a scholarship to play at San Diego State University, transferred to Cal State Long Beach to finish her degree, turned semi-pro for a year and won a national championship. In 2010, she returned to Kaua‘i and jumped from the soccer pitch back into the water where she’s always felt most at home.
“I got into competitive stand-up paddleboarding right away, at the forefront of the sport growing,” she says. I called it my “competitive rebound” after my soccer career. I went hard for about 5 years competing on the APP World tour, doing races and sup surfing competitions around the world, training for M20 crossings, rough water river racing, and a once in a lifetime amazon trip introducing SUP’s to scientists studying the McCall bird. I was extremely fortunate to be able to travel all around the world and establish lifelong friendships with another sport just like I experienced with soccer. About 3 years ago my old soccer injuries surfaced to a point where I had to dedicate time to focusing on my over all well being so I could continue to be active for the rest of my life. This prompted me to give Stand up paddling a break, try other water sports, but primarily focus my energy on training with Functional Patterns, which has completely changed my life for the better.
At the end of the day for me it’s about maximizing fun on the water and being able to move in space without pain The Maui Jim Ocean Fest was a huge inspiration for being open to trying different water sports and adopting a love for other watersports including ones I never thought I would: surf ski and prone paddling. Now I enjoy mixing it up and competing on the outrigger canoe as well as foil, and who knows what’s next. Depending the ocean conditions, you can find me on my canoe, surf ski, SUP, foil, prone paddle board, surfboard, or maybe on the jet ski towing or diving with my husband.
Photos – Kahahawai Photography
Mariko parlayed her water-sports success into a business — Adventure Fit Kaua‘i — which she and her husband, Kainoa, founded as a way to encourage locals and active travelers to respectfully use the island as a state-of-the-art fitness training facility. She also serves as the Ho‘okipa (hospitality) Ambassador for The Club at Kukui‘ula on Kaua‘i’s south shore, bringing her love of outdoor adventure and inspiring people along the way.
“You see plastic on our beaches and in the ocean more than ever before, and scientists are even finding it in our foods and water,” Mariko says. “It’s a serious issue, and it’s going to take a collective lifestyle change — I think something in our control that we can contribute to the longevity of our oceans is making a commitment to stop using single-use plastics, avoid buying pre- packaged goods, eating locally sourced food, starting a garden— to make sure we can preserve the ocean and continue to enjoy it for generations to come.”
It’s a lifestyle that ties directly into Mariko’s definition of Aloha.
“My uncle once told me, ‘We are very fortunate to have grown up here doing these ocean sports like surfing, paddling, canoe surfing; but most of the people who come to visit Hawaii weren’t as lucky to have grown up enjoying this lifestyle. So we have a responsibility to share it with them and teach them,’” she says. That conversation hit me hard and made me look at “hospitality” very differently. I relate it to the concept of having a cure for cancer, it would be selfish of me not to share it with the world. Job descriptions a side, it’s in my DNA; you don’t leave my house without going home with something and being fed. I really believe sharing my lifestyle, a way of life that many of us locals have been fortunate to enjoy is my kuleana. I’ve experienced how it positively impacts people’s live’s for the better and when gratitude and vulnerability is present it motivates me to continue to share. In the process, education of the Hawaiian as well as local Hawai’I culture is a key component for me. It’s not just about adventure, it’s about mutual respect, community, and safety.
Follow Mariko on Instagram to see her advocacy in action, then check out our extended Q&A for more of her thoughts on Aloha, mentoring younger athletes, the differences between team and individual sports, and why she’s proud to be a Maui Jim ambassador.