May 10th, 2014

2014 Olukai HO’OLAULE’A

Report by Geoff James (Raced on a SIC 14ft Bullet)

Geoff’s Race Time: 1:24

Start Location: Maliko Gulch

End Location: Kanaha Beach Park

Race Start Time: 12:00pm(according to my GPS I started my watch at 11:53am)

Wind: 10-20kts

Total Distance: 7.66 miles

Total Competitors: 358

The Olukai Downwind Race is not  in Northern California but thought it was important to write this race report because there were over 10  paddlers from Northern California that participated in the Olukai this year.

First, let me say that out of all the races that I have competed in, the Olukai Race is certainly one of the best. Organizationally, the race was close to perfect, registration was a breeze, lots of restrooms (yes there were still lines) and  pre race water was plentiful. Parking was kind of a pain up at  Maliko Gulch so getting dropped off was the ticket. Maliko Gulch is a couple of miles north of  Hookipa Beach Park on the North Shore of Maui. Its certainly not designed to handle 300+ standup paddle racers on a Saturday but the organizers had it pretty figured out. As I mentioned registration was a breeze, got my timing chip, race number  and  the yellow Olukai Jersey (required to wear for the race) with little or no waiting in line.

The forecast was calling for a light trade winds (5-10kts) at race time so this was not going to be the epic downwind Maliko run that we all were hoping for or was it? Wind started to build about 45 mins prior to the race, by the time we hit the start line it was a solid 18-20kts trade wind direction. This wind was a welcome surprise.

Race meeting went off without a hitch along with a very cool Hawaiian blessing. All of the racers in their yellow jerseys were in a huge circle around the race director as the anticipation of the race approached. Quite a few first time racers including myself would be paddling out to the start line at Maliko.

Race start was 12:00, we hit the water around 11:35am heading out to the line that seemed like it was about a quarter of a mile off the beach. It was blowing pretty hard at the start line so staying upwind was a task in itself. The start was between two boats and was a bigggg line. According to the race results, there were 358 racers, so you can imagine that many standup paddle boards out in the open ocean trying to get organized for a race start with a building breeze was somewhat chaotic. Having never done this race before I had no real clue where to be on the line so I just paddled up wind and got as far away from shore as possible. At one point I was about 200yds upwind of the line and a jet ski came by and yelled 4 minutes to start.  Just as I got myself turned around to head for the start line the whole fleet took off, the race had started without me, sort of. Apparently the race started earlier than the 12:00 start time, just my luck. Regardless I was off and running near the back of the pack. The wind had a good angle for heading to our destination at Kanaha Beach Park. Lots of people around me, all had a smiles on their faces as we connected up on the downwind bumps. There were paddlers all around me, the Olukai yellow jerseys were everywhere. And the jet skis, chase boats and even a helicopter were alway in sight. This was the best water support I have ever encountered.

As we approached Camp One/end of the airport runway the wind started to fizzle along with the fun bumps, it was time to paddle hard. We were about 2 miles from the finish and coming up on navigating through the reed into the lagoon for the final run into the finish. Again a support jet ski showed us the way through the reef making the stress of going through the surf on my 14ft SIC Bullet practically painless. Caught a small wave into the lagoon and it was time to put the hammer down since the wind was null and void. Lots of paddlers all streaming towards the finish, sight to behold. I hit the beach and knew I had a 300yd beach sprint ahead of me to the finish. Thought the sprint would not be so hard but in the deep sand right before the finish line, my heart rate jumped another 20 beats. Finished, my first Olukai was in the bag. Our NorCal family of paddlers cheered each other on as each one finished, checking to make sure we did not miss anyone coming in.

The paddlers that competed in the Olukai from Northern CA are as follows:

John Walsh, Steve Pugh, Geoff James, Fred Andersen, Michael Melville, Natalia Fon Bostjancic, Bojan Bernard Bostjancic, Andrianna Baca, Jaanet Whittick, Amy and George Marshall.

I cannot speak for all of the paddlers from NorCal but this is a race that I will not miss next year. If nothing else its a great excuse to go to the beautiful island of Maui but the Olukai event itself is a true celebration of the ocean and the Hawaiian spirit. Olukai as a company is to be congratulated on putting on a spectacular event, the post race luau was a first class affair.

Looking forward to next year.

Race Results are here

Race Data via SUUNTO Ambit2 here

Pictures taken by Sandy James are here