Maui Surf Tribe gathers for Ole Longboard Classic contest
LAHAINA – Maui is special because of the spirit of ohana and community. This is a place where you see familiar faces at the market, colleagues at the beach, friends on the road. Maui is the Goldilocks island – not too big, not too small. It’s just right.
West Maui is extra special, because it’s an island unto itself. Cut off from the rest of the Central Valley by the West Maui Mountains, the residents and members of West Maui are tight knit.
Within our broader West Maui community we have myriad ocean-loving sub-communities: paddlers, divers, snorkelers, sailors, windsurfers, free swimmers and my own tribe, surfers.
In the West Side surf community, there are a few surf contests each year that bring everyone together: grommets, masters, kids, spectators, families. All are welcome.
First is the Kimo’s Mala Longboard contest that Jack Starr and his team put on every summer, celebrating single-fin old school boards without leashes. This year was the 40th annual contest, keeping alive a West Side tradition since 1979.
Second is the Legends of the Bay contest at Honolua. This is a Hawaii Surf Association contest that has had intensive support from the Willard family, Kiva Rivers and Honolua Surf Co. over the year. This contest has been running for decades, and the names of local legends like Mark Anderson adorn the trophy. This is a beloved annual contest at Maui’s most incredible surf spot.
Finally, the Bob “Ole” Olson longboard contest happens at Launiupoko at the end of each summer, just as it has every year for 26 years. Of the three contests, this is the most fun for families. Shade, grassy parks, a protected lagoon, plenty of parking; this contest inevitably turns into an all day beach party.
Kim Ball, the Ball Family and Kim’s crew at Hi-Tech Surf Sports are the secret to the whole operation. They arrive before sunrise to set up tents, speakers and tables. They work hard all day announcing, judging and posting scores. And they finish in the evening with prizes and celebrations and breakdown. It is a full day operation, and Kim and his team pull it off every time.
Key members of the team include Beach Marshall Bryan Goodnight, Announcer Ricky Ryan, Head Judge Al Sagon, Judge Tasha Jahrmarkt, Scorekeeper Momi Ball, site set up by Lindsay Ball and timekeeping by Kainalu Ball. Beyond this, a total of 12 judges kept scoring simultaneous six-man heats throughout the day. Even Ole’s wife, Bev, worked as a judge, giving high scores for classic nose rides. (Ole isn’t allowed to judge, or everyone would be a winner on his scorecard!)
Maui surf community elder Kim Ball put it best: “We started the contest in 1994, when Bob “Ole” Olson was only 64…. he’ll be 90 in November! It was started as a fun contest to bring families, older surfers, younger surfers and families together for a day of fun longboard competition. Now we have two full heats of 60 and older, and there is talk that guys want a 70 and older division!”
The Ole contest is a gathering of the Maui surf tribe. Bob is a true West Side legend, and he galvanizes the community. Now an octogenarian, Bob has been hand-shaping classic longboards in his Lahaina Shapers Bay for decades. The clean, precise lines of his longboard shapes are coveted by every longboarder on Maui, and this contest is a festival and showcase of board craft and surf style.
I entered for my first time this year. Honestly, I’m not an event winner. I’m a surfing yeoman, doing the best I can with my slide and glide to the end of the ride. When I compete against guys like Eric Casco, Mau Ah Hee or Kalei Kauhane, I don’t finish in top position, because those guys can fly and dance, shuck and jive, cross-step and hang ten. I can do some of those things sometimes, but the world-class local crew dominates for good reason.
In my first heat, which was the first heat of the day at 7 a.m. sharp, I paddled out with 11 other competitors. We split up into two peaks, and the morning glassy, calm ocean continued to be just that. All of us scratched for waves, and I picked up a few mini rides, just enough to earn fifth place in my heat the Men’s Open Division. Not enough to advance.
I had a second chance in the age 30-39 Division, and I turned up my competitive spirit. I checked my time, paddled strong, rode a few waves to the beach and even tried to surf into the lagoon right in front of the judges’ stand. It paid off with a third place finish by a whisker – just enough to advance me into the semifinal. For me, that was victory enough. I surfed hard in the semifinal, and came within one point of advancing, but that was it for me.
But what an amazing surf carnival full of stoke, style and ohana! Everyone was there, and everyone was having fun together. These community contests are especially important in surf culture. Surfing can be a very individual, selfish sport. These contests remind us how fortunate we are to he’e nalu together on West Maui as a surf tribe, and they bring us together as a group.
This contest is a bold tribute to Ole. I can’t think of a better way to honor Lahaina’s master shaper than once a year to bring together a whole community and enjoy surfing together in paradise. I can’t wait for next year!