When native Hawaiians moved between islands they did so in outrigger canoes. Harnessing the power of ocean swells and riding the currents and wind, they used their strength and ocean knowledge to cross the roiling channels.
Today, even with the advent of ferries and airplanes, there are still teams of determined paddlers who make the arduous crossings—feeling the same burn and riding the same swells as paddlers from centuries before them. Over the course of the last decade, however, a new form of paddling between islands has explosively emerged on the scene; stand up paddling—or “SUP,” as it’s known—is a fusion of surfing, outrigger canoe paddling, paddling sports, and windsurfing—thus creating a mixture of athletic backgrounds into a single sport. In fact, when paddling offshore with the wind at your back, paddlers ride waves in a surfing stance as much as they’re actually paddling.
The island of Molokai, as the “piko” of the islands (the Hawaiian term for “bellybutton”) is situated at the center of the island chain between Maui and Oahu. Since tradewinds in Hawaii blow out of the east, paddlers fortunately have the wind at their backs while paddling to Molokai from Maui, riding the ocean swells on a downwind paddle from the west shore of Molokai to Oahu.
Given its prime geographic location, Molokai each summer plays host to some of the largest races in the world. On July 18th, paddlers will cross the Pailolo Channel from Honolua Bay on Maui, and paddle for 27 miles to Molokai’s Kaunakakai Harbor. The very next day, many paddlers get back on the water for the 8-mile M4M—a charity paddle between Kamalo and Kaunakakai that raises money for island youth. Finally, a week later on July 26th, a collection of the world’s best paddlers all gather on the beach in Kaluakoi, and prepare for the grueling, 32-mile crossing to the southern shore of Oahu.
When the races are in town, paddlers from Australia, Tahiti, and Brazil infuse the island with energy, and for one week of the entire year, laidback, friendly, small town Molokai suddenly becomes the epicenter of the stand up paddling world.