This article was originally published in Issue 84 of Singletrack.
The ‘Aloha State’ of the United States is located in the Pacific Ocean and belongs to the Polynesian continent. Hawaii makes me think of surfing, hula dancing and frangipani flowers. But what about bikes? Mountain biking on the Hawaiian Islands is impossible, most people say – but the locals laugh about this, and now so do we.
Whether the weather.
The weather is really bad but I do not notice it. The humid air has the same temperature as my skin and the raindrops that splash slightly on my arms. I am not sure if my skin still sweats out water or if it’s started to absorb the rain like one of the deep green, exotic plants around me. When I close my eyes I feel like melting away. The sounds of the jungle fill up my head and my body, a lively concert from a variety of wild animals.
All of a sudden the hectic clicking and mechanical buzzing of bikes clashes back into my ears. I open my eyes and there they are again: my new Hawaiian buddies, a bunch of riders, photographers and their friends. As exotic as we see their homeland to be, the crazier it must be for them to hang out with us, four mountain bikers visiting from Europe.
We met Kyle Paredes last year at Crankworx Whistler and he invited us to come and see him on Hawaii’s Island Oahu. He insisted that we would find the world’s most beautiful natural trails there. Eight months later we landed on Honolulu, the capital of Oahu. In 30 hours or so we flew to the almost exact opposite of the world we know, almost onto a different planet.
Hawaii is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world, renowned for its award-winning beaches, spectacular mountain-to-ocean views, Polynesian culture, and not forgetting the international variety of food choices. But if you take some time and head away from the concrete jungle and city life, you will find some of the best mountain bike trails and experiences the Pacific Rim has to offer.
Oahu is one of eight Hawaiian islands. Comparing Hawaii’s history, climate, flora and fauna to those of the European version, the Canary Islands, you see a lot of parallels. Both archipelagos have volcanic beginnings and are subjected to trade winds that affect the weather a lot, especially when there are north to south mountain ranges on the islands as there are on Oahu.
Everywhere you look here there is a potential mountain to ride. You can be on your bike all year round due to the beautiful weather and cool trade winds. You can expect the temperatures to be consistently between 70- and 80°F, even during the winter season. The trails are mostly dry but when it rains, they can be really slick due to the red clay soil – even more so when you mix roots and volcanic rocks into the scene.
Not your average poolside paperback.
Like any new destination you need to know the who, what, where and why. We were lucky enough to get hooked up with some of Hawaii´s top racers and all-round rippers from Team Chillaxin’ – Eric, Derick, Garrett and the head of the crew, Kyle. They gave us the inside track to some of the most popular trails, as well as the most secret and sacred ones. Kyle organised a really nice flat for us in Kahala on the south coast, beside the famous surf spots of Waikiki and Diamond Head. He lives with his adorable wife and daughter in the chic Kahala Beach Condominiums with koi carp ponds and pool.
His profession? ‘Entrepreneur’ and businessman. ‘Chillaxin’ – the name of his own enduro team, bike clothing company and the title of one of the songs he produces – is clearly signed on his car’s numberplate. Another example of his dedication to the cause is his track ‘Weekend Warriors’ – music especially for mountain bikers.
First the locals take us to the exclusive property of Kualoa Ranch on the windward east coast of Oahu. This site is home to dozens of famous Hollywood productions such as Pearl Harbour, 50 First Dates, Jurassic Park and Godzilla – and 4,000 acres of mountain-to-ocean riding. On normal days only tourist groups have access to the ranch but today this valley is the very scenic setting for an enduro race. We don’t compete in the race but get in some impressive laps on the trails along the slopes of the valley.
We are even allowed to take pictures jumping in and out of the oversized footsteps of Godzilla.
We are even allowed to take pictures jumping in and out of the oversized footsteps of Godzilla. After the long race we sit down in the dark at the barbecue with Team Chillaxin’ and all their friends. Around me I see so many relaxed and exhausted people with dirt-sprinkled race outfits and satisfied faces, beers and burgers in their hands.
The next day we focus on downhill riding. Saint Louis Heights are situated directly behind the skyscrapers of Honolulu. According to the locals it is the best raw downhill riding on Oahu and the only place you can also shuttle bikes up. High speed flow trails, decorated with tons of nicely shaped dirt berms and fun jumps, cross each other on their way to the bottom.
Further down they turn into rough technical trails with rock sections. We were warned that pinch flats are a common experience and are treated to our share of them, getting rid of all our spare tubes within a couple of minutes. Later that day we spend a lot of time on one part of a trail where the trees open up and you drop directly over a huge rock into a sensational backdrop of Honolulu´s coastline. This diversity of impressions shows just a bit of what I expected and hoped to find on this trip.
The early bird gets the singletrack.
We learn that, against our prejudices, there even is a proper race scene on Oahu. Most of the downhill and all-mountain races are held at a site called Camp Timberline located at the very top of a town called Makakilo. Of course we also want to experience this place, so drive from Kahala to the other side of Pearl Harbour. After pushing our bikes up to the top of the hill we finally believe that we might have found one of the best views over the island.
It is an all-mountain, singletrack and dirt jump type of place.
The trail’s basic character is some of the gnarliest red-dirt powder around. Besides the hike-a-bike to the top, the return trip is excellent with roots and rocks at the top, then into groomed berms and natural red clay riding. Races are held about every other month and the camp is open all year round. On our way back we stop by a semi-secluded private location called Royal Summit. It is an all-mountain, singletrack and dirt jump type of place.
From there you have another breath-taking view over the entire landscape of Pearl Harbour, as well the Arizona Memorial. It feels like you could really see the whole island just by riding some of the local trails.
Every adventurous trip needs an early-bird ride, so we start some hours before sunrise the next day to drive to the other side of the island. Our destination is a hill near Kailua, where we push our bikes up to have the best view over Kailua Bay with its two scenic little islands popping out of the ocean near the coast. The locals seem to be very active and we are not the only people climbing the hill at 06.00. A little later, I realise why they ran up so early with big water bottles in their packs: as soon as the sun rises it gets unbelievably hot. Sweat drips out of my ponytail, but how joyful does it feel riding down the trail in the bright morning light with fair wind on my skin?
As soon as we are all at the bottom we immediately want to jump into the sea, but there is still one more thing left to do. Our photographer´s biggest dream is to visit Robby Naish’s surf shop and go for a stand-up paddle session in Kailua. After a quick chat with Naish’s mum, we find ourselves relaxing on one of the ten most beautiful sandy beaches in the world – Lanikai Beach.
Our local guides seem to have finally gained enough trust in our group to show us a real sacred secret spot. Previously I felt the tension rise after they had a little discussion about their plan to head to this place, which they mysteriously call ‘Ainahaina’ and which was built exclusively as a training ground for the Chillaxin’ team, but now we are cruising towards the end of a street in the suburban area of Honolulu in our massive Ford Super Duty pickup.
Then, suddenly, we stand in the middle of paradise. A recently cut path, smelling like fresh top soil, snakes through the jungle like I have only seen in fantasy movies and children´s books.
Our driver stops and turns to us with a serious face and tells us that as soon as we get out of the car, we should hop on our bikes and disappear in the bushes. I am a little bit nervous we are going to end up in prison but ten minutes later we are pushing our bikes uphill, tiptoeing through a tight copse.
Then, suddenly, we stand in the middle of paradise. A recently cut path, smelling like fresh top soil, snakes through the jungle like I have only seen in fantasy movies and children´s books. Lianas, the vines from those Tarzan films, hang down like tinsel from the trees, a potpourri of big flower blooms glowing thousands of shades of green, animal sounds cackling and wheezing in the background. The trail itself is perfectly shaped with obstacles and tight berms and in this scenery, it appears absolutely unique.
I still have all those beautiful pictures in my head and endorphins in my body when we get back to Kahala in the warm sunset of our last day on Oahu. I think that the only thing I need is a shower and some food to enjoy the evening after so many exciting days. But I am totally wrong; on the finely cut golf-green grass between our apartment complex and the beach, a king-size grill steams between two big palm trees. Behind it Kyle waves his big barbecue tongs excitedly.
I cannot feel more blessed than I have experiencing the ‘hang loose’ lifestyle so intimately and making friends in such a special place.
All his friends who have taken care of us during the week are there. We eat fish, steaks, colourful salads and even fresh lobsters. Hawaiian cuisine is definitely some of the best food I’ve ever had.
After dinner, when the sun finally plops into the Pacific Ocean, we receive typical Hawaiian chocolate and Chillaxin’ shirts from our native buddies as presents to take home to Europe. Suddenly Kyle starts a little speech and all of us listen quietly. He thanks us faithfully for being their guests, then the word Ohana occurs and I can hardly hold back my emotions; it means that they accept us in their Hawaiian family. I cannot feel more blessed than I have experiencing the ‘hang loose’ lifestyle so intimately and making friends in such a special place.