Native Intelligence: Maui

The Eight-mile Miracle

Story by Paul Wood. Photos by Johann Meya.

It’s the saltwater equivalent of the Chamonix ski run or a Moab singletrack, except instead of being pulled by gravity, you’re pushed by wind. Holly Dollar, who cuts hair in Makawao, Maui, paddles the Māliko Run with her canoe club. “It’s the best downwind run in Hawai‘i—or maybe anywhere,” she says. “You ride from trough to trough, catch a ride and catch the next ride —you don’t really have to paddle.” SUP Magazine (“SUP” is an acronym for stand up paddling) calls the Māliko Run “the holy grail of downwind paddling.”

Maui athletes have paddled the course for years using both SUPs and outrigger canoes. It starts at Māliko gulch on Maui’s North Shore just east of Pā‘ia. Paddlers launch from the rocky shore, work their way to the open sea and into tradewinds blasting from the east along the towering flank of Haleakalā. Wind speeds of twenty-five miles per hour are typical, though wind, unlike gravity, is fickle.

Turn west, point the nose toward Moloka‘i and enjoy the ride. Aside from skirting the surf at Ho‘okipa, not to mention a few fierce reefs and cliffs, the run is a straight eight miles to Kanahā Beach Park near Kahului Airport. The wind is pushing the sea into innumerable shifting peaks and troughs, so the game is to catch the rhythm of the swells, find “bumps,” then “maximize the glides,” says paddling coach Jeremy Riggs. “You want to paddle less and surf more. If you see something coming from the side, grab it. You want to do more looking than paddling.”

The footwear company OluKai has created an annual two-day competition, the OluKai Ho‘olaule‘a, around the Māliko Run. This April 28-29 will be the tenth running of the event, and it’ll draw an international crowd of SUP, one- and two-man outrigger canoe paddlers. You don’t have to be an extreme athlete to join, though; OluKai makes room for recreational paddlers and even kids. The finish at Kanahā Beach Park is a free ho‘olaule‘a (party) with musicians (John Cruz, Paula Fuga and Anuhea have performed), hula, a lū‘au and games.

And if the wind won’t blow? “Sometimes you have a flat race,” says Dollar. “It happens regardless. You just suck it up.” Paddlers will just show up late to the party, no problem.