Big Wins at the Annual OluKai Ho’olauleʻa
The annual OluKai Ho’olauleʻa is the largest SUP event on Maui, with hundreds of local and international paddlers. And, for the past five years, some of the biggest names in standup paddling have taken to the eight-mile downwind run, known as ‘the Maliko’ to test their abilities and bump-run with Maui locals as well as legendary ocean athletes. If there’s one thing that’s certain about the Ho’olauleʻa SUP race, it’s that past winners always return, and are always ready to defend their titles.
From the first annual Ho’olauleʻa back in 2009, top ocean athletes like Dave Kalama and Andrea Moller have conquered the downwind course that runs from outside Maliko Gulch (just a few miles west of the infamous big wave break, Jaws) to Kanaha Beach Park. With the exception of Jamie Mitchell’s decade of dominance at the Molokai-2-Oahu (M2O), we have yet to see another paddle athlete reign victorious year after year at a single event like the consecutive five-time Ho’olauleʻa champion, Andrea Moller. Each year, the Maui local from Brazil has smoked the competition, usually bettering her course record, and then returns the following day to win the OC1 race on the same stretch of open ocean. She’s gone head-to-head with strong standup competitors like Theresa Felgate, 2012 M2O champion Talia Decoite and Devin Blish, but no female competitor at the annual OluKai Ho’olauleʻa can touch the reigning champ.
Simply put, Moller cannot be stopped from bump-running to victory at Ho’olauleʻa, regardless of what paddle craft she rides. Though it might help that the Maliko run is a training ground for her and some of Maui’s top paddlers, or that she is also a badass big wave surfer and all-around waterwoman that has an unnaturally keen sense of the ocean, we’re chalking it up to the fact that Moller always comes to the Ho’olauleʻa excited and ready to dig deep to take her title once again.
While Moller has dominated the women’s side of Ho’olauleʻa each year, the men’s side has seen a whole host of top-notch paddlers taking the podium. As we mentioned, at the first annual event legendary Hawaiian waterman Dave Kalama set the standard, taking the victory ahead of Maui SUP-shaper Mark Raaphorst. Kalama returned in 2010 to defend his title, finishing third to Brazilian-turned-Maui-local Livio Menelau and second place Danny Ching (who came back to win the OC1 race the day following). Oahu-native and five-time M2O champ Kai Bartlett paddled to a victory at the 2011 Ho’olauleʻa, ahead of 2010 defending champion, Menelau, and set a course record to top off his big win.
By 2012, Maui’s ‘young guns’ brought an extra edge to the competition, pushing the course time and the pack of past winners. Champion paddler and Maui local Connor Baxter became a force on the Ho’olauleʻa course, taking the coveted victory in 2012 ahead of World Champs Travis Grant and Ching. Last year, Baxter came back with vengeance and sealed the repeat win with a dramatic dive across the finish line ahead of the legendary Kalama, and his rival, World Champion paddler Kai Lenny.
As we look forward to the sixth annual OluKai Ho’olauleʻa, we can tell it’s going to be another historic year with crushing victories and upsets, and plenty of excitement for all. —Shari Coble