-Published in “Moon Over Haleakala“-
It’s not everyday you get to watch an 80 year old surfer get inducted into the Hall of Fame. Nor is it everyday where 65 year old men openly share waves with 7 year old children and outrigger canoes. On a day where laughter trumped anger and age was but a number, it was a day perfectly fit for honoring a legend.
On a Saturday morning graced with clear skies and light onshore breezes, the 17th annual Ole Longboard championships kicked off at Lahaina’s Launiupoko Beach Park. With support from additional sponsors Hi-Tech Surf Sports and Da Kitchen, this year’s event saw a talented field of nearly 180 entrants across ten different divisions vying for the right to be named best longboarder on the beach.
Due to a fresh pulse of summer swell greeting the cheery contestants, conditions at this year’s Ole allowed the riders to exhibit a higher degree of athleticism and creativity than in recent years past. According to 17-time contest director and event organizer Kim Ball of Hi-Tech Surf Sports, this year’s conditions were easily some of the best in the event’s storied history.
While the crowns in the Open divisions eventually went to 4-time Ole Longboard champion Kekaula Campbell and first-time winner Taryn Apo, this day was ultimately devoted to honoring the contest’s namesake and founder, the one and only Bob “Ole” Olson.
Olson – who by the way is the oldest living surfboard shaper on the face of the planet – was inducted in December of 2009 into the International Surfboard Builders Hall of Fame, a distinction that is respected by many yet held by very few. Unable to travel to California for last year’s induction ceremony, SBHF co-founder Mike “Mickey the Rat” Ester instead decided to travel to Maui and present the prestigious award to Bob Olson in the only other place it was meant to be done – at Launiupoko beach park during the Ole Classic.
When asked if receiving this award was a greater feeling than watching this event in its 17th year, Ole’s humility and sincerity was exhibited in his loss for words. Presented with the impossibility of choosing between two events he never imagined to be possible, Ole finally let on that “this event is really something special… it really brings all these guys together… and you know what, some of them are pretty good”.
With longboard terms such as “cheater 5”, “roundhouse cutback”, and “helicopter 360” exploding from the announcer’s PA, anyone in attendance could tell that this year’s Ole contestants, were, in fact, pretty darn good.
While Ole has seen a lot of change since swapping the life of a California wood shop teacher for that of an island surfboard shaper, in the 39 years he has called Maui home, one thing Ole claims hasn’t changed is the sense of stoke and togetherness exhibited by the island’s surfing community.
Echoing Ole’s sentiments are Kim Ball, who offers the Ole contest as an example of “a great family event that really gets back to the roots of surfing”. Ball credits Olson with being a pillar of the Maui surfing ohana who continues to provide keiki and veterans alike with an atmosphere that celebrates a love for this sport.
With many of his longtime friends, colleagues, and board owners in attendance for the honor, finding those eager to share their respect for Ole was not a difficult task.
Longtime Maui surfer Albert Jenks, perhaps in the spirit of this year’s political elections, thinks Ole deserves more than this contest and a humbling award. “Ole for governor is what I say”, says Jenks. “The man is an icon…a legend…he is literally irreplaceable”.
So congratulations to Bob “Ole” Olson for such an historic achievement, to the winner’s of this year’s Ole contest, and to all those lucky enough to have been touched by one man’s well-deserved legacy.