Maui’s Maliko Run – The Mecca for Downwind Training and Racing

Paddling Maliko Gulch to Kaului on a stand up paddle board is an awesome summer activity. The nine mile run is fully exposed to strong trade winds making it a great spot for windsurfers or stand up paddler’s looking to take advantage of the 35 knot winds. There is a ton of fun to be had running down wind, catching bumps and surfing up to 100 yards (sometimes on a open ocean swell).

It draws thousands of eager stand up paddlers and OC1 adventurers to this place, but also to give a heads up to the hidden challenges that can be very dangerous and can make for a disastrous run. If you think you are ready to attempt your first Maliko “downwinder”,  go with someone who is experienced.

Ho’olaule’a – literally, it means “celebration”, but for paddlers, it’s also an expression of gratitude. Each July, they hold our interpretation of this storied Hawaiian tradition on Maui’s north shore. The multiple events blend elite competition with family-friendly cultural activities and gathers some of the world’s best SUP and OC1 paddlers to race the legendary Maliko downwind run for training and racing.


The deep gulch of Maliko Stream runs from Pu’u Alaea in the Hamakuapoko ahupua’a down to the sea. It stretches from Olinda, past Makawao, and down through Haiku. At its seaward end, the gulch widens into a flat-bottomed valley and ends in a small, narrow bay with steep rocky sides and a small boulder beach at its head. Access to the bay from the Hana Highway is a small dirt road on the Hana side of a bridge that spans the gulch.

The water is usually muddy and dark because of the run-off from the stream. Large rocks sitting on the shallow ocean bottom protrude above the surface of the water and sometimes small surf forms on the rocks. Large waves can create powerful rip tides and a lot of surge at the mouth of the bay and very large surf sometimes completely closes the narrow channel into the bay.

In pre-sugar days when the stream had a continuous flow, there were a number of terraces in the valley. According to E. S. C. Handy, “the gradually rising land of Hamakuapoko in earlier times would have been suitable for dry taro but not for wet. It was probably well-populated and cultivated….” On old land maps, the land east of the gulch was a patchwork of small landholdings, an indication that families worked and lived on this land.

The Haiku sugar plantation, organized by George Douglas in 1858, out-produced all others within four years after it was started. During that time the company built its first mill on the grounds of what is now the Baldwin estate. Cane was ground there and shipped out of Maliko Bay for 23 years.

The most famous story connected with the gulch involved Henry P. Baldwin during the construction of the Hamakua Ditch. In November, 1876, Baldwin organized the Hamakua Ditch Company to carry water by tunnel and ditch from the Nahiku district in East Maui to the dry lowlands of Central Maui for the sugar plantation in Paia that was owned by Baldwin and his partner Samuel T. Alexander. A lot rode on the completion of the irrigation system.

Earlier that year the Reciprocity Treaty signed between the Hawaiian Kingdom and the United States gave Hawaii the advantage of duty-free sugar. Alexander and Baldwin secured a water rights lease from the Hawaiian Kingdom for water rights in East Maui. The ditch had to be completed within two years or all improvements would revert to the government.

The project was the first great irrigation project in Hawaii, and as it progressed, the stakes of the young entrepreneurs’ gamble got higher. California sugar magnate Claus Spreckels secured a lease to water rights below and beyond the Hamakua Ditch from the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1876. One term of this agreement said that if the Hamakua ditch was not completed on time, Spreckels would get the water rights held by Baldwin and Alexander.

Everyone watched with great interest as the Hamakua Ditch Company crews hacked their way through 17 miles of dense, rain-soaked forest. One of the project’s major problems was crossing the deep gulches between Nahiku and Haiku. Pipes had to be run down one side and up the other. The men rappelled down the cliff faces and climbed up the other side as they worked their way towards their goal.

The workers balked when they reached Maliko Gulch, the last and largest obstacle. The extremely high, steep cliffs of the gulch were daunting. Baldwin, who had lost his right arm in an industrial accident in the mill at Paliuli in Paia in 1876, personally went to the site and lowered himself down the cliff to show the men that it could be safely done. Inspired, the workers completed the ditch just before the deadline.

In 1913, the Kahului Railroad Company constructed a steel railroad trestle across Maliko Gulch that extended the line from Paia to Haiku. At 684 feet long and 230 feet high, it was the highest railroad trestle ever constructed in Hawaii. (The Hawaiian Consolidated Railroad on the Big Island had a trestle that was longer, at 1,006 feet, but it was only 193 feet high.) The Maliko trestle was located just below Pu’u O Umi and was used to support the irrigation conduit of the Hamakua Ditch. The huge structure was dismantled and scrapped in the 1960s, but many of the old concrete foundation blocks can still be seen.

The major attraction these days at Maliko Bay is the public boat ramp, constructed in 1976. Located on the east side of the bay, the concrete ramp is well-used; there are few launching facilities on Maui, after all. Both private and commercial fishermen use the boat ramp for Maliko Bay is considered to be one of the best akule and ‘opelu grounds on Maui. To the rear of the beach is a large coconut grove with several corrals and a riding arena. Known as the Double A Arena, it was built by Danny and Wilfred Awai, who own the property. Rodeos and related events are regularly held there.


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