Unlimited Olamau

The 2012 Olamau Race was a three day, 90 mile canoe race that allows teams to paddle unlimited OC-6 canoes from Maliko to Napili on Maui, then crossing the Pailolo Channel to Molokai, and then the Kaiwi Channel to Oahu.  The organizers, Right Arm, plan to change the venue each year making each event a unique experience.

I was invited to join a crew of youngsters from Hawaiian Canoe Club on the condition that I build a canoe for them.  I know it doesn’t sound like such a great offer, but the Olamau is not an ordinary race, and I had already been playing around with some designs for the canoe, so I accepted.

We started in January with a tight schedule to get the canoe built and prepare for the race. As luck would have it, my old workshop on Maui is currently rented by Mike Owens, a canoe/kayak/boat builder who was looking for something to do, so we struck a deal and with help from the crew we finished the canoe in just under two months.

The canoe, Kaumuali’i, is 44’6″ long, the mandatory 18″ waterline beam required for Paa Eono, and weighs 140lbs.  With some support from the Ozone sewing department for the spray skirts we got the canoe on the water about a week before the event.

So for those of you who haven’t had the privilege of paddling a 140lb non-spec canoe, well you gotta try it.  Our first run was from Maliko, and we basically caught a ride on every hit.  Not only is the canoe about 260 lbs lighter, it’s always dry because of the automatic bailers.  At the end of the run it was actually fun carrying the canoe up the beach.

The race itself was held during some of the strangest weather I’ve seen in Hawaii.  There were hail storms on Oahu and Kauai, and the winds were strong and clocking constantly.  We paddled the first leg in rain, fog, and occasional headwinds.  The second day in the Pailolo Channel, which has to be the most consistently perfect run in Hawaii, also turned into an upwind grind.  On the final day the conditions became the stuff of legend, east winds 35 knots with 20ft seas, but shorebreak made launching too risky.  A day later the shorebreak and the conditions eased a bit and the final day was just what paddlers hope for.

The organizers put on a great event, lots of support, very well organized, and the food after each leg was really good.  The race ranks up there with Havaiki Nui – it’s challenging, well organized, and a unique experience.