As the sun begins to set each evening over West Maui, a tradition begun in 1963 — the ceremonial dive off Black Rock — continues at the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa.
The first hotel on now-busy Kaanapali Beach, the Sheraton Maui sits on 23 beachfront acres. It welcomed its first guests at the end of January in 1963, inviting them to witness the cliff dive that has become the resort's signature celebration.
Late each afternoon (the sunset time doesn't vary much throughout the year in Hawaii), people gather along the beach and at the hotel's Cliff Dive Grill to watch a young man dash across the black lava, torch in hand, before tossing his flowing lei into the ocean and making the 30-foot dive.
"The idea is to shoot out as far as you can … and do a half-turn with your body," Lopaka Kealiinohomoku, 20, said in an interview. Now a "torch captain" who trains others to make the dive, the Maui native has been performing the ritual since he was 17.
"I always knew I wanted to do that someday," he said.
According to legend, Kahekili, the last of Maui's ancient chiefs, took the plunge to prove his spiritual strength. The specific site, once thought to be a portal to the afterlife, remains sacred to native Hawaiians.
Some tour boats time their sailings so they can idle offshore to provide their passengers with a great vantage point for the modern-day dives.
To celebrate its anniversary, the hotel has begun a $26-million renovation project. Its 508 rooms and suites are being redecorated with colors that evoke the shades of Maui, as well as neighboring Lanai and Molokai. The face-lift is expected to be completed this summer.
Info: Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa, 2605 Kaanapali Parkway, Lahaina, Maui, (808) 661-0031