Travel Diary: Maui Through the Eyes of a Photographer and Poet

If you’re in need of a vacation…

08.11.16

Written by Jacqueline Suskin, photographed by Shelby Duncan.

My mother is a self-proclaimed island child. When I was eight years old, we moved to the Florida Keys. Her vision of paradise: trailer parks, fresh lobster, bare feet and bikinis. Her island inspiration rubbed off on me and I’ve been a water baby ever since.

When Jeffery, my dear old friend, asked us to go to Maui, I said yes without a second thought and invited my best friend, photographer Shelby Duncan, to join. It was a promise of the ultimate Island getaway: papaya, perfectly clear water and every shade of sand imaginable. Jeffery, our travel benefactor, is a collector of creativity. He’s been funding artists in Maui for years. Like no one I’ve ever known, Jeffery is willing to bet on the muse.

I filled my suitcase with my mother’s bathing suits — her spirit and travel stories woven into every thread. This is my favorite thing about vintage clothes: each piece holds history. Whether it’s my mother’s story or some stranger’s, the magic of old clothes is in the tales they tell. Shelby is from Reno; her own style mimics the sweet 70s vibe of her mother with feathered blonde hair and high-waisted bell-bottoms. We both tend to mirror the past, keeping the beauty of our mothers alive, drawn toward styles that stay steady over time.

Our 11-day adventure took us down the winding road to Hana, into bamboo forests where we split coconuts and collected jars of precious black sand. Maui is a paused place caught in slow-pace perfection. Waves and sweet fruit became our language. Every day we belonged to a new beach. We were usually naked. We moved from one roadside stand to the next, devouring shave ice, conversing about politics with locals who passionately work to preserve the culture of this special land that stretches its lava fields as far as the ocean allows. They call the island “Mother Maui” and this stuck with us, this sense that we were indeed nurtured and cared for by the island itself.

One day, while soaking in an illuminated tide pool, I looked at myself floating in the clear cool water, wearing my mother’s bikini, and I saw her body reflecting back at me. I looked up and saw Shelby swimming nearby, her big hoop earrings and bright hair piled high on her head, and I saw her mother there as well. A sense of belonging came over me in this place where I would normally feel like an interloper from the mainland. The island instigated nostalgia, a connection with what my mother always knew to be the good life, and I was filled with a deep understanding of why people are so drawn to this remote string of volcanoes in the middle of the ocean. Hawaii sucked us in, soothed us deeply, and turned us away to come home with a deep appreciation of the power of place. My mother looked through the photos of our travels and simply said, “My love, you’re doing it right.”

Follow Jacqueline @jsuskin and Shelby @shelbyduncan on Instagram.

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  • Aydan

    ahhhhhhhhh that was transporting (as I flash back to reality of sitting in the office)

    • Shelby Duncan

      : ) get there girl!

  • mmmmon

    Love this. ❤️

    And it’s mother’s day in thailand. Perfect read for today.

    • Shelby Duncan

      Huge smile to this! Thank uuu!

  • such great photos!!

    • Shelby Duncan

      Thank you Ciara!!!

  • Jean Chen
    • Shelby Duncan

      Thank you Jean! Happy you enjoyed it! : )

  • dk

    Exploring the wild while naked! It looks so much fun. You have had a great time! Also the sequins pants on slide 15, I want those sooo bad.

  • Yvonne Dunlevie

    These photos are seriously amazing. End comment.

    • Shelby Duncan

      thankyouthankyouthankyou : )

  • Greer Clarke

    These women are SO cool

    • Greer Clarke

      Also, butt-clench/10

      • Greer Clarke

        waaaaaiiit I WANT THE SEQUIN BIKINIS

      • Shelby Duncan

        ohhhh y e s !

    • Shelby Duncan

      ahhhhh blushing!! Thank you : )

  • Anna Maydanik

    On what camera were these beautiful photos taken?

  • aahhh this is so cool ! to read and to see. It just makes me want to be naked on a beach !
    Your writting is so poetic as well, it brings us exactly where you were, incredible.
    we mant more !!

  • what gorgeous photos & writing!! just added hawaii to my list! 🙂

  • Maia

    Stupendous shots. Makes me want to visit so badly!

  • P

    These photos are to die for!! If you don’t mind me asking which camera did you use to take these pics? 🙂

  • risci_travieza

    looooooooooooooooooooooong ass time reader, first time contributor!
    I LOVE photo travel diaries. And this post had the best of both worlds, with the treat of fashion flare that most travel posts lack.
    Some of these shots belong in a summer editorial catalog. They are divine. And the writing is killer!!!! “Hawaii sucked us in, soothed us deeply, and turned us away to come home with a deep appreciation of the power of place.”MAN REPELLER thank you for delivering the goods. Always.

  • Beatrice

    Wow wow woweeee. Has to be one of my all time favorite Man Repeller posts. The photos, the writing. Divine…. Bravo! Apparently I need a flight to Maui, stat.

  • Erin Felton

    can you give an actually itinerary of the places you visited, heading maui soon and everywhere looks so amaze!

  • B Mattoon

    Never remove sand from the Hawaiian beaches. It’s called stealing! Glad you had a great time in Hawaii. Respect our customs and beware of mosquitoes

  • tara

    Narcissistic. Where’s the island? These photos could have been taken in Orlando.