When experienced standup paddlers describe the downwind run you are about to do the very next day and they say, “It’s going to be harrowing, huge swells and very little wind,” that does not build confidence!
Those very conditions greeted 336 SUP downwind racers at the 5th Olukai Ho’olaule’a on May 11. Little did I know as I paddled out of the Maliko Gulch what was in store. The tide was flowing in, the swells delivered confused chop and the wind clocked toward our faces as we paddled past the reefs and cliffs about a mile and a quarter straight out to sea and the starting line. I believed the waves would be my nemesis, but one wave in particular delivered the defining moment of that all-round incredible event! Here’s the story:
Like most of the participants, I spent a great deal of time paddling on my knees, really getting a challenging balance workout while going for the glides or taking some head-first dunks into the confused sea. When I had feet under me, eyes on the horizon and my paddle technique cranking out smoothly, holy cow, the Naish 14′ Glide I was riding accelerated with glee and practically begged to connect those glides. Exhilarating stuff for sure. Light as a feather, my KIALOA Hulu paddle powered me through chop and (YAY!) let me brace, balance and avoid plenty of wipeouts.
From the very first paddle stroke, as fellow participants were lifted – then disappeared – behind the swells, my fear was that I’d not be able to negotiate the beach landing. All along the shoreline from Hookipa to Kanaha and points in between the swells met reefs and created a wall of crushing white-water challenge. About 75 minutes into the race Kanaha and the life guard stand was in view. I was paddling near Sean Sweet of Sweet Waterwear when I heard him say, “Judy, look right!”
I braced my paddle in the water to my right, swung my eyes over and looked straight up into a building and breaking wall of gray-green and foaming wave. There was just one reaction, and it surprised the living daylight out of me – I was like, “Yeah!” and went for it. Went for it as in, “I want to catch this thing.” Lucky for me, very lucky, the water was deep enough that instead of crushing right onto me, it re-built as a pillowing swell and swept neatly under my Glide. Also lucky for me, I realized how much I love being in the ocean, riding waves, being part of a huge community of like-spirited paddlers and enjoying the fruits of much practice and training. It’s all a very cool journey.
It’s tough to put into words the impact an event like one’s first Maliko Gulch downwind run delivers. Instread, here’s a 4 minute video that tells the tale. Much appreciation (listed in the credits at the end) go to Naish International (Haiku), KIALOA Paddles, GoPro, and Suzie Cooney, CPT.