Heather Ganis is a beachcomber from Lahaina, Hawaii. She spent a good portion of her childhood on the coast of Northern California, walking on the beach with her grandmother, who collected beautiful shells while Heather collected sea glass. Heather says her grandmother’s love of the beach is what started her own passion for beach combing.
Heather is now a mother of three, and married to her best friend (who, surprisingly, does not like the beach). When she’s not at the beach, Heather works at a fun and beachy surf shop, and part-time in her church bookstore. She also practices hula!
Heather collects everything on her Hawaiian beaches—shells, sea glass, pottery, bottles, fossils, quartz, agates, and all sorts of other treasures. To uncover her beachcombing finds, she’s hiked, scaled lava cliff sides, snorkeled, and swam into coves.
Heather now visits the beach about three or four times a week, though there were times in her life when she’d go daily, and times when she’d only be able to go once a month. While her husband, kids, or friends will sometimes join her, Heather considers her beach time as her “me time.” Her favorite time of day to search is sunrise and sunset, and her favorite time of year is any time with big ocean swells.
“When I first started shelling in Hawaii, I found a beach that was always full of shells washing in. I would be the only one there in the morning except for an older local ‘Uncle’ who lived nearby,” Heather says. “At first he wouldn’t talk to me much, but over a few weeks he started to open up to me.” Heather and he started to wave at each other, then share their finds with each other, and then he started to tell Heather stories about growing up shelling, sharing his knowledge of the ocean with her.
“We would talk to each other in town, and we became very close,” continues Heather. “He shared many stories of Hawaii and its amazing people with me and taught me all about the true meaning of aloha.
He passed away a few years ago, and still when I am at the beach and find a rare or special find I know Uncle is smiling and admiring it right along with me.”
Heather’s favorite finds are a frosty sea glass fish, giant leopard cone shells, and a huge shooter sea marble. Though she displays her finds in vases, bottles, and dishes around the house, most of her collection are stored in cupboards and closets. She plans to move soon, and to set aside an area entirely dedicated to her treasures. Heather’s bucket list for beach treasures includes a perfect sunrise shell or a sea glass float.
“About a year ago I started finding chunks of what looked like crystal or quartz. I knew that wasn’t common here, and I wasn’t sure what I was collecting but I started picking them up because they were so pretty. Some are hollow and full of tiny sparkly crystals like a geode, and some shine like fire inside when you hold them to the light. I recently found out they are volcanic quartz! Super neat, and a fun find most people on Maui don’t even know exists.”
Today, Heather beachcombs in Hawaii, California, Oregon, and Washington state. In the future, she wants to travel to Thailand, Sanibel Island (Florida), Ten Thousand Islands (Florida), Davenport (California), and Seaham (England).
Heather creates stunning beach scenes with sea glass and shells, and posts beautiful photos on Instagram @mauibelle, where she has nearly 40,000 followers. In the future, she hopes to make greeting cards, puzzles, and prints out of her photos.
“The items I collect hold memories of the places I have been, what the weather or day was like when I found them, who I was with, and what was going on in my life at the time I found them.”
If you’re in Lahaina, Heather recommends snorkeling, hiking, surfing, paddle boarding, or really anything that involves nature—it’s Hawaii, after all. She says that visitors should also visit town, climb a volcano, horseback ride, helicopter ride, watch a hula show, and learn to make a lei.
If you’re hungry, Heather recommends Mala, Moku Roots, Monkey Pod, Aloha Joy food truck, Ono Tacos, Cool Cats Cafe, Hali’imaile General Store, Leoda’s, Maui’s Beach House, Down the Hatch, and the Sly Mongoose.
Heather says the Maui Ocean Center is a must-see for people curious about local ocean life, as well as the Humpback Whale Sanctuary. If you’re looking to help take care of the planet, Heather recommends doing a beach clean up with the Surfrider Foundation.
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine January/February 2020 issue.