There is a saying on Maui, “Maui no ka oi”, which translates to “Maui is the best”. Others say that Maui is the heart chakra island in the chain of the Hawaiian Islands, with Kauai being the crown chakra, and the Big Island and its volcano being the orgasmic first chakra. Whatever, that’s kind of cool, but in ancient cultures, Maui was the ancient powerhouse superman known throughout Polynesia to have tricked his brothers into creating the Hawaiian Islands, by catching their fish hook on the ocean floor and then telling them to paddle as hard as they could. Whatever the story, a legendary island.
After kooking myself out on a 14 mile downwind run from Davenport to Santa Cruz the weekend prior to flying to Maui, I resolved to make it up in the warm water, and let it sink into my bones by relaxing on my feet, and just pretending that I was interviewing for a job or driving extremely fast, or something less nerve-racking than calming down and going with the flow.
Off Hana Highway, Jen Fuller and I turn right to descend down into Maliko Gulch, in our rental sedan with soft racks I brought along, straps twisted yet still buzzing from the wind, and a car top tempting to warp from our two SIC Bullet v.2s rented from Second Wind in Kahului. It’s beautiful down there, and in prior years on the island, I have zoomed by that turnoff so many times, when downwind racing was still unknown to me, and island crossings were something that awesome women like Andrea Moller and Maria Souza do.
We are presented with plywood signs with hand-painted sentences letting us know that we are entering the Reinstated Hawaiian Nation. There is a Hawaiian (British mashup) flag atop a high pole, a state flag I still don’t quite understand the history of. It’s flagging out to indicate a nice north-easterly wind, the side shore type of wind that we need for our approximately seven mile paddle back to Kanaha Beach. As we roll down into the gulch, we go deeper into green, into tropical, with feral chickens, big vines, evidence of a recent shower, and more hand-lettered reminders that we are on borrowed land.
When we emerge into the sun again, the first person I really notice is Dave Kalama in a blue truck, and Jeremy Riggs standing and taking the sun on his back. What a great image of celebrity crushers against a backdrop of hammock weather, in reality and not on screen. I am just stoked, for the small enough community of water sports people, where we cannot possibly know everyone, but where we can happen to walk by most of them- and the very best of them- throughout the course of a lifetime of just doing the sports.
I stupidly have forgotten my chin strap hat and my reef booties- I’m just kidding. I don’t wear reef booties, but I might if I were walking on reefs, which you never should do. Actually, I don the Maui Surfer Girls trucker hat that Dustin Tester had just given me upon arrival, with some pineapple she had just cut. I later regret wearing the brand new trucker hat when I sacrificed it to one of Maui’s sons, on the reef breaking at the entrance to Kanaha. Kook, redux.
I slip off my Astral Designs “Rosa” convertible flip flops (they are awesome, and one could walk on reefs with these, but you just don’t do that) and put them into my hydration backpack, and I touch into the water of Maliko Bay for my first time, for a warm up run for the OluKai race happening in three days. The warm water, yummy runs each day are useful in decimating my number of falls each time until I can just kind of do it.
OluKai race day comes, and we are all pretty excited. The weather is right for this, we have x number of knots blowing, a number that on a wind finder app would not mean the same as on the mainland. It reminds me of the difference of wave height designation in California, measuring the face of the wave, versus in Hawaii measuring the back of the wave. Windfinder says 13 knots upon arrival in Kahului, but is clearly at least 20 out on the water, I am told because of the Venturi Effect around the island.
Race Day sees at least 330 racer numbers in yellow jerseys. The Womens Open SUPs put on the water to be the first out of the staggered starts, followed by the Mens Open SUP, then the same pattern for the Elite SUPs. This year, we start inside the Bay and head out to a slightly upwind buoy, where there are plenty of funny falls and log jamming that happen before the corner is turned and we are all heading downwind in great conditions. Not so much swell, but tons of great bumps, and lots of sail with a great breeze. Personally, I am stoked to be doing the thing- not falling, passing people, holding my own as a guy rides right into me and we become an accidental catamaran of boards for a few seconds on a glide. Connor Baxter comes puffing past me to catch a glide I didn’t notice with my novice eyes bedazzled by all the blues and turquoises and sea turtles and ultramarine.
Relax. Sprint-Glide-Repeat. Dance the whole time. Like nobody’s watching.
Afterward, the food and awards are standard in the good way, in the great way that keeps us coming back for more. Team Bluerush and Bay Area peeps clean some major house, most of them medaling. Remarkable! We get our free slippas, bubble gum pink for women, and something like “sticks and moss” color for the men. The full results for the race are here. An awesome photo album by 808photo as well! Dustin and Lucy bring me a lei with sea turtles painted on, and an inflatable giraffe swimmy ring to wear around my waist to keep me safe in the water, as a prize for being awesome. I crack up– how blessed! Maui Surfer Girls no ka oi! You’re the best summer camp for girls ever! Really, if you have girls 11-17 years old, consider it. I can’t say too much good about this camp and the associated women.
The week after OluKai we see the weather turn to more of a late Maui winter, with rain, and skies unmoving from the clouds socked in over the island. Get in a few prone surfs, and a hike in Iao Valley, hopping over the railing to go up the trail to a nice vantage point within the Circular Valley. We hike the Pali Trail, where the word is “dry”. The wind turbines at the top create a distinct sound as they turn, even in the minimal breeze. Also score a snowboard sesh or two on some fresh pow up in the crater on the top of Haleakala. #syke
Paddle Imua day comes, and those of us who “suffer” on flat water on the mainland, in conditions just like this windless Saturday, choose to fight the good fight. Many folks and phenoms do not race, so the quantity of racers feels diminished from the previous week. Once we all get out on the seething Bay, however, and are getting sucked out into the sea en masse, before the horn goes off that I never even hear, we look and feel like a big group, or at least like a pulsing organism. People are falling left and right just trying to hold position before the race begins, and boards are getting knocked around, a few significantly dinged.
Finally out of the Bay, many of us stay on our knees awhile just so that we can do the thing. The ocean is coming at us in a cross-hatch of slow and fast pulses from all directions, mainly along the diagonal axis of my board, more from the north. It’s pretty much a Slap Chop, falling in, then lamenting I don’t have a Sham Wow to dry myself off. Along the way I have the low self esteem thought that I would be better off spending the time in front of a TV, with an Indo Board on top of a yoga ball, to catch up on the latest infomercials at the least while working on balance. It is monkey mind at its finest.
Finally plying into the Harbor ten miles later, releasing my leash and surfing onto the sand at the end, where hot paddler guys are clapping me into shore, I pitch forward and fall onto my hands in the sand in front of my board. I slap my hands into water to rinse them, and run up to the finish. I am greeted by a special needs kid from Imua Family Services, the benefactors of Camp Imua, which provides a traditional summer camp experience for children with special needs, with activities like horseback riding, water sports, and the like.
The teenager welcoming me in has a beautiful orchid flower lei in hand to put around my neck, and has just seen my biff. In the way that I love about children, especially in developmentally disabled children, he says exactly what he is thinking in his joy and excitement. He puts the lei around my neck, laughing, and says something about me as the “leggy lady”. I can’t tell if it is a compliment or a joke about my tripping up the sand, but judging by his laughter, I think it is the latter. I go instantly from the difficult ocean and self-centered struggle, to stillness on land and being punted into the reasons behind the Paddle Imua race: “It’s all about the kids.”
Despite the conditions, Paddle Imua proved brilliant in showcasing its awesome community and the sweet Maui paddlers. Full results for Paddle Imua here, and a great photo album by 808photo. Once again, Bay Area whipped up some medals. Finally, thanks so much to Jen Fuller for hanging, and for the copious belly laughs, and to John Walsh and the Bluerush team for leading the herd and running shuttles with us. Thank you all for being such a great, winning group of athletes!
Photos by the awesome 808photo.