Paddling Forward, Giving Back

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Story by Lehia Apana

Olukai race Maui

So, you think you can paddle? Here’s your chance to prove it against the world’s best, during the OluKai Hoʻolauleʻa, May 11 and 12.

Hoʻolauleʻa is Hawaiian for “celebration.” OluKai combines two Hawaiian words: ʻolu, which means “comfortable” or “agreeable,” and kai, which means “sea”; put them together and you have the name of a footwear company known for its water-friendly designs and a corporate philosophy that pays tribute to the ocean and the environment.

Every year, OluKai plays host to hundreds of standup and outrigger-canoe paddlers who convene at Maliko Bay on Maui’s north shore to see how they measure up. Unlike other qualifying races, OluKai events are open to all. That means anyone with a board and paddle can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the pros.

“Who are we to tell you that you’re not an elite paddler?” asks OluKai Hawaiʻi ambassador Matthew Murasko. “You think you can beat Dave Kalama, Connor Baxter or Jamie Mitchell? Then go for it.”

The course takes competitors along the famed eight-mile Maliko Bay “downwinder” and finishes at Lae ʻUla O Kai Canoe Club at Kanaha Beach Park in Kahului. The SUP race, plus a noncompetitive ʻOhana Fun Paddle from Paʻia Bay to Kanaha Beach, happens on Saturday; while the OC1 and OC2 races are set for Sunday. The reward? The chance for a share of the $15,000 gender-equal prize purse — and bragging rights.

“The Maliko run is the Matterhorn of skiing, the Daytona 500 of NASCAR,” says big-wave charger and waterman Dave Kalama. “When you’re fast there, you’re considered fast — period.”

But you don’t have to break a sweat to get involved. Back on dry land, at Kanaha Beach Park, OluKai will treat spectators and racers alike to ancient Hawaiian games, sailing-canoe rides, live music by Maui’s Anuhea, hula performances and luʻau.

The Hoʻolauleʻa is OluKai’s way of putting company philosophy into practice. Taking a cue from the gift-giving cultures of Polynesia, OluKai will donate funds to local nonprofits through its ʻOhana Giveback Program during a ceremony on Saturday.

“This event was never about making money,” says Murasko. “It’s about kokua [help] and giving back.”

For schedule and more information, visit www.olukai.com/hoolaulea.

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