Spandex-clad strangers will roll through the neighborhood this Saturday. Up to 200 cyclists will be pumping their way 36 miles from sea level to the 10,000-foot summit of Haleakala. The Cycle to the Sun race is one of the latest sporting events to bring people to Maui.
The island has a long history of enthusiasts who created events that took advantage of Maui's reputation as one of the world's top tourist destinations. No doubt the Cycle to the Sun has its roots in some homegrown cyclist who wondered what it would be like to ride from Paia to the top of Haleakala.
There is no shortage of homegrown cyclists. Not "bikers." That term should belong exclusively to a certain type of motorcycle rider. Nevermind the state highway signs urging motorists to watch for "bikers." Resident and visiting cyclists can be found most any day pedaling across Kula, around to Kaupo or Keanae or Hana. In the extreme, endorphin addicts all.
Maui's acclaim in the sporting world has always been the result of private organizations wanting to test the island's best against the rest and willing to run the government-approval gauntlet. Before World War II, the most prominent tests involved horses.
A major draw at the Maui County Fair was horse racing. High-rollers from around the state congregated on Maui even though getting from there to here was far from simple or inexpensive. The best horses in the territory were shipped to permanent stables at the Kahului Fair Grounds on Puunene Avenue.
In fact, the fair was organized and run by the Maui County Fair and Racing Association. A permanent grandstand looked out on a track that was also used for auto racing and high school track events. A fire destroyed the grandstand in the 1970s and landowner Alexander & Baldwin built apartment and commercial buildings on the site. The fair, without the racing, was moved to the War Memorial Complex where it will be held at the end of next month.
Polo was a big sport on Maui, which boasted some of the best players in the game. Louis Von Tempsky formed the first Maui polo team in 1887. The first interisland match was played in 1901. Maui had a host of nationally ranked players and one horse that became famous on the Mainland. In 1913, The All-American polo team rode William Baldwin's "Carry the News" to international victories.
One notable competitor on Maui was an Army captain from Oahu, George S. Patton. The man who went on to gain fame as a WWII general faced what he disdained as "Maui Cowboys" in 1935 at an elaborate polo field built on the western edge of Kailua Gulch between Haleakala Highway and Haliimaile. Patton's team lost. Polo remains an attraction for the horsey set with Sunday matches at the Manduke Baldwin "cowboy" arena on Haleakala Highway and the full-sized field off Olinda Road above Makawao.
Another big draw was, and is, the Makawao Rodeo held on the weekend the closest to the July 4th holiday. Cowboy competitors from across the state go head to head with Maui's paniolo.
The Maui Marathon brings hundreds of tourists - competitors and supporting family and friends - to the island for the 26-mile foot race between Wailuku and Kaanapali. It'll be held Sept. 16. There was a time when the marathon was a big deal in the life of the island, generating an excitement that has been dulled by familiarity. Ditto the Xterra World Championship off-road triathlon in Kapalua Oct. 28.
Other running events have included a relay race to Hana and the Run to the Sun up Pulehu and Pulehuiki roads to Haleakala Highway. The Cycle to the Sun this Saturday begins at 6:30 a.m. in Paia on the bypass road, goes up Baldwin Avenue through Makawao to Olinda Road and across Hanamu (the old dairy) Road to Haleakala Highway and up. And up. And up. The race ends officially at 1 p.m.
So what's it like to pedal a race that ended with only seconds between first and second last year? "The most insane thing I've ever tried," the website quotes a past participant. And another who said, "I can't wait to tell the guys back home."
It's strange there isn't more emphasis put on staging sporting events that would set Maui apart from its global sun-and-sea competition. The county has a film office but no specific agency to pave the way for world-class competition in ocean sports and the physically demanding events that seem to appeal to those who worship in the church of the smelly pew.
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address