8-Year-Old Takes On 20-Foot Waves at OluKai Ho’o, Finishes 3rd in Under-17 Division

Bobo mantle
Eight-year-old Bobo Gallagher crosses the finish line with mentor Zane Schweitzer after a gauntlet of 20-foot waves at the 10th annual OluKai Ho'olaule'a Photo: Mike Misselwitz

InZane Super Grom Bobo Gallagher is not your average 8-year-old.

For a skinny eight-year-old boy standing less than five feet tall and weighing in under 100 pounds soaking wet, facing off with a 20-foot wave might be the scariest thing imaginable.

But don’t tell that to Bobo Gallagher, the Maui grom matching those criteria who competed in last weekend’s OluKai Ho’olaule’a SUP race with high-surf advisory swell snapping boards and threatening peril all around him.

Gallagher, who raced the 10th annual OluKai Ho’o alongside mentor and star paddler Zane Schweitzer, was the youngest paddler on the course by half a decade and what’s more—he finished third in the Under-17 division. When we caught him at the finish line and asked how it went, he simply replied, “Fun.” We appreciated that answer, and then reached out to Schweitzer for a little more intel. –MM

Bobo Gallagher living out his dream race with Zane Schweitzer and the Hawaiian water safety crew at his side. Photo: Matt Schweitzer

SUP: How did you meet Bobo?

Zane Schweitzer: I run a kids program called the InZane SUPer Groms and Bobo comes to my events on Maui. After one of the early events about a year ago he started getting into competitive surfing and racing. Coming up on the OluKai he was super stoked to do it. He was training every weekend on Maliko.

What made you decide to paddle the Ho’o together?

After the racer briefing Bobo came up to me and said ‘Uncle Zane, I’ve been training a lot but I haven’t done it with waves like this.’ He looked a little nervous, but still determined; he wasn’t as nervous looking as his dad!

His dad asked me afterward if I knew anyone who could paddle with Bobo because it looked too dangerous for him to go alone. I was focused on the foil race anyway so I decided to paddle the SUP race with him.

What were the conditions like in your view?

We didn’t have the trade winds this year, but we did get some exciting factors in with the high-surf advisory swell. There were solid 10 to 20-foot waves coming in and out of Maliko Gulch and Kanaha.

What does it take for a kid that small and young to charge it in those conditions?

A lot of Maui kids are lucky to to learn from some positive mentors who give them extra drive and confidence to challenge themselves. I know from experience that having that helps a lot, and Bobo has it with the InZane Super Groms program. It takes a lot of passion, determination and of course bravery as well. Bobo didn’t want to back down.

Bobo Gallagher surfs a one-foot wave toward third-place in the Under-17 division after dodging 20-foot waves on Kanaha’s outer reef. Photo: Matt Schweitzer

It’s good to encourage kids to push their limits, but what point does it become too dangerous?

It’s good for anyone to push themselves, but I don’t advise kids to go out in gnarly conditions or tell parents to throw their kids into situations they’re not comfortable with. Bobo is an experienced paddler for his age. He’s a competitive surfer and he’d been training for OluKai for months on the Maliko Run. Even though he’s only eight he was prepared to do it with a little support.

How did the race go for you and Bobo?

We ended up finishing third in the Under-17 division. (Bobo) showed a few signs of nerves out there, but for the most part he did very well. His performance was classic.

What do you hope that achievement means to him?

I hope it leaves a mark of inspiration and encouragement for him to keep striving toward the lifestyle and the sport, and to not be shy when it comes to asking for advice and help. It’s important for kids to take advantage of help from adults who may want to guide them.

What do you predict for Bobo’s future?

For him, eight years old competing at the 10th annual OluKai, hopefully ten years from now he’ll be another Maui pro representing Hawaii. I wouldn’t doubt if he’s one day at the top of the game when it comes to SUP surfing and racing. I just hope at the 20th annual OluKai he gives me a little break when he’s competing against me!

Gallagher stands tall at the OluKai Ho’o finishline with mentors Zane Schweitzer and Connor Baxter. Photo: Mike Misselwitz

What does mentoring Maui youth mean to you?

I just want to share the experience that I had as a young kid, which was being there with my idols—guys like Archie Kalepa and Dave Kalama—and how they took me under their wings when I was young. I remember those moments clearly and really appreciate all the older athletes who shared some stoke with me. It’s cool to be in the position to do the same for some of these up-and-coming groms.

Check out our review of Zane Schweitzer’s new book, Beneath the Surface and read about more rising SUP kids here.

The article was originally published on Standup Paddling

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