Recap and Gallery From the 8th Annual OluKai

We’re just going to say it: when the wind is blowing on the Maliko Run, there’s hardly another place we’d rather be. And judging from the smiles on the nearly 300 racers’ faces yesterday at the 2016 OluKai Ho’olaule’a, they feel the same way.

The Maliko delivered good, if not great winds for the 2016 Ho’o. Maui magic man Connor Baxter rode them to his fifth consecutive title proving again that he is nearly invincible on this stretch of coast in good conditions. Sonni Honscheid, who’s been runner-up at this race many times, took her first-ever Ho’o title over a strong field of local paddlers.

Baxter’s result was almost a foregone conclusion at this point. Not only did he grow up paddling here but he’s one the of the best bump riders in the world. He’s also one of the best sprinters around, and the new start inside Maliko Gulch—which made for a cleaner, more controlled start—played to his strengths. Once again, he outpaced the field by a wide margin, finishing ahead of second-place finisher Mo Freitas by more than a minute-and-a-half.

“There’s no better feeling than coming back and racing at home,” Baxter said.

The result for Freitas is mightily impressive. The young man from Oahu is racking up quite the race résumé at this point, having won both the technical race at the Pacific Paddle Games and the Payette River Games. Placing ahead of a hungry pack of locals like Kai Lenny, Dave Kalama and downwind master Travis Grant is a testament to his raw talent and race savvy (not to mention he’s one of the best SUP surfers in the world). This is only the beginning for him.

Twenty-year-old Australian Matt Nottage rounded out the top-three and continues to prove that he’s a downwind force at home and abroad. He’s only been paddling OC-1 and SUP for five years but has been posting big results throughout the past year. Look for him to make a notable impact in the rest of this season’s downwind races.

Our prediction for runner-up, Travis Grant, crossed the line next. Grant is a downwind king and one of the best open-ocean racers in the world. Fourth place for him is a bit of a shocker, though considering the competition, it’s respectable. Grant’s visibly still hungry for it, and will be gunning at all other Hawaiian races this year, not withholding M2O, where he will defend his crown.

Another Australian phenom who’s busting onto the scene is James Casey. He’s put on some serious muscle in the last year and was all smiles when we talked to him after the race. With that attitude and the skill to back it up, Casey’s another one to watch for.

Dave Kalama claimed the last spot on the traditional podium based on his honed downwind technique and skill. He hurt his back last week paddle surfing and spent the day after the incident on the couch so he was iffy to race, at best. But Kalama is as competitive as a teenager and is always looking to bruise a few youthful egos. He did just that, finishing ahead of hydrofoiling wizard Kai Lenny, Maui local Bernd Roediger, Tahitian Manatea Bopp du Pont and stock 14′ aficionado Travis Baptiste in the top ten.

Andrea Moller, who was the seven-time consecutive champion of this race, had to sit this year out due to a big-wave surfing injury sustained at Jaws, but she was at the finish line to congratulate her SIC teammate and close competitor Sonni Honscheid as Honscheid claimed her first OluKai crown. Honscheid has strong chops in flatwater, distance and downwind racing, and is a consistent competitor anywhere in the world. This win has to feel especially sweet, though.

“(The wind) was amazing,” Honscheid told SUP after the race. “It was one of the best runs I’ve had out here.”

Seasoned Maui paddler Kathy Shipman proved that local knowledge is key on the Maliko, finishing just 36 seconds behind Honscheid. We overheard some locals talking about Shipman’s style on the course: “It looks like she’s not doing anything, and she’ll blow right past you.” It’s something a lot of racers experienced yesterday.

Former M2O champ, Australian Terrene Black, finished third, adding another open-ocean notch to her belt. Black is a lifeguard back home but makes a point to come out for the big Hawaiian races. She’s always a force when bumps are in the water.

Another Maui resident, Devin Blish, played the local card to good effect for fourth. Oahu resident Amy Woodward came in fifth and former M2O record-setter Talia Gangini-Decoite came in sixth, finishing less than a minute ahead of Oregon-Maui transplant, the rising star Fiona Wylde.

Needless to say, the ninth annual OluKai Ho’olaule’a can’t come soon enough.

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Full results.