Connor Baxter has won his 4th straight OluKai Ho’olaule’a SUP Race title, claiming a strong victory ahead of Travis Grant, Dave Kalama, Travis Baptiste and Danny Ching at the 7th Olukai JHo’olaule’a. Minutes after Connor crossed the line, Andrea Moller blazed to her win in the women’s race for the 7th straight year, further extending the greatest winning streak in the sport of stand up paddling while inspiring us – to the max!
The podium held the top 6 men and women finishers, but the beach at Kanaha held way over 300 winners! Everyone who battled the head on winds and the swells cresting and rolling against us as we paddled for a good 45 minutes out to the start line was a winner from the very first paddle stroke of the race. Showing up – and making it to the start – is a sure win in this super-cool event every year.
For us, the race began one week before at the “fun race” and clinic hosted by Suzie Cooney (Suzie Trains Maui) and Archie Kalepa (Olukai Konohiki). Suzie’s tips and technique instruction gave us a shot of confidence and we arrived at the Ho’olaule’a stoked and ready.
On June 2, I turn 66 (years old???) and wonder how can that be? I had plenty of time during the 8 amazing miles of this year’s race to contemplate what chain of events got me and Ed out on the deep blue ocean in these absolutely epic conditions on the extraordinary island of Maui. From my first Florida surf days (story here) to the 40 years with no surfing at all to the past few years of connecting to the ocean in amazing ways.
Clinics with Steve Gates and Jeremy Riggs on the mighty Columbia River down winders got us hooked. The beauty of the course from Maliko Gulch to Kanaha Beach Park is beyond addicting. While most of my concentration during the race was focused on balance (both standing and while on my knees) I had time to look around. Every shade of blue surrounded us. The swells powering from behind sparkled in the sunlight and – OMG!!! – sometimes crested with a topping of whitewater before picking us up and sending us rocketing forward in the treasured glides we were all seeking.
I was riding a 14′ Naish GX Glide, and true to its name it provided many glides. When the nose submarined on some swells I was pretty thrilled to (most of the time) allow the board to seek its direction and steady with my KIALOA GL Hulu paddle and stay upright. I looked around and saw the others in the pack around me doing the same. Sometimes we’d take a dunk, and sometimes we’d make our glide and ride zoom.
Long after the top finishers had beached, Ed and I and the pack around us finally came to the huge yellow Olukai buoy marking the sharp left hand turn at the outer reef. Swells turned into breaking waves, breaking in about every direction imagineable. There was nothing in the world during those minutes but my paddle in the water, my feet on the board and the intention of riding these pounders toward the finish. In the corner of my eye I saw the team of jet skis circling the area and a thought of “safety is nearby” flashed into my sorta freaked-out brain.
Woo hoo, somehow I made it through with a couple of rides, and then the finsih buoy on the beach came into view – and it was serious UPWIND of where we were. Along with the others in my pack we ALL got on our knees and paddled with every last ounce of energy we had – against the winds and side chop – trying to get to the beach and that final yellow buoy.
Then the Olukai support team raced toward us – each and every one of us – and shuttled our boards to the beach while we took off. Bare feet in sand never felt so good. I know i didn’t fly across the finish like Connor Baxter in his signature soar – but it felt just as good. The two women finishing ahead of me grabbed hands and finished together – neither caring who was first. All along the way we all cheered each other. In a sea of boards, paddles, grins, salt, sweat, stories and memories – we all finished as winners. Training, planning, and showing up! What a day.