User login

Connor Baxter and Sonni Hönscheid Claim the 2018 Olukai Ho’olaule’a Titles

After the race was postponed from Saturday to Sunday due to inclement weather (dumping sheets of rain and 15-knot onshore gusts), Sunday’s race arrived without the usual trade winds that grace the Maliko Run, the seven-mile stretch of coastline running from Maliko Gulch to Kanaha Beach Park where the OluKai Ho’o takes place. Instead of the wind came another force--10 to 12-foot swell providing some of the biggest surf the island has seen yet this year.

While the lack of wind and abundance of surf made for distinctive conditions, the contention of top SUP athletes from around the world remained consistent to traditional Olukai Ho’o standards. Connor Baxter and Sonni Hönscheid returned to Maliko to claim more victories in their respective divisions, Baxter tallying his sixth Olukai victory while Hönscheid took her second.

Behind Baxter, the stout Australian SUP and foiling savant James Casey hammered hard through the triple-overhead surf on Kanaha’s outer reef to claim second place among the elite men. The veteran title contender and three-time Molokai 2 Oahu victor Travis Grant finished third among the Elite Men’s standup paddlers ahead of a scattered field of brave paddlers washing in across the reef.

Kiwi Penelope Strickland finished second in the Elite Women’s division with Maui’s own rising star Annie Reickert rounding out the podium in third. This came as no surprise to the crowd as these three ladies are no strangers to the podium, but the Cinderella story came with fourth place finisher Yuka Sato, the racer who traveled all the way from her home in Japan to shine bright with her debut podium performance at OluKai.
With no wind to propel the paddlers, the advantage on the first six miles of the course was in power rather than downwind ability. But to conquer the homestretch through the massive waves required guts and with hope, a stroke of luck for the finishing paddlers.

Where contenders in the lead pack finished the race in just over an hour’s time, the last paddlers to finish came in well beyond the two-hour mark. Snapped boards and outrigger canoes from some of the less fortunate competitors washed in along with them, making for an intense, entertaining and exceptionally memorable year of SUP racing at the OluKai race.

When the standup paddlers finished, the first-ever foil division at the Olukai Ho’olaule’a commenced making the 10th annual an even more memorable day. Connor Baxter, James Casey, Kody Kerbox and Zane Schweitzer, all of whom competed in the SUP race only moments before, faced off with progressive foil surfer Austin Kalama for a historic showing across Kanaha’s reef (the group was taken out beyond the reef by Jet Ski and they started there as there were no wind swell for them to catch). In what had to be one of the shortest but most intensely calorie-burning races witnessed in paddling, Baxter’s uncanny ability on his home turf saw him cut across the finish line first after criss-crossing with his good buddy Kerbox in the jumbled swells at inside Kanaha. The win further cements his reputation as the king of Maliko.