OLINDA - The Makawao Rodeo is off and running.
Despite a spattering of rain and a smaller-than-usual competitor pool, paniolo from across the state took center stage Thursday at Oskie Rice Arena in a full lineup of roping and riding events.
The 57th annual Upcountry event lasts through Sunday.
Lily Bolton competes in breakaway roping as the Ma-kawao Rodeo begins its 57th year Thursday at Oskie Rice Arena.
TRAVIS KAYA photo
"Everyone's out and having a good time," said Deirdra De Rego Lopes, president of the Maui Roping Club and Auxiliary, which is organizing the rodeo. "There are a lot of tough contests coming up."
Thursday's schedule included qualifying rounds for all wahine events, as well as competition in the mixed and century team categories.
Events included breakaway roping, in which competitors on horseback lasso sprinting calves, and steer undecorating, in which riders chase down a running steer to remove a flag tied to its back.
Advancing is tough, even for seasoned riders like Kathleen Souza, who has participated in the rodeo for the past 25 years.
"It can be nerve-racking," said Souza, who competed in two events. "But it's exciting when you make the show."
The rodeo has long been a major draw for riders from across the state. This year, competitors hail from Maui, Molo-kai, Kauai and the Big Island.
The number of off-island competitors has seen a decline this year due to economic concerns, including the cost to ship livestock. That means a smaller pool of total entries - 227 this year compared to 275 a year ago.
"It's sad because we do have tough competition that comes from the outer islands," said Gena Rickard, who has been competing in the rodeo for more than 35 years.
Fans still showed up in force for the opening day of competition, many to cheer on friends and family.
Kula rancher and long-time rodeo supporter Toni Thompson joined her family at the arena Thursday to watch her daughter Andrea compete - and qualify - in four events.
For riders like Thompson's daughter, who started competing at age 5, the event is a major calendar highlight.
"It's what they shoot for all year," Toni Thompson said. "This is it for Maui."
With the qualifying rounds complete, the family plans to enjoy the rodeo's long list of events before the finals.
"I'm coming back to watch, to eat some good food and listen to some good music afterwards," Thompson said.
The men's qualifying rounds start at 9 a.m. today, and the "Bull Bash," which is to begin at 7 p.m., will raise funds for the Hawaii Children's Cancer Foundation. Festivities on Saturday include the annual parade through Makawao, and a full schedule of riding and roping. Winners will be decided during event finals on Sunday.