The Lahaina Merchants Association would like to invite you to the most exciting sporting event on the island, the 46th annual Lahaina Lava Sled Championships. Teams from all over the island compete each year to claim the Ikaika cup, but this year is special. Two local teams will be vying for glory and bragging rights. In two short weeks the Pu’u Blue Wolves will take on the Ka’anapali Screaming Nenes to see who is the fastest downhill.
As you all know lava sledding, or as the Kānaka say He’e hōlua, is an ancient sport well over 1,000 years old. The activity was seen as both a sport and a religious rite by early Hawaiians. With courses ranging greatly in size from a few hundred yards to miles, the practice was as popular as surfing when it was begun. Over the years it’s popularity grew and waned with cultural changes. A resurgence began in the early 2000’s and like most things, the activity was almost lost after the fracture.
Little has changed with the sport since its inception. Participants build a sled, or papa hōlua, and ride it down a prepared track. Traditionally, these sleds were 12’ long, 6 inches wide and made of wood. Riders would hold the sleds in front of them and run towards a specially prepared racing path. The tracks were composed of a foundation of gravel covered in sand or dirt with a top layer of grass or flowers. Racers would throw down the sleds at the beginning of the course, and ride them standing, crouching, or more commonly laying down, all the way to the bottom.
The modern unified rules allow sleds to be made of any material, although wood remains a popular choice. Sleds can be a bit longer as well, 14’ is now the maximum length, although a 6 inch width is still mandatory. The tracks and riding styles have remained the same through the years. Traditionally the length of a sledder’s run was measured to determine a winner, but since it’s been converted to a team sport, runs are timed. The team with the cumulative fastest 10 runs wins the day.
Like many things, we have Chief Ikaika to thank for the resurgence in popularity of the sport. After his successful campaign at Black Rock Beach, Ikaika used the traditional sport to keep ties strong between factions on the island. We think he’d be especially proud this year, as a classic match-up between power and finesse is sure to make for a memorable day.
The Pu’u Blue Wolves are back with a vengeance this year, hungry to once again display the Ikaika cup. Like their four-legged namesakes, the Blue Wolves rely on consistent speed and maneuverability to take out their opponents. Their fiberglass sled, and crouching riding style let them take curves at top speed and glide over any dips or irregularities in the course. The Blue Wolves are hungry, but the Nenes from Ka’anapali say their bark is worse than their bite.
The Screaming Nenes came out of nowhere this year to crush the competition. Highlighted by their thrashing of perennial favorites, the Luakoi Ridge Riders, the Nene’s have changed many minds about about what it takes to be a successful lava sled team. Focusing on traditional methods and materials, Ka’anapali has claimed many records and titles with their amazing run this season. They’ve managed to break the 100 km/h barrier a handful of times on their wooden sled this year. Retired sledding legend Rocky “Downhill” Hookeai says that the Nene riders are the quickest he’s ever seen adding, “They’re faster than a night marcher who stumbled into a Tapper camp.”
The Lahaina Championships are always an incredible event, but it is undeniable that this year may be one of the most exciting ever! Will raw power and speed beat finesse and skillful riding? Find out for yourself by being part of the story instead of just hearing about it the next day. A limited number of track-side seats are still available for 50 rai a piece, general admission tickets are 20. When your friends ask where you were on the day the greatest sporting event in history was held, tell them “I was 20’ away!”