Connor Baxter, Andrea Moller win Olukai Ho’olaule’a

At the pinnacle of standup is the downwind run, combining every skill in the sport, from paddling, to surfing to seamanship. And one of the most classic downwind runs in all of paddling is the Maliko run on Maui’s north shore.

So it is only fitting that this classic run is honored with an equally classy event, the Olukai Ho’olaule’a. The sport’s best showed up on Maui to compete as young phenom Connor Baxter took the men’s Elite title ahead of Australia’s Travis Grant, California’s Danny Ching, Hawaii’s Dave Kalama and Jamie Mitchell (Australia). “It was a great run,” Baxter said. “They were calling for no wind and we showed up to the beach and it was on. The start was mayhem. I got caught behind a little bit and battled with Danny (Ching) and Dave (Kalama) and then just put my head down and hammered.” Baxter was recovering from a serious cold that forced him to go on oxygen and take an ambulance ride after last week’s Waikiki Paddle Festival on Oahu.

Grant surprised the local downwind crew, and himself, by finishing second behind Baxter. “Halfway through the run the conditions changed and I was able to put a few surfs together,” said Grant, whose posted a string of impressive finishes. Last week he won the Waikiki Paddle Festival. “I was pumped to be able to finish where I did. Especially with how many good paddlers there were out there.”

Winds create the open-ocean swell that racers are then able to surf to the finish line. The stronger the winds, the bigger the bumps. The winds on Saturday weren’t as big as they can get, but there was still some swell for competitors to link rides, bump-to-bump. Most of the Open Elite racers used unlimited boards up to 18 feet with rudders they controlled with their toes. Two-hundred and eighty racers showed up to fill the Rec class, age divisions and Elite classes.

Andrea Moller continued to dominate her home training grounds, taking home her fourth consecutive Olukai title ahead of Talia Gangini (who finished second as she did in 2011) and Devin Blish. “It was fun,” said Moller. “It’s now a lot of pressure to come here every year and win this race. But these are my kind of conditions. I do this run (a lot), I live on Maui. There’s so many people here and you see all kinds of athletes, from the top standup athletes to people who just want to have fun. There’s money and it’s equal for men and women. The Olukai event is one of the best events out there, in my opinion.”

This is the fourth Olukai Ho’olaule’a and it’s become a tradition on Maui as the Olukai team has worked to assimilate itself into the community. The Ho’olaule’a features standup racing, traditional canoe racing, fun paddles for the family and this year, on Saturday night, standup paddler and musician Ekolu Kalama rocked the crowd at Kanaha Beach Park. “We couldn’t be more proud how this turned out,” said Olukai’s Matt Till. “The vision of the event was to get everyone out: from elite paddlers, to families, to people who’ve just started paddling. Plus help the community. It’s been a great day.”

Proceeds from the race go to the Ohana Giveback Program benefiting Maui Cultural Lands and Hawaii’s Junior Lifeguard program. The Monday following the event, Olukai employees and volunteers travel to the Honokowai Valley to help with reforestation and archeological stabilization projects with the Maui Cultural Lands group.–Joe Carberry

Look for the Olukai Ho’olaule’a on SUPthemag.com’s Wednesday Voice.

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