Annabel Anderson on her way to her first OluKai Ho’olaule’a win in very tricky conditions. Photo: Erik Aeder

Anderson, Casey Win 2017 OluKai Ho’olaule’a

Kiwi Annabel Anderson and Australian James Casey both took their inaugural OluKai Ho’olaule’a wins today on the north shore of Maui in a strange, wet and windy race.

Race organizers postponed the race yesterday—which is usually a joyful downwinder from Maliko Gulch to Kanaha Beach Park— due to heavy winds and rain, hoping that this morning would be a little friendlier. That was not to be. Organizers consulted with the likes of Danny Ching, Andrea Moller, Travis Grant and Connor Baxter to come up with a solution; they settled on a six-mile course race on the inside of the reefs at Kanaha. Even that turned out to be too much with the weather this morning. Head of safety Archie Kalepa made the right call to run a three-mile course before the racers took off at nine into 15-20 mile-per-hour onshore winds.

"That was tricky,” Casey said with a big Aussie smile. “It was crosswind pretty much the whole way. You headed up and you thought, 'OK, I'm punching into the wind and the way back would be downwind.' You turned the can and it was still real technical crosswind.”

Casey smiles as he closes out his first major international win. It will certainly not be his last. Photo: Aeder

Casey won the Paddle IMUA race last year in eerily similar conditions and is quickly making himself known as a threat when the ocean is unruly. That, and he raved about unlimited, dugout-cockpit Sunova board. “I was catching bumps going upwind,” he said.

Anderson—who was riding a similar board to Casey—is also no slouch when it comes to paddling in weather, either.

“This a standard day of summer's racing in New Zealand this year,” she said. “We had so many tropical storms and cyclones come down and it was victory at sea. Good preparation for OluKai 2017 today!”

Anderson said she fell off her board and lost the lead several times and had to battle back against 2016 Ho’o champion Sonni Honscheid, who would settle for second. Young Californian paddlers Jade Howson and Kali’a Alexiou took third and fourth, respectively, while OluKai queen Andrea Moller, who had to sit out last year’s race with an injury, ended in fifth.

After 24 hours of straight rain that saw uprooted trees, road closures due to football-field sized puddles and heavy onshore winds, locals and visitors were all skeptical that the race would run at all. But, in a true show of passion for the sport, paddlers showed up in force and battled it out.

That included men’s podium stalwarts Danny Ching (2nd) and Travis Grant (3rd). Mo Freitas finished in fourth and five-time consecutive OluKai Ho’o winner Connor Baxter had to settle for fifth at his pet event, although we’d bet if this had been a smoking Maliko run he still would have been at the front of the pack.

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More OluKai Ho’olaule’a.

Men’s Top Five

James Casey – 37:12

Danny Ching – 37:48

Travis Grant – 38:33

Mo Freitas – 39:41

Connor Baxter – 40:33

Women’s Top Five

Annabel Anderson – 44:14

Sonni Honscheid – 45:12

Jade Howson – 51:20

Kali’a Alexiou – 52:31

Andrea Moller – 53:40