Maui Pailolo Challenge Pits Paddlers Against the Ocean

The Pailolo Channel — situated between Maui and Molokai — ranks as one of the windiest stretches of water in the Hawaiian islands. As trade winds rush into the channel and are funneled between the two islands, the wind pushes the ocean’s surface into an unusual series of close-spaced waves. Islanders liken the waves to speed bumps and have made a sport of riding them down the channel. The event? The Maui Pailolo Challenge.

Maui Pailolo Challenge Event Spotlight

This natural phenomenon serves as the source of one of the most famous water spectaculars in the islands, the Pailolo Challenge. Pitting paddlers against the ocean, the challenge features a 26-mile canoe race that draws paddlers and spectators from across world. In fact, competitors come from the islands and U.S. mainland, Canada, Australia and more.

Who Competes?

Open to all open class canoes and HRCA-approved fiberglass six-person outrigger canoes, the Pailolo Challenge starts at DT Fleming Beach on the northwest shore of West Maui. Paddlers take to the water at 7 a.m., filling the channel with watercraft as far as the eye can see. Their goal is to paddle 26 miles downwind and across the channel to Kaunakakai, Moloka’i. Winners of the men’s and women’s open, master and iron divisions will be announced at the pier at the close of the race.

When to Go

The Maui Pailolo Challenge takes place every year in September. Participants must register in advance and have a crew of six to 12 people. During registration, participants can pay the entry fee and make arrangements to ship the canoe to Maui.

Those who want an up-close look should go to DT Fleming Beach Park. The park offers public beach access and has picnic areas. Just remember to arrive early and get a spot.

New to the island? Read our first trip to Maui tips.