2017 OluKai Ho’olaule’a Gallery, Recap and Results
The Saturday that the 2017 OluKai Ho’olaule’a was supposed to run was miserable. The word we heard used most to describe the rain was “biblical.” Trees were strewn across the highways, football-field-size puddles closed down streets and the ocean was a frothy, muddy mess. The call came as early as race organizers felt comfortable: there would be no race today. There might be a race tomorrow.
We went down to Maliko Gulch to see how bad it was. What is usually one of the happiest places in Maui looked miserable--and nearly empty. A rental van had slid off the side of the lot while the owner stood out in the rain like a stray cat waiting for the tow truck to do their duty. Waist-high chocolatey waves broke right where hundreds of paddlers would have been paddling out. The wind was blowing directly into the valley and didn’t look like it was going to let up.
Multiple locals we spoke with posited this theory: when it rains very hard on the island, livestock such as chicken and goats are carried into waterways by landslides. Those creeks and rivers then flow into the ocean where creatures of the sea, specifically tiger sharks, are drawn to these outflows for some fast-food chicken nuggets or jerked goat.
True or not, paddling the Maliko run in lashing rain, 15-20 mph head/sidewind and a few feet of swell didn’t really sound that appetizing, tiger sharks or not.
So, paddlers ready to race the eight-mile stretch of the north shore from Maliko Gulch to Kanaha Beach Park paced in their hotel rooms, at local shops and under the awnings at poke stands, their starting-line energy weighing them down as the rain continued to fall. Sunday might bring salvation.
We awoke to more rain. But was it lighter? Did the sun appear to be trying to come out? It seemed so.
The SUP race would be on at nine a.m. OluKai organizers, including head of safety and legendary Hawaiian waterman Archie Kalepa, had conferred with Danny Ching, Andrea Moller, Travis Grant and Connor Baxter to talk about race solutions in the dismal conditions. They’d decided on a six-mile course race inside the reef at Kanaha. But the weather returned in force and a last-minute call was made to only do one three-mile lap of the course: it would just be too painful otherwise.
A smattering of trashbag-wearing, bare-footed, boardshort-clad spectators huddled in the lee of the trees at Kanaha Beach Park as those hearty racers that had not left for their flights or been deterred by the rain took off into a 15-20 knot onshore wind that was strong enough to sting your eyes.
James Casey, Danny Ching, Travis Grant and Connor Baxter made a quick break for it in the side-upwind conditions heading toward the first buoy. Casey, riding a dugout unlimited Sunova board claims he was catching bumps upwind and got one on Ching right before he reached the first turn. Then he turned side-downwind and doubled the gap. That was the race right there. Casey hammered it home hard. Who knows if he would’ve been able to hold for another lap. Either way, an impressive performance from the Aussie and his first big win on the international stage.
Any mention of suffering and Annabel Anderson is the first to raise her hand. No surprise that the Kiwi was on hand, a week after dominating the Carolina Cup for the fifth year in a row. It wasn’t an easy race for her--she tumbled off her borrowed Sunova multiple times and lost the lead to defending champ Sonni Hönscheid--but slogging is her specialty and she was able to stroke back into the lead and walk across the line first. Hönscheid finished second, while Maliko Run specialist and seven-time event winner Andrea Moller finished fifth. If the wind had been howling out of the northeast we might be telling a different story but it didn’t and we’re not.
The paddling scene here is strong. The outriggers raced later in the day, live music was played, grinds were had and there were still hundreds of people wading through the flooded parking lot to participate in the festivities. That’s the spirit of Hawaiian paddling, no matter the weather.
And that’s what happened at the 2017 OluKai Ho’olaule’a.
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