The vibe at Maui’s Maliko Gulch, the start of the 2014 Olukai Ho’olaule’a, was somewhat subdued Saturday morning. Three hundred paddlers stretched, filled up hydration packs and prepared for the eight-mile paddle west to Kanaha Beach Park. The low-key vibe was thanks to the anticipation of a slog due to a poor wind forecast, conditions that had created glassy, windless paddling all week, the bane of most Maui locals.
But then the race started. And miraculously, so did the wind, picking up to 15 knots, allowing for some solid glides through the first three quarters of the course. And Maui locals Connor Baxter and Andrea Moller pounced, taking advantage of the conditions, both winning with healthy leads. “After the Carolina Cup (where he finished outside the top ten) I was just tired from traveling a lot and wasn’t there mentally or physically, I definitely wanted to try and prove a point today,” Baxter said, winning his second Ho’olaule’a in a row.
“This is home, I’m lucky to live here,” said Moller, who hasn’t lost a Ho’olaule’a race in the six year history of the event. “No matter what, you can always find a bump out there.” Moller, a cross-over athlete, was recently nominated for an XXL Award for her big-wave surfing skills.
Sonni Honscheid finished a minute behind Moller followed by Talia Decoite. Travis Grant finished two minutes behind Baxter, followed by Maui local Jeremy Riggs. Many of the competitors grappled with board choices during the week. Grant posted on Facebook asking to borrow a flatwater board because the conditions were so glassy. “I had a hard time deciding between my (SIC) Bullet 17 or a board with less rocker,” said Honscheid.
Kody Kerbox, Danny Ching and Livio Menelau finished 4,5,6 respectively while Rachel Bruntsch, Kelsa Gabehart and Penelope Strickland finished the same for the Elite women. Click here for full results.
One of the most inspirational moments of the day came when Wounded Warrior Kimo Akaka, an ex-Navy seal who suffered a stroke that left him a paraplegic, finished the race to a rousing ovation from both competitors and spectators with the help of Archie Kelapa after paddling prone, one-handed for nearly four hours. “In 2011, after I awoke from being flat lined for nearly 15 minutes, I promised myself that I would never miss another day in the ocean,” Akaka wrote for the Olukai blog. “OluKai’s race is something I’ve always wanted to do.”
Following the race, the crowd gathered at Kanaha for music, food and the fantastic festivities that have come to define the Ho’olaule’a as one of standup paddling’s finest races. “This is a great event,” said Moller. “I look forward to it every year.”
Watch interviews with Andrea Moller and Connor Baxter:
Photos by Nate Volk
Check for the recap video later this week at SUPthemag.com
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