Connor Baxter from the 10th Annual Duke’s OceanFest

The Duke’s OceanFest is held every August in Waikiki. The week-long festival is a celebration in honor of Hawaiian waterman Duke Kahanamoku. Various ocean events take place over the seven days from tandem surfing to surf polo. Competitive standup paddler Connor Baxter was there to take part in the festivities. Here’s a recap from his weekend at the 10th Annual Duke’s OceanFest:

Duke’s OceanFest is one of the events I haven’t missed since I started standup paddling. It’s just an all around great beach week with family and friends. Although the events started on Wednesday, my first event, the Surf Race, was on Friday. The Surf Race was run in six-man heats and the top three competitors of each heat advanced to the next round. I managed to get two 1st places in my first two heats and made it to the finals.

When it came to the finals I knew what I had to do . As soon as the horn blew, I hit the water and quickly got up to my feet. I paddled hard and made it to the first buoy in second place. After rounding it and heading to the next buoy, three of us caught the same wave in. I was on the inside, so I rounded the second buoy and made it out of there first. I was still in front as I went into the final buoy turn, but once the other paddlers and I rounded it, all of us caught the same wave again. I was neck and neck with the other guys and knew I had to get a little gap on them because if I didn’t, we would all be hitting the beach at the same time.

When we got closer to the beach, I paddled as hard as I could and was able to get over a little bump in front of us. I was the first to hit the beach and came in first place. It was a super fun race – and the top 24 of us had qualified for the Paddle Surfing event, which was held immediately after.

Paddling out for my first heat, the waves were pretty small, but still looked fun. I ended up winning my first heat and advanced. My second heat was really inconsistent, so I knew I had to be more aggressive. I caught one good wave, but I needed another. With only a little time left in the heat, a set came in. I caught a wave and rode it all the way into the beach, advancing again, but this time to the semi-finals. I couldn’t believe the next heat was even smaller— I think only five waves came in. I managed to catch one of them, but the clock ran out and I didn’t advance to the finals. Regardless of my loss in the semi-finals I was incredibly happy with my results and slept like a rock that night.

The next day was the long distance race from Hawaii Kai to Waikiki. There wasn’t much wind, but it looked like it would still be a fun race. I started off a bit behind, but once we hit the wind line I started to catch back up. Three of us were pretty even for almost half the race. I knew I had to make a move to get in front, so I paddled hard and started to make a gap on them. When I got to Diamond Head, Aaron Napoleon was right behind me. The final 2 miles of the race were really difficult because we were paddling directly into the wind. I ended up being the first to the beach. This was a fantastic event and I can’t wait till next year.

Mahalo to all the event organizers and volunteers. And especially, my sponsors.

– Connor Baxter