Maui is Magic: Winter has come…
Winter is here. Surfers rejoice! It’s been a stellar start to Winter 2017-18 for Maui surfers.
After a sleepy summer of surf, a below average Autumn La Nina followed, in which cooler than average Pacific Ocean temperatures also cooled off the North Pacific storm track.
The first sign of winter came three days before Halloween with the World Surf League hosting the Pe’ahi Challenge. Forty-foot waves unloaded in a 20-second period on the outer reef, allowing the best dragon slayers in the world to test their mettle at Maui’s Big Wave Coliseum.
The Maui locals did especially well, with Kai Lenny, Billy Kemper, Ian Walsh and Albee Layer all charging. Ian Walsh took the crown with his steep and deep approach, pulling under the monster Pe’ahi curtains directly into cavernous tubes. Like Bilbo Baggins stealing golden treasure from Smeagle and dashing out of the dragon’s lair safely, Walsh was a brave hero who threaded the needle of a major Pe’ahi tube on this day. It’s easy to cheer for a guy who has been spearheading keiki-driven cleanups at Ho’okipa and supporting environmental benefits like Surfrider’s Ocean Guardians awards. Keep up the good work, Ian.
Next up was the International Windsurfing Tour’s Aloha Classic at Ho’okipa. This sport is frankly under-appreciated, in the world and on Maui. Invented by Maui’s own Hoyle Schweitzer – who strapped a sail to a board some 50 years ago – the sport peaked in the 1980s, when one out of three German households had a windsurfer in the garage.
With the explosion of water sports into multiple sects (not unlike Martin Luther’s implosion of the Catholic Church into hundreds of Christian churches), windsurfing has struggled to maintain the faithful with the development of kitesurfing, tow surfing, stand up paddle boarding and hydro-foiling.
Europe remains windsurfing’s commercial home, but culturally and spiritually, Maui is Mecca. The prevailing northeasterly trade winds consistently brush the North Shore coastline at the perfect 45-degree sea to land angle. At the same time, Ho’okipa’s first, second and third reefs all organize marching bands of swell into long, tapered, powerful swell lines. It’s the Banzai Pipeline of windsurfing, and just like Pipe, live spectators can perch on the cliff and look directly into the action.
The Aloha Classic included over 60 of the world’s best windsurfing men and women battling it out over two weeks in all kinds of conditions. The final two days of the contest pumped. November 10 saw maxing 15-foot faces and just enough wind for the athletes to absolutely shred.
Saturday, Nov. 11, was finals day. I made it in time for the semifinals. As I crested the ridge beyond Mama’s Fish House, I saw tall sails flying down the line as the world’s best launched, flipped, carved, snapped and shredded. Maui Boy Zane Schweitzer, grandson of the inventor of the sport, did really well, but acknowledged that he hasn’t been training as much in this sport lately, so it would be tough to break into the quarterfinals.
Sprecklesville local Kai Lenny did make the semifinals, but he didn’t manage to go as high, fast and upside down as the pros who specialize in this this sport.
Haiku pro Graham Ezzy was in the zone for much of the contest. Fast, radical, bold and creative, Graham seemed on his way to a finals berth, but in his semifinal, he just couldn’t find the long, tapered set waves that his competitors did. This Maui athlete’s future remains bright though, as he returns to Germany to develop his career.
The whole vibe of the windsurfing contest was ‘ohana style, maybe like the Pipe Masters used to feel in the 1980s. Everybody seemed to know each other, the webcast was full of jokes and guest appearances, and somehow I was roped in to raise and lower colored timekeeping flags, just because I was standing around.
Maui is magic. In a 30-day period we hosted a world-beating big wave event and a world-class professional windsurfing event. Between Nov. 25 and Dec. 6, the world’s best women surfers will vie for the world championship at Honolua Bay, and this year any of five women could take the crown!
It’s only November and the four best months of surf are yet to come. Bring it on. Maui No Ka ‘Oi…