Alenuihāhā Channel Crossing

Despite his age, Bobo Gallagher (11) is no shrinking violet when it comes to big challenges. Yet his idea to wingfoil across one of the most formidable stretches of moving water in the Hawaiian Islands was his biggest yet, and came with its own separate challenges in terms of equipment, mental preparation and coaching…

Words Bobo Gallagher
Photos Amanda Beenen Cantor

Staring at a map last September while planning for this channel crossing, I was thinking there was no way I can do this. Yet, something inside me said I would. It’s like anything… day by day, run by run, mile by mile, all leading up to a 43-mile straight trek across the Alenuihāhā Channel, all the way from the Big Island to Maui. 

My training consisted of Maliko runs, which consist of repeatedly doing a 10-mile downwind run on Maui. My first run was 49 minutes. It went down from there from 45, to 39, to 29 minutes. I would also wing a lot in Kahului harbor after the Maliko runs to both get in more miles and get the feel of going cross wind. The most miles I remember doing in a day was 35, consisting of two Maliko runs and a lot of time in the harbor. Relying on other athletes like Josh Riccio was crucial to get these runs in and not having a jetski kept me pretty much doing Maliko runs the whole time. 

Before the crossing, my family met with my board shaper, Sky Solbach, and Ken Winner, creator of the wing, who readied my gear for me. Ken even helped me train in the water. We also got to know Matt Smith, my boat captain, my water and Hawaiian mentor, Archie Kalepa, and Kai Lenny. All these people helped me prepare mentally for the crossing with crucial information such as what the channel is like, what to eat, and what to expect.

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August 6th, 2020. The boat picked us up a Mahukona Harbor and from there we drove for about 30 minutes and dropped me into the water off of Upolu airport. My first thought was, “Oh man, I hope I can do this.” I remember jumping into the water and being so freaked out because Captain Matt had said it was super deep, like 1,200 fathoms, so you think maybe there are sharks and scary stuff down there, like fish with glowing eyes, chopping claws, or a giant squid!

Once I got going, I just kept thinking of things I would get at the finish line – like lunch! – and that would motivate me. I would make targets for myself like getting to where you can see Maui, looking for the windmills, start going upwind, start going downwind… Things like that. Thankfully I felt really prepared and confident because I knew I had gone a lot of miles in my training.

I had a couple of moments where I just kinda looked around and I could see seabirds that would be jibing and tacking and they would go up high and do a circle and go upwind. That was really cool. I tried to jump with one of them. I also saw a lot of jumping fish. The Alenuihāhā felt more detached than other channels I have been in before, and for a while I couldn’t see either island…

For the crossing I rode a Fanatic Sky Wing board, custom made for my size, 3’2. Then my 3’3 meter Duotone Echo Wing carried me for my entire journey without having to pump it up again. My boom was custom made for my smaller hands, and I rode the Duotone Daytona, a kite-racing hyrdrofoil which has an unusually small front wing and tall mast, enabling me to fly through the channel and jump for the sky. 

What did it feel like to get to the end? Well, getting close to Maui was another moment… It was so cool to do something you have been visualizing in your head for some time and ride the channel. I had gotten into the boat inside Keoneʻōʻio Bay (La Perouse) because the wind died but I really wanted to make it to the parking lot. Captain Matt said, “Here comes a gust of wind!” so I jumped in the water and sure enough the gust came and I was up again. I was so happy, getting as much speed as I could in case it got light again. I was pumping most of the time to maintain that speed, and, sure enough, I got to my finish line. People were honking horns and holding up signs, and just waiting there… It was very cool. 

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