This story printed in the summer of 2018 in Vol. 15, No. 2
Conquering Maui’s Biggest Wave
Trading tacks on the outside of Peahi while towering house-sized barrels roll through the impact zone, Olivia Jenkins prepares to drop in at Jaws for the very first time. Olivia checks and re-checks the visual landmarks that help her both choose the right wave and locate the crucial takeoff zone. Waiting for her on the inside is a rescue ski with Sky Solbach, Duotone’s board designer, and Patri McLaughlin, famous big wave kitesurfer, boyfriend and pro bono Jaws coach. With a set peeking over the horizon, Olivia lines up with her visual cues on the far-off cliff, dives her kite and accelerates toward the takeoff zone as a monstrous slope builds behind her. Adrenaline ramps up as she begins to commit to the drop; the speed of the wave intensifies and she focuses her attention on not catching an edge as the choppy imperfections in the face ramp up into oversized speedbumps. Olivia senses the wave turning into a vertical wall and then drives down the line—momentarily looking back at a freight train of a barrel charging behind her. Whatever traces of nervousness she might have previously had have now been completely replaced with adrenaline. With wave one under her belt, she heads out for her second attempt, setting her sights on positioning herself deeper in Maui’s biggest wave.
Born in England, Olivia spent her childhood years in Australia before moving to New Jersey and then attending boarding school in Connecticut. During a family holiday to Maui, she and her brother took some kite lessons, and at the young age of 14, Olivia was hooked. Revisiting Hawaii each year, she returned to kiteboarding faithfully, but her sessions were few and far between. It wasn’t until she moved out to California to attend Occidental University in Los Angeles that she began making frequent trips to Maui when the forecast for wind and waves lined up.
Patri McLaughlin handed Olivia a surfboard five years ago and although she didn’t have a background in surf, she quickly abandoned her twin tip and fixated on riding waves. Graduating with a degree in biology, Olivia immediately moved to Hawaii, leveraging a kitesurfing connection into a job as a medical scribe in an emergency room department on Maui. Charged with recording charts and information for attending physicians, the adrenaline and excitement of emergency medical care has all but validated her decision to go to medical school.
It’s safe to say that Hawaii isn’t the easiest place to focus on work or school, let alone study for a crucial and challenging graduate school test like the MCAT. “Summer would have been the best time to take the test,” Olivia recalls in hindsight, yet unintentionally, she scheduled her MCAT studies throughout the winter season when the surf was pumping and the kitesurfing was good. “I was definitely out on the water when I should have been studying,” she giggles nervously, awaiting her MCAT results that are due any day now.
Amidst the challenges of work, studying and scoring surf on Maui, Olivia recently racked up 40 hours of airplane time on her way to Dakhla for her first kitesurfing contest and the second stop of the 2018 GKA Kite-Surf World Tour. “You never know what you’re going to get with contests,” she explains of the smaller surf during the contest and the unexpected freestyle component of the tour. Having abandoned freestyle altogether with her twin tip, Olivia was caught off guard by the importance of freestyle in scoring points. “Kiting in big waves is what I most enjoy and that’s where I can excel,” she explains. Her wave game was on, but without a bag of strapless tricks, Olivia couldn’t climb to the top of the rankings. She did however manage to hold onto 5th place respectively. When asked about inspirations, Olivia points to the top two ladies on tour. “They have both sides of the spectrum covered,” she says. “Jalou has so much power behind her turns and destroys the wave with insane spray while Moona, on the opposite side, is so graceful and gets six or seven turns on every wave.” With the next few GKA events just around the corner, Olivia will be monitoring the forecasts with plans to book last minute travel should the wave conditions line up.
Surrounded by hard-charging friends on Maui, Olivia is constantly pushed to ride bigger waves. From Ho’okipa to Jaws, Cloudbreak and West Point Dakhla, Olivia has now kited some of the most challenging and diverse kitesurfing waves in the world. With a style inspired by those around her, she powers through turns and charges into the pocket, aspiring to bring speed and aggression to the world of female kitesurfing. Excited by the prospect of a career in critical medical care, Olivia admits to enjoying a good adrenaline rush which explains why this 20-something kiter is equally at home both in the hustle of the emergency room and the high-stakes lineups of massive outer reef breaks.