Season Opener: Paddling Maliko on the
by Gregg Leion
Consistent and generally better than expected is how I’d describe downwind conditions on Maliko the past few weeks. Plenty of days haven’t looked that great but have turned out to be fantastic, probably because the wind has been so easterly. When it blows straight down the coast from a more easterly direction, the inside can have big holes in the wind due to the topography of the island disrupting the flow. When you look out at the ocean on those days, its difficult to determine how how hard it’s really blowing out on the open water. It can look really light yet be strong once you are offshore. More than a few times over the past couple of weeks, I’ve launched from Maliko expecting lackluster conditions and instead experienced near perfect downwinding once I paddled out half a mile or so.
Thursday afternoon looked lighter than it had in quite a while. But there were whitecaps visible from far away, it was the Solstice, the first official day of Summer, and I really wanted to go. I may get too optimistic about conditions if I’ve scored a lot of good runs in a row and haven’t gotten skunked in a while. So, in my hopeful frame of mind, I booked a spot on the Maliko Shuttle for myself and my OC1. I knew that even if it wasn’t super windy, it was probably windy enough to have plenty of fun in the boat.
There were only 4 of us paddlers on the shuttle, not many for a beautiful Maui afternoon. As we passed Ho’okipa and got a good look at the few windsurfers that were out, it was clear that there wasn’t a lot of wind on the inside or the outside. Most of the sailors were barely moving. Maybe it would be better out farther where the wind would be blowing unobstructed. But looking out to sea, even the optimist in me couldn’t deny how weak it looked. Ugh. It wasn’t likely that this would be one of those happy surprise days where the wind was much stronger than it appeared from shore.
Paddling out into the ocean from Maliko Gulch, it was all too obvious that it was going to be a tough go. It was hot, in the mid 80’s, and even on the water you could feel the heat, especially with the light breeze that was probably only blowing 10 mph. This was going to be a downbreezer more than a downwinder. Still, there were small bumps that looked like they could be caught.
Usually I paddle straight out from the Gulch, at least half a mile or more. I like how the outside allows for a good line towards the finish at Kahului Harbor. But on this day, there was no point in paddling any more than absolutely necessary because of the almost nonexistent wind. Instead of paddling far out before turning down towards the harbor, as soon as I was a couple hundred yards off the rocky shoreline immediately west of the gulch’s mouth, I turned parallel to the coast. I intended to gradually work my way out to the right to the outside. With such light wind and no surf, there was no urgency to get out quickly.
Even though the wind was weak and I was already hot, the small bumps could be caught and I got absorbed in following the waves towards the outside, using their energy to decrease how much effort I had to expend. If it had been any lighter or the counter current any stickier, it would have been an all out grind. Instead of paddling hard for the bigger bumps, which were only about two feet high, it seemed to be more effective going after the tiny wavelets. These were little more than ripples, but by matching their speed, it was possible to grab the larger bumps periodically. Instead of trying to go faster, I just concentrated on staying at the speed of the swells. I kept remembering the advice of some of the best paddlers to go after the small waves in order to catch the bigger ones. It certainly felt faster to use the small waves than to just ignore them and muscle along.
After a couple of miles, while I’d been busy paddling and studying the water, a funny thing happened, the wind had slowly picked up. While it still wasn’t strong, I started noticing that the swells were a little meatier and the extra horsepower from the increasing breeze allowed the bigger drops to be caught. I realized that I was unexpectedly scoring a decent run after all.
As I got to outer Sprecks, where the water begins to stack up due to the relatively shallow reef which extends far offshore, it really got fun. The waves increased in steepness and I got a bunch of fast drops. The surfing was punctuated by a lot of hard paddling trying to chase other good waves down. It was a blast, the water was kind of messy with the waves going several directions at once, and I was getting drenched but that had the bonus of cooling me off.
The last stretch to the harbor mouth is always tough, even on a good day. The finish looks so close but it seems to be such slow going to cover the distance. Most days, I’m checking my Garmin trying to hit a time goal but with the weak conditions, I hadn’t even thought about pushing for a fast finish time. It was kind of liberating – instead of going hard, I concentrated more on staying with the rhythm of the water. I was letting the ocean set my pace, not my watch.
About a mile and a half from the entrance, the wind pretty much died. After that, any swells that I caught were single wave rides, no more fast multiple wave connections. Just trying to catch a bump took lots of effort with little reward. It was a relief to get to the harbor. But, I still felt lucky that I’d gone. While at first dashing any expectations of a windy and exciting run, Maliko had worked a little magic and provided a magic carpet ride after all. It wasn’t a big, exciting downwinder but it had turned out to be a memorable run with plenty of surprise glides. What a great way to kick off Summer.
Mahalo Gregg for another great adventure!