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Kimo’s Longboard Contest blessed by ‘swell of the decade’

By Staff | Sep 15, 2011

The finalists were, from left, Barry Brown, Matt Passamonte, Mark Anderson, Kalei Kauhane, Ken “Woozer” Goring, Casey Casco and Albert Jenks.

LAHAINA — The Kimo’s Longboard Contest Rob Thibaut Memorial held annually at Mala Wharf along the Lahaina shoreline has grown in stature to become much more than a wave riding exhibition for prizes.

From the beginning 34 years ago, the event served to perpetuate the soulful traditions of the Sport of Kings in Hawaii.

When avid surfer and sailor Rob Thibaut, president and co-owner of TS Restaurants, passed away in May 1998, the contest began paying tribute to this instrumental figure in the restaurant business.

Thibaut’s influence with TS Restaurants of Hawaii and California — annually one of the top restaurant chains in the country — is perpetuated within the spirit of the Kimo’s Longboard Contest. The event carries forward the aloha attitude of the true surfer and pays homage to traditional wave riding.

It is a high-performance surf contest in the real old style — boards must be nine feet or longer, single fins with no leashes — held at Mala Wharf, now called “Mala-Bu” by locals in reverence and comparison to California’s Malibu point break, renowned for its perfect peelers and the soul surfing of legends like Mickey Dora and Lance Carson.

Ken “Woozer” Goring hits the lip at Mala Wharf.

The waiting period runs from May to September in striving for optimum conditions at the left slide break fronting Lahaina Jodo Mission.

“We got news of a monster swell coming up from Tahiti over the weekend of August 27-28,” said Jack Starr, the assistant general manager of Kimo’s and contest lead organizer for the last 15 years.

“It turned out to be epic surf — the swell of the decade that brought huge waves to spots like La Perouse Bay and perfect, juicy waves in the four- to five-foot range at Mala-Bu.”

The contest was on!

But, hold on. TS Restaurants President and CEO Bill Parsons was in town for a concept meeting for all managers at Kimo’s scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 30.

Kalei Kauhane cross-steps on his way to victory.

Captain Jack was in a quandary, assuring the CEO that he could handle both the contest and the meeting. Parsons, however, is a man of aloha and understanding of priorities… and a switchfoot surfer as well! He told Jack the meeting could wait; the 54 amping soul surfers could not.

From 8 a.m. on Tuesday to late in the afternoon, the fabulous 54 surfed the dream conditions — glassy and consistent overhead waves — in this swell of the decade. The contest used a repo-charge format where all contestants surfed at least two 20-minute heats with five other fortunate sons.

In the middle of the day, an alert contestant, Eric Casco, noticed a swimmer flailing away beyond the surf line and alerted Starr with his concern.

Starr told Casco to do what he needed to do, and Eric paddled out to rescue the 13-year-old visitor, who had been taken out to sea on his boogie board by the strong currents. The boy’s family was unaware of the situation, and things could have turned tragic if not for the watchful awareness of Casco.

“Eric’s action really saved the day for this boy and his family. It was a wonderful sidebar to an already epic day,” Starr beamed.

Casey Casco pulls a “Quasi Five” during the Kimo’s Longboard Contest.

When the ocean spray had cleared, Kalei Kauhane stood in first place, followed by multiple Kimo’s winner Mark Anderson, Albert “Soulman” Jenks, Ken Goring, Casey Casco, Matt Passamonte and Barry Brown.

“In all of my 30 years involved as a contestant or coordinator of this meet, I can’t remember a better final heat. It was 40 minutes of old school longboarding in perfect point surf,” said Starr.

As always, the sponsors of the event came in with terrific prizes for all of the winners, including a custom Ole Bumble Bee longboard, bicycle and surf rack, Marley longboard skateboard, Maui Jim sunglasses, dinner certificates to TS Restaurants and custom trophies of acclaimed surf photographer Grant Roloff prints framed and engraved for the contest placers.

“My sincere thank you goes out to all of the sponsors, including Ole, Hi-Tech, Doomas Photos, Quiksilver, Draginink, Geezer Graphics, West Maui Cycles, HIC, Kona Brewing Company, Maui Jims, TS Restaurants and Pitzer Construction. And we had another after-party at the Jodo Mission… mahalo to Reverend Hara once again for that,” said Starr.

“Also, we thank the judges who, year in and year out, come and help us put on the event: Ross Kaaa, Nathan Moody, Roy Yamada, Alan Shubin, John Robinson and Gregg Unabia. These guys are focused, fair, great surfers and have a keen eye for longboard surfing,” he continued.

Matt Passamonte performs a “Heel Over Reverse Allen Wrench” for the judges.

“But perhaps most of all, I send my gratitude out to the people who help me do this contest throughout the year. They are Laura ‘Auntie LaLa’ Blears, Patty B. and Tule Souza, Jennifer Durnin, Jeff Starr and Augie Costantino.

“All these people, the overall experience that left everyone walking away with a smile; all this made it probably the best we’ve had in a long, long time. It inspires me to do it for years to come,” Starr concluded.

Jack “Da Rippa,” you’ve done it again! Cheers to you.