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Chuck after a 5k Color Run. (Photo: Chuck Spence)
Who: Chuck Spence, 59. I was a banker on Wall Street in charge of the sales division of ING for its trading rooms in the Americas. Working on a trading floor is indeed a very high-stress position but one that I really loved doing. But I knew I wanted to live on the island of Maui from the first moment I stepped onto her rich soil 36 years ago.
Why: I came to Maui for the first time in 1978, and the spirituality and magic of the island and its people spoke to me. As a gay man, I knew that I ultimately wanted to operate a business that I owned and one that catered to the LGBT community. That’s why I opened the Maui Sunseeker LGBT Resort.
Where: Maui. All of Hawaii is amazingly beautiful, but even the Hawaiians say “Maui no ka oi” (“Maui is the best”). It’s not just the weather or breathtaking beauty, but more so the people here really caring about other people.
The Maui Sunseeker LGBT Resort (Photo: Chuck Spence)
The cost: Money is not the issue here, even though it is a very expensive place to live. Anyone can move here, but they have to adjust their lifestyle accordingly. The highest cost anyone can pay is moving away from good friends and loved ones. That’s really hard and the true cost.
How I did it: In order to open the resort, I saved and invested wisely. Knowing back in 1978 that this is a dream I wanted to live, I had to plan for a way to finance it. Sure, I had nice things along the way and was truly blessed, but if you really want to make a dream come true, you’ve got to forgo silly decisions and stop trying to keep up with the Joneses.
Overcoming Fear: No matter how old or experienced you are in business, you always have fears. My fear isn’t about failure or not being successful. I can always take care of myself and be happy. My fear is taking care of all the mouths of employees and their families that depend on this business’s success and cash flow. I guess it is like being the ‘breadwinner’ in a family. As a gay man, I’ve never had the ability to experience that until recently with marriage equality. But owning a business is like caring for a family, only it’s exponential.
How I changed: A lot for the better. I went from being a morbidly obese and highly stressed, single gay man in Manhattan with a heart condition to becoming a hotelier on an amazing tropical island who can now run a 5K nonstop in my 59th year. I’ve refocused my energy and lost 50 pounds, and I finally found someone really special to share love and life with.
Chuck at a Pride event in Hawaii. (Photo: Chuck Spence)
What I learned: One of the most important lessons I learned from working on a trading floor is timing. Secondary to that is patience and strategy. Look at what is happening around you, in the economy, in the business trends and, most importantly, in your personal life before you spend any money of significance or make drastic changes.
The hardest part: Don’t think it’s all plumeria and jasmine here — it’s not. Owning your own business can be extremely stressful, because you now have whole families to keep fed. But by listening to the spirit of the island and feeling the love of the people, I allowed it to change my priorities.
Travel inspiration: My spirit and its dreams and my inner voice. Period.
Why I love Maui: I’ve gone from waking up to the sound of garbage trucks and clanking dumpster lids to mourning doves and rainbows.
What I don’t love: The choking smell of a large corporation selfishly burning sugar cane in the field to harvest it cheaply. Even Third World countries don’t burn their cane in the fields — it’s not necessary. This isn’t an everyday occurrence, but when it does occur, it’s like living in hell. This is the only place in the entire USA where this still occurs, and it has to change!
Where I live: In an apartment at the Maui Sunseeker Hotel and Resort that I own. It’s not a penthouse at the St. Regis, but that’s the whole point, isn’t it?
Best sight: Rainbows all over the island, and that’s not because it’s a gay icon. They are mystical and plentiful here and so beautiful.
A rainbow captured from the Sunseeker Resort. (Photo: Chuck Spence)
Secret address (hot spot nobody knows about): Sunset from the Sunseeker rooftop. The sun tucks in behind the island of Lanai for most of the evenings throughout the year and paints a different scene every night.
Off-the-beaten-path find: Little Beach, founded by hippies of the ’60s who came from their communes to party every Sunday at Drum Circle. And it still occurs every Sunday, rain or shine.
Top 3 tips for traveling to Maui/Hawaii:
1) Hike through Kipahulu National Park. You start at the “seven pools” of Hana, then hike two miles through an amazing bamboo forest and end at one of the most beautiful waterfalls and swimming holes.
2) Sunrise on Haleakala is so enlightening. When the sun bursts above the horizon at the crack of dawn, you suddenly realize you are well above the clouds but still standing on this planet.
3) Mama’s Fish House before sunset. Yes this is a magical location that is bank account-depleting, but so worth it.
Chuck gets to watch this sunset every night. (Photo: Chuck Spence)
Most memorable/unusual meal: Veal picatta at Saltimbocca in Maalaea Harbor at sunset.
Most memorable night out: Maui Pride’s Lava Soiree Party is just magical!
Favorite souvenir: Finding whole dried coconuts painted by local artists that you can mail like a postcard. They’re such great fun to send to the mainland.
A quiet afternoon: Sailing on the Ali’i Nui Catamaran and sipping Champagne with friends
Parting thoughts: Love your life wherever you are. If you can’t be blessed to live in a paradise right now, find it around you or carry the memories of Maui with you.
WATCH: A Travel Guide to Maui