OluKai Ho’o: Race Advice From Maui Native Jeremy Riggs
If Maui’s downwind paddling community were a monarchy, Maui-native Jeremy Riggs would surely be king. According to his piers, Riggs logs more hours on the Maliko Downwind Run—the site of this weekend’s OluKai Ho’o race—than any other paddler on earth, and he knows a thing or two about navigating the course. Here, Riggs shares some advice for racers that may make the difference between finishing on the podium and finishing with an injury or broken board.
There’s a boat ramp at Maliko Gulch that is by far the best point of entry to get to the startline. It’s going to be packed on race day, but it’s worth the wait to launch there. The right side of the ramp is the safest side to enter the water from. The left side has a huge drop-off and stepping off there is a recipe for a twisted ankle. If you decide not to use the ramp, watch your step and wade out a ways before putting your board down because it’s really shallow.
When you’re paddling to the start line, you’ll want to hug the right side of the Gulch. If you paddle out in the middle of the gulch or on the left side, you’re going to have to paddle pretty hard upwind to get the starting lineup. Stick to the right; it’s much easier.
You’ll be able to see the West Maui Mountains from the start line, and it should be clear enough on race day to spot Iao Valley—a big valley in the middle of the mountains. Aim to the right side of the valley; that will keep you on the outside of the reef, which is really important.
About four miles into the race, you’ll be able to spot a cargo crane in the harbor in front of the mountains beneath Iao Valley. At the same time, you’ll be able to spot a big, square, white building about halfway up the mountainside next to the valley. Align yourself so the crane is to the left of the building from your vantage point. That will ensure you’re outside the reef and keep you in the best line.
Approaching the buoy gate:
You should be able to see the airport tower from the starting line, which is roughly six miles from the beginning of the race. You don’t want to aim for the airport tower, but you can use that as a reference point to judge distance and to make sure you’re in the right area. As you near the airport tower, you’ll be able to spot the offshore buoys. Aim for the left buoy because the wind is going to push you further than you think. If you aim for the middle of the buoy gate, or the right side, there’s a good chance you’ll miss it and need to backtrack.
As you approach the beach, look out for the dark spots because those are going to be shallower areas…or tiger sharks. Kidding; actually the sharks like to hang out on the south side of the island. On the north side, you mostly just have turtles (laughs). They’re big and could easily put a hole in your board if you don’t go around them.
On the beach:
The sand goes from hard packed to really soft, so be careful to keep your feet underneath you. You may feel like you’re making great progress, then you hit the soft stuff and feel like you’re not moving at all. Pace yourself and watch your step.
Try not to pay attention to anyone else on the racecourse. Just focus on the bumps in front of you and surf the best you can on those bumps. If you’re looking at the other paddlers, you’re taking your mind off of what’s important. Looking around never works to your advantage. Just pay attention on your own racing and have fun.
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