Beauty and brawn combine for Sunday’s Na Pali Race

It may be a grueling athletic competition, but being set against one of the world’s most breathtaking backdrops is what makes the annual Na Pali Race (Sunday, Aug. 3) so unique for everyone involved.

“It’s basically a celebration of being out on the water along the Na Pali and just this beautiful, spectacular place,” said event organizer and pro surfer Evan Valiere. “I think the community really likes it and that’s why I keep it going.”

Now in its fifth year, the Na Pali Race offers paddlers of different disciplines and skill levels a chance to test themselves along the northwest coast of Kauai, inaccessible other than by foot or boat. Starting at Haena Beach Park, stand-up paddlers, prone paddlers and one or two-person outrigger canoes will make the 17-mile trip along the Na Pali Coast and reach the finish line at Polihale State Park.

“It seems like there’s always a bunch of fires to be put out on the way to setting everything up,” Valiere said. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s getting easier.”

Putting together an event of this magnitude will never be without difficulties, but Valiere has gotten proficient enough at the legwork that he was finished by Saturday and now has this week to sit back and wait for the excitement of race day. Much of that excitement will still include figuring out exactly how many participants will be showing up.

“The one thing that never ceases to amaze me is how late people like to sign up,” he said. “I didn’t realize before throwing an event that people will not sign up until the last deadlines.”

Entry deadline is Tuesday, though late entries are accepted up until race day with an additional $25 fee.

Last year’s race was part of a crowded paddling week on Kauai that also included both the Hawaii Canoe Racing Association’s state championships in Hanalei, along with the Na Pali Challenge canoe race. This year the Na Pali Race, which is also supported by and a fundraiser for the Na Pali Coast Ohana, again has the weekend to itself. As a nonprofit organization, the Na Pali Coast Ohana is “dedicated to the preservation of the cultural and natural resources of the Na Pali Coast State Park,” according to the race website.

Valiere has been involved and outspoken regarding a number of environmental issues on Kauai, so his pairing with such a cause is a natural one. He will also be facing different challenges this year on race day, having decided to enter the fray.

“I’ve been telling everybody for a few years that I’m coming in on year five, so here we are,” he said, noting that he’ll be competing in the prone division on a stock board, arguably the most challenging of all the divisions. “I haven’t been able to train very much because I’ve been busy coordinating everything. I’ve done it before on a stand-up, but I cherry picked a really nice, windy day. If I get under three and a half hours or 3 hours, 45 minutes, I’m going to be super happy – but I don’t know if that’s in my range.”

All pre-race and race day information can be found online at www.napalirace.com, as well as the “Na Pali Race” Facebook page.

As for the rest of Valiere’s year, he’ll be back in the water – this time up on his feet – once the winter months roll in and the surfing world sets its eyes squarely on Oahu’s North Shore.

“I’m looking forward to competing in the Triple Crown this year,” he said. “The first event of the Hawaiian season is the HIC Pro at Sunset and then the three events in the Triple Crown. Then next year, the Backdoor Shoutout and the Volcom Pipeline Pro are the ones that I’m really looking forward to. I love surfing and competing in Hawaii. This is the Mecca of surfing, so it’s really fortunate to be from Hawaii and to get to go to Oahu and show our stuff.”

Valiere finished third in last year’s HIC Pro, reaching the final heat with fellow Kauai surfer Gavin Gillette. He was then a quarterfinalist at the Reef Hawaiian Pro, the first event of the Triple Crown.

But first things first. Sunday’s Na Pali Race spans one of the ocean’s most sacred stretches and will give participants from near and far an opportunity to test both their mental and physical stamina. To all those heading into the water, good luck. I’ll have a cold one ready for you at Poli.

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David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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