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‘Legends of the Bay’ keeps alive country soul

By Staff | Mar 16, 2017

Alika Moepono gets tubed during his Legends heat.

Our treasured Honolua Bay, the jewel in Maui’s glittering surfing crown, plays host to two surf competitions a year. It is one of surfing’s sacred sites, with the natural amphitheater of majestic Lipoa Point jutting out into the Pailolo Channel toward Moloka’i

The first surf contest held there is well-known: the final event of the Women’s World Championship Tour, running each November before Thanksgiving. This is elite surfing at its best, with world-class athletes like Carissa Moore, homegrown talent like Summer Macedo and newly minted champions like Tyler Wright.

It’s a major operation with a two-week waiting period, corporate title sponsors like Samsung and Target, a webcast streaming out to the world, and a mobile village of trailers, judging towers and support staff. Local and international media ramp up coverage, tourists and locals park out the cliff-side, and the circus comes to town.

With so many moving pieces, the Women’s World Tour event has to book its dates a year in advance, which is risky, in case the surf is mediocre. That’s exactly what happened last November, when cold north winds chopped up a nonexistent swell, and the contest ran in conditions I wouldn’t paddle out in.

The second surf contest hosted at Honolua Bay is a horse of a different color. This is the “Legends of the Bay,” a soulful, no-fuss, on demand contest for all the best local keiki, wahine and kane. This contest is a couple-day event that gets called the day before, sometime during the winter, when the swell forecast is most promising. This flexibility enables Kiva Rivers and his team at Honolua Surf Co., the event organizers, to ensure that Maui’s best surfers compete in Honolua’s best conditions. For over 20 years, year after year, this contest has galvanized the West Maui community of watermen, and the names on these trophies read like a who’s who of our local surf heroes: Mark Anderson, Kevin Sullivan, Matt Kinoshita, Zane Schweitzer, Summer Macedo, Eli Hanneman. The list goes on.

Tanner Hendrickson won this year’s contest. PHOTOS BY ERIK AEDER.

On Thursday, March 9, the elements came together. A late season north swell started lighting up the Bay around 3 p.m. on March 8, and everyone knew The Legends would run the next day.

The country soul contest machine shifted into gear, as Kiva had to organize the trucks, the audio system, the judges’ tents, the entry forms, the heat draws, the publicity, the surfers. John and Donna Willard, the generous coordinators of the Hawaii Surf Association (HSA), were key players in making all this happen. Local businesses kicked in to support this community event as well, including Honolua Surf Company, DaKine, Duke’s Beach House, Pakaloha, HAS, TS Restaurants, Schweitzer Sports, Pitzer Built, Beach Park, Maui Surf ‘Ohana, Windmills, Mama’s Fish House and Duck.

By Thursday morning, it was showtime. The sun rose on a day with light wind, glassy ocean and a thundering swell marching down the point and magnifying at the Cave, often the most flawless wave of the many waves at Honolua Bay.

My day job and my daughter kept me away for most of the day, but at 5 p.m. I finally drove out to the Bay, just in time to catch the first semifinal. Right as I descended onto the point, I saw Tyler Kirby, a local high school freshman surf phenom, go mental on a wave, as he linked fins-free vertical snaps at full speed all the way into Keiki Bowls. He pumped his fist in the air, stoked to be the youngest competitor to advance at Honolua’s most soulful contest.

The final included local elite surfers, guys that can fly through spinning tubes of water or into the sky and down again when they feel like it. The final four were Tanner Hendrickson, Randy Welch, Dege O’Connell and Granger Larsen. Tanner took the win, but the performance all these guys displayed in pumping four- to six-foot surf was a pure pleasure to watch.

As the sun dropped into the sea over the horizon, and Kiva and his crew packed up after a full day, you couldn’t help but feel that “The Legends of the Bay” is a legendary surf contest.