Red Letter Day – Waikiki Sundowner


Words: MATEO Ell
Photos: Matthew Leidholm
Location: Waikiki, Oahu
Date: Saturday, April 3rd 2021

A need to escape the crowds of Waikiki sent Mateo Ell scrambling for the water. And as luck would have it, his timing was perfect… 

I made the short but thrilling voyage from Kauai to Oahu for a downwind competition in March. It was my first time flying alone, and one of the first races in over a year that wasn’t canceled. My friend Jack Ho had invited me over for the event, which was cool because competitions with friends are more fun! The course was a Hawaii Kai run, about an eight-mile run along the ocean swells fronting the south coast. Due to social distancing, the race was self-timed and self-monitored.

On a clear spring Saturday morning, we jumped in the water and had a great time racing down the coast. There were also some other kids that showed up to do the race with us. In total there were about eight of us. We completed the race by noon. It was exhilarating, and yet it was over so quickly. What I didn't realize is that the best part of this day, this trip, perhaps this year, would be a few hours later.

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After the contest, Jack, Mala’e McElheny and I refueled with quesadillas and rested from the run. By late afternoon, about 5pm, Jack had the idea to go foil Waikiki. There was a slight south swell, the winds had lightened up, and it was glassing off as the day turned to evening. We cruised down to the beach with our gear, relaxed, with no expectations, just hoping to get in the water one more time. I had my 4’5 Armstrong prone board with a 24” mast, the 232 tail wing, and the Armstrong high aspect 1125 front wing with the 60 fuselage.

Jack, Mala’e, Nick Kapule and I arrived to crowds of people. As we crossed the street, it was chaos. There were bikers, cars, people with huge longboards, and people cruising about in the tourism mecca that had just recently opened back up after a year. I was feeling overwhelmed, and coming from Kauai, too, this was a lot. There was an excavator and a long pipe in the water outside Queens, it was bizarre, was there even business and industry happening in the ocean? Looking around, it was overwhelming. I was suddenly eager to get in the water. We decided to start the session off with some beach starts, because we didn’t want to paddle out. The set up for beach starts was perfect, barely any shorebreak, and it got deep fast. 

We had a GoPro camera with us and were messing around with it, pumping around the line-up as the sun started to set. Photographer Matthew Leidholm showed up with fins and a camera. He must have seen, with his artistic eye, something we had yet to experience. We cruised toward the waves, and there were about fifty people in the line-up, all on one peak. Canoes and boats started flying through; it was either get out of the way or get run over… The sun was setting further towards the horizon. The light of the day turned to red, orange, pink and purple colors. The evening became vivid, colorful, and alive.

I caught one wave and started to pump out toward the horizon, leaving the crowds and chaos behind. My friends were around me as well, and suddenly we were out there in the quiet sea, and everything came into focus. I commented to them that I had never seen a sunset like this. I realized how beautiful this environment was, once I got further out… I realized how grateful I was to be there. We were around a huge crowd trying to catch waves but once you caught a wave and pumped out past the line-up you were by yourself, soaring on swells you would never even think about catching on a surfboard. We were all getting multiple waves in a row, going 20+ mph. I never would have thought we would ever be going that fast on a waist high wave.

The magic of foiling is that you can experience these moments. I never would have had this opportunity if it wasn’t for foiling. There’s a sense of freedom and peace that I get from foiling and that is what’s captured in these photos. 

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