History and Predictions: OluKai Ho’olauleʻa
The seventh annual OluKai Ho’olauleʻa is the largest SUP event on Maui, with hundreds of local and international paddlers. And, for the past six 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. And this weekend, after a few years of mediocre wind conditions for the event, it looks like the we’ll have a great breeze. It’ll make a great race even better.
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 six-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 has been able to touch the reigning champ. The only female athlete that we think may be able to match her is Sonni Honscheid, who is coming off a big second place finish at the Carolina Cup last weekend and is a top-notch downwind paddler (she did win M20 last year.
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 the shaper behind SIC Maui’s revered shapes, 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’o, ahead of 2010 defending champion, Menelau, and set a course record to top off his big win. All will be threats in this weekend’s windy conditions.
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. The year before last, 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. Last year, Baxter made it a resounding three in a row. He’s the definite favorite.
That said, Grant took a huge win at the Carolina Cup last weekend and has been second here the past two years in a row. He’ll definitely be challenging Baxter tomorrow.
As we look forward to the seventh 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
For more information, visit: OluKai.com