Standup paddlers flooded Maui's Maliko Gulch Saturday for the island's largest SUP event of the year, the 5th Annual OluKai Ho'olaule'a. 336 paddlers competed in the annual event's downwind race, with local paddlers defending their titles and repeating wins.
The downwind run from Maliko Gulch to Kanaha Beach Park was a grueling one, with weaker wind and swell than previous years, but local paddlers couldn’t complain as they’ve been lacking winds for the past few weeks leading up to the event. As competitors completed the 8-mile paddle, they continued the race on land, running 150 yards through soft sand to the finish, forcing many competitors to battle it out head-to-head before a crowd of spectators. Maui's Connor Baxter claimed his second overall win in two years, sealing his victory with a dramatic dive across the finish line.
"Everyone was paddling their hardest and giving me a run for my money," Baxter said. "To defend your title is always a nice feeling because you've got a huge target on your back from the year before and everyone's trying to chase you down, so I'm stoked," Baxter said.
Legendary waterman Dave Kalama took second place ahead of two-time World Champion and local Maui boy, Kai Lenny as well as elite Maui paddler, Slater Trout.
"Dinosaurs still roam!" Kalama joked as he crossed the line, making reference to his second place finish ahead of the sport's many dominant young paddlers.
Maui's favorite Brazilian transplant, Andrea Moller, took the overall win for the ladies, continuing her winning streak at the Ho'olaule'a with her fifth overall win in as many years.
"There are a lot of really good paddlers out there, so I'm really happy to win," Moller said. "I always have fun [at Ho'olaule'a] and we need events like this to help our sport grow," she added.
Talia Gangini of Maui came in second (as she did in 2011 and 2012), just ahead of local girl Devin Blish-- an impressive finish for not having paddled in nearly a month. "I haven't paddled in like three weeks and for me that's a long time, so I had to push myself even more," Gangini said.
A traditional luau wrapped up the day, with hula performances and some of Hawaii's most popular artists rocking the hale (house), including Molokai's Ekolu Kalama, Paula Fuga, and Anuhea.
Ho'olaule'a, meaning "celebration" in Hawaiian, also featured another day of downwind racing for OC-1s, -2s, and surf skis, as well as free events throughout the weekend. In honor of OluKai's Ohana Giveback program partners that are local to Maui, as well as to express gratitude to the hosting community, a family fun paddle was held at Paia Youth and Cultural Center, and canoe sailing rides were held throughout the day at Kanaha Beach Park. Proceeds from the event go to the Ohana Giveback Program, benefiting Maui Cultural Lands and Hawaii's Junior Lifeguard program. The Monday following Ho'olaule'a, Olukai employees and volunteers continue to give back, hiking into Honokowai Valley to help the Maui Cultural Lands with reforestation and archeological stabilization projects. --Shari Coble