Connor Baxter is happy to be home.
The 19-year-old defending champion of the Olukai Maliko Downwind Run, an 8-mile stand-up paddleboard race set for Saturday from Maliko Gulch to Kanaha Beach Park, has been on the road a lot lately.
"I have been doing a lot of traveling, which I'm so fortunate to even do, I'm just stoked to be in such a world-class event here in the backyard," the Pukalani resident said on Thursday. "To be able to win it is one thing, to be able to try to defend it is another. I'm super stoked and I can't wait for this weekend, it is going to be a lot of fun."
Connor Baxter of Pukalani dives across the finish line to win last year’s Olukai Maliko Downwind Run, which is an 8-mile stand-up paddleboard race from Maliko Gulch to Kanaha Beach Park. This year’s event will be Saturday.
OLUKAI TEAM photo
Fellow Mauians Cody Kerbox, Kai Lenny, Zane Schweitzer and Ridge Lenny are all set to race in the event that starts at noon. Sunday will feature OC-1 and OC-2 outrigger canoe races on the same course, also beginning at noon.
"I think all the Maui boys are going to be doing it," Baxter said. "This year we have a world champions tour, so basically the athletes are doing six events that they feel are some of the biggest, best events.
"We started off in North Carolina, that was a big event and Olukai is next. We have a lot of competitors coming for this event who normally aren't here, so that makes it pretty cool."
The Olukai event is just five years old and if normal wind conditions hold, it will be unique in the world of stand-up paddling.
"The downwind aspect - the racing side - has got to be one of the funnest things ever," Baxter said. "It's one thing to race flatwater and just put your head down and grind, it's another thing to take three strokes and then glide for a couple hundred meters. It's a whole different ballgame.
"It's normally all downwind, but the last few days have been pretty strange (wind conditions), so you never really know."
Baxter currently leads the World Series racing standings after an event in Abu Dhabi last month. Baxter, Kai Lenny, Kerbox and Schweitzer all finished in the top five of the World Series standings last year.
"To have a world-class event here on Maui is really big for all of us," Baxter said. "I'm really stoked. We have been doing contests all over the world, so to do a contest 20 minutes from my house is awesome. It's an all-around good event."
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com