Connor Baxter won the Stand Up Paddle and First-Ever Foil Board Race at 10th Annual OluKai Ho‘olaule‘a on Apr 29. Baxter, 23, pushed his limits and won the SUP division for his seventh time, as well as the inaugural Foil Board race. This was the first Foil Board race in history and Baxter competed in the historic event after winning SUP.
“This is pretty incredible, OluKai showing that they’re here to push the boundaries and here for the athletes,” said Baxter. “To have the first official event here in my backyard at the OluKai is incredible. I was actually cramping up and not really ready for it, and was maybe not going to do it. But, I figured you know what it’s true first time and I had to go. I was able to win it. It’s a two for two year. Super stoked right now!”
While Baxter is a seasoned racer, the Maui resident was very aware of the big waves that added an additional challenge to the SUP course, which started at Maliko Gulch and ended at Kanaha Beach Park.
“Fortunately I can say this is what I’m training for off-season in the Kahului Harbor doing laps where there is bump, where water is moving, but it’s not a downwinder,” he said. “So, I was feeling strong the whole time, but definitely one of the heaviest OluKais we’ve ever done. Waves up to 6-to 8-feet.”
“Last standup paddler made it out of Maliko and the whole gulch closed out, and when that happens you know Pe‘ahi has waves, normally we’re surfing in these conditions,” explained Baxter. “Coming down the coast and seeing the white water just lit up on all the outer reefs. As flat as it was and as light as the wind was, there were still a lot of ocean bumps out there to be had. I took advantage of it and came in first.”
This year’s Women’s SUP winner, Sonni Honscheide, recognized that the big surf played a giant factor in the race. “Conditions were absolutely different [from the first time I won this race] and since this is the 10th Annual OluKai it’s a great honor for me, but I had to fight in the end because it was so hard with the waves,” Honscheide said. “It was really nice to see how beautiful it was from the outside with those big lines rolling in, it was amazing.” Honscheide’s win is her second OluKai SUP victory. “As an athlete today, I definitely need to improve my Superman at the finish line,” she said. “I definitely need to learn how to surf on the dugout board more; it was my first race on the dugout.”
This year’s SUP winners relied on their extensive experience at the OluKai Race, but the winners of the OC2 division were competing in this event for their first time. Team Hulakai, from the Big Island, won the men’s and women’s OC2 divisions. Team Hulakai men’s was comprised of Jun Balanga and Keahi Warfield.
“It was pretty good, not too much wind, but plenty of swell,” said Warfield. “It’s a different experience, broadened our horizons and it’s my first time doing the Maliko run, you gotta get one under your belt. The next time around you become more ma‘a [familiar]. It was just good fun!”
The Hulakai womenʻs team, was made up of Sarah Taylor-Balanga and Kristin Old. “It was pretty scary at times, but it was really fun, there were some good size bumps,” said Taylor-Balanga. “The most fun part was just making it the whole way and not crashing.”
This yearʻs Womenʻs OC1 winner, Monica Equivel, also did the Maliko run for her first time. Equivel saw the 10th Annual OluKai Ho‘olaule‘a as an opportunity to compete and get comfortable before the Ka‘iwi Channel crossing next week.
“Todayʻs my first day trying this run and coming in was the most challenging part, but the jet skis were here and they were guiding everybody in, said Equivel. “The most fun part was also coming in. Everybody is gearing up for the Pa‘a Ka‘iwi Channel Crossing, I think I had that extra nerves that I had to get it out, and feel good going out. Thanks to OluKai and Uncle Archie for a great race.”
Kekua Nolan won the OC1 Menʻs Division.
A portion of the race registration fees from this year’s Ho‘olaule‘a Festival will go to the Kaua‘i Lifeguard Association to aid in recovery efforts after devastating flooding on the island.
Photo of Connor Baxter courtesy OluKai Ho‘olaule‘a