Q&A with Maui Jim Ambassador Mariko Lum
Photo – Kahahawai Photography
Start by telling us a little bit about your background and what you’re doing today.
I was born and raised on Kaua‘i and went to a boarding high school on O‘ahu. I was flying over a lot for soccer, so it just made sense. After high school I went on to play collegiate soccer in California on an athletic scholarship. I started off at San Diego State and then transferred to Cal State Long Beach where I graduated with a degree in Kinesiology. I continued to play semi-professional for a season and we actually won a National championship.
In 2010 I moved back home to Kaua’i. I was offered a position as grad assistant coach at HPU where I would have the opportunity to coach college soccer and obtain a master’s degree. In transitioning from California back to Hawai’I I had a year at home on Kaua’i before moving back to O’ahu. Well, a lot happened in that year and I didn’t end up going back to my soccer life. I ended up getting into stand-up paddle boarding competitively right away, traveling a lot to compete and doing exactly what I said I wouldn’t do: waitress and substitute teach. Haha. But I loved it! It allowed me to make a living, travel, and compete.
The one-year mark came around quick and I decided I didn’t want to go back to my soccer life. I got married, continued stand-up paddling and took a full time position as a PE teacher. I also started my own business Adventure Fit Kaua’I, doing outdoor fitness adventures. I am now the Ho‘okipa Ambassador or hospitality manager at The Club at Kukui‘ula on the south shore of Kaua‘i. My role involves a lot of different things but the basis is to create opportunities that foster sense of community. I get to share a nourishing outdoor lifestyle, inspire people along the way, and meet some amazing people.
How did you go from soccer to stand-up paddleboarding?
My Dad started stand up paddle surfing around 2007 and when I was home from college I tried his board and just fell in love with every aspect about it. I would SUP casually when I came home or borrow boards in California but one trip home I couldn’t leave without bringing a board back to California with me. I used that board to surf small, big, beach breaks, point breaks, and even paddle distance. Haha it was versatile. Now we are spoiled with specific shapes for every discipline.
Cleaning up the beaches and the water is something you’re personally involved in. Why is that important to you?
The ocean is symbolically home to many of us, and just like your home, you must dedicate time to care for her. Ultimate water athletes make sure they find the time to give back to our natural resources and live a lifestyle that supports longevity — one of the most important things we can all commit ourselves to do is eliminate the use of single-use plastics. Beach clean ups are great for the shock affect but it is a lifestyle shift we must see. Growing your own food instead of buying packaged vegetables or supporting local farmers markets, knowing where your meat and fish come from, using reef safe sunscreen, etc. All small but huge factors in working towards preserving our oceans so that we can continue to enjoy it for generations to come.
You’ve excelled in both team sports and individual sports. Do you have a preference?
I absolutely love team sports and truly believe my involvement in them for so many years helped to shape me into the person I continue to strive towards. However, I’m not going to lie after being involved in a team sport from 4 years old to 24 years old it was nice to mix it up with an individual sport like SUP. I didn’t have to answer to anyone; no coach, no teammates, no prefixed practice schedule, no drama. For the first time I felt independence in sport and the freedom was liberating. On the contrary, the pressure to perform was all on me. I had to hold myself accountable to a training schedule, coordinate all travel and competition details, and rely on only myself on race day. I really enjoyed the change of pace after doing team sports all my life, but when we often had team relay races at events it reminded me just how much I love team sports. I absolutely love the feeling of camaraderie with fellow athletes. There is something so special about a team dynamic and that sisterhood or brotherhood you develop when you are in the heat of competition, everything is on the line, the adrenaline is going and the endorphins are firing. There is a bond that you create with people that’s indescribable.
You have become a mentor for other female water athletes. Did you have mentors growing up?
Yes, my Dad and older brother were huge athletic mentors to me growing up. They both taught me so much. I also looked up to a family friend of ours who was great friends with my older sister and acted like a big sis to me as well. She was good at everything I wanted to be good at- surfing, soccer, and basketball. Honestly when it comes to the ocean there are so many amazing water athletes in Hawai’i that I continue to soak up as much knowledge as possible from them as possible. Whether it’s observing or talking story there’s always something new to learn.
What does Aloha mean to you?
Within the word Aloha there is “Ha,” which means your breath. One day when talking about the meaning of Aloha, a Kumu said to me, “Aloha is sharing your ha, or your breath. I don’t just give my breath to anybody;” she actually advised me to do the same. She said, “that is my whole spirit. When I am giving my whole spirit to someone it is also an exchange of energy and with that comes a huge responsibility.” At first, I was honestly taken aback by this insight. My initial naïve thought process was “you’re supposed to give Aloha with no expectations, no strings attached, whether someone deserves it or not.” However, I realized Kumu did not mean you shouldn’t be friendly, rather you must be careful as to who, when, and how you give your energy because it is your whole spirit. This is when I realized we were talking about a deeper meaning of Aloha, different from the one we often casually throw around far too often.
My whole spirit revolves around well-being; it is the ocean, the outdoors, land and ocean to table lifestyle, community and ‘Ohana. So for me Aloha symbolizes Kuleana, or responsibility. I truly feel it is my kuleana to share my lifestyle with others, in a non-judgmental and modest approach. Why? Because I see how it is positively enlightens people’s lives and it reinforces my appreciation for my life as well as motivates me to continue sharing with others.
What made you interested in becoming a Maui Jim ambassador?
I absolutely love the product; ever since I was just a little kid I knew Maui Jim’s were the best sunglasses because my Dad wore them. Also, a huge draw to the company for me were the people behind the scenes making it all possible and the values rooted in the company. I’ve learned over the years it’s all about relationships and integrity. If I associate myself with someone, something, or some place, it’s because I stand behind it. The same goes for a company; if they trust you to be an ambassador or representation of their company, they trust you and believe in you not only as an athlete but as a person. It’s a commitment that I value and take very seriously. I honestly feel like family with Maui Jim and value the opportunity to be an ambassador of such a great family oriented company.