The Island SUP scene is going off. Hawaii is packed with events, like the Maui Jim Triple Crown of SUP, and young paddlers like Connor Baxter are laying down the law. Last weekend, the Warrior Cup, the second event of the Triple Crown, took racers across Maui's northwestern shore, from Maliko Gulch to Honolua Bay. Baxter battled difficult conditions on the 21-mile course to take home the win. Here's his side of the story:
This was a great race, but we had some of the most difficult conditions. It started at 10:45 in the morning inside Maliko Harbor. Only 32 competitors showed up, but they were some of Maui's best. There were also a few from Oahu and some from Australia. Most racers know how grueling this run is, so many opt not to compete in it.
At the start, we had to be lined up in-between two buoys, sitting on our boards. When the horn blew, I decided to sprint to get into clean water and also to play some mind games with the other competitors. I was in front of everyone for the first half-hour, and then Aaron Abbey turned the switch on and caught up to me. We paddled side-by-side until Three Sisters, an outcrop of three huge rocks sticking out of the ocean. It was close to two and a half hours of a paddle battle for first and second place.
The conditions were tough, but they could have been worse. Paddling out of Maliko, the wind was blowing 90 degrees to the board, so I had to constantly paddle on the left side. There were very few bumps to take because the main objective was to head out to sea to clear Nakalele Point, the northwest point of Maui. This is the most difficult part of the race because you want to take the glide, but you can’t. Instead, you have to head out to sea at least 10 miles to be able to clear the point.
After about an hour and a half, I could start running with the waves more, but I still had to make sure to head out every chance I could. Catching the occasional bump allowed me a little rest. My dad was on our jet ski beside me, passing me energy bars and drinks to keep me going. He also had a squirt gun to spray me when I started feeling overheated. I think that was his highlight of the trip.
Near Kahakuloa, I noticed I was paddling a lot harder and not moving as fast. I put two and two together, and realized that there was a lot of current going in the opposite direction. It was like that for the last 5 to 6 miles of the race. I moved in closer to the rugged coastline to try and get out of the strong current in the channel and it seemed to help.
As I mentioned earlier, Aaron was right next to me until Three Sisters. He had a board that was a bit faster in the flatter water, so I knew that I had to make a gap on him before Honolua Bay and the finish line. I took my last hammer gel and turned the power on. When I got closer to the finish, I felt like all the pain had gone away because I was just thinking about winning. Nothing was going to get in my way.
I was thankful the run got a little better towards the finish and I was actually able to catch some nice bumps, although I really had to work for them. When I rounded Honolua point, I was a good distance in front of Aaron. As I paddled closer to the finish line, there were a bunch of tourists in the water and sitting up on the cliffs cheering. I quickly realized they were all cheering for me.
After getting everything packed up, we went to the Maui Tropical Plantation for the awards. They had unreal food and great live entertainment. I got a fantastic glass trophy, Maui Jim sunglasses and prize money. First place earned me 10,000 points, coupled with the first place from the first event of the Triple Crown, giving me a total of 11,000 points. Aaron Abbey is in second with 9,610 points, Livio Menelau is ranked third with 9,110 and my Starboard Teammate, Bart de Zwart, has 8,333 points.
A big Mahalo to all the event organizers and volunteers. And especially, my sponsors.
– Connor Baxter