Chris Paglinawan. At last, Makahiki Champ

Chris Paglinawan. At last, Makahiki Champ. Photo courtesy Chris Paglinawan.

Grinder: Chris Paglinawan Outlasts Andy Cho for Prestigious Makahiki Pro Title
For the first time in its history, Hawaii’s big-game season-long kayak fishing competition has a new champion
By Paul Lebowitz

Chris Paglinawan has done it, finally. He is the new Makahiki Pro champion, a goal the Ocean Kayak pro has chased for years. “Once you find something working, keep doing it until you fill ’em up,” he says, referring to the cooler he carries in the back of his pick-up truck. And also the score sheet.

The Makahiki is the globe’s toughest kayak fishing competition. The season is an eight-month grinder. Competitors endure brutal winds, aggressive sharks and rough seas. The rewards are as large as the risks: marlin, ono, the yellowfin tuna known locally as shibi. It takes a real athlete, a waterman in every sense of the word, to make it to the finish line.

Until this year’s Makahiki marathon went into the books, Andy ‘FBI’ Cho was its sole champion. He won in 2008, and then again in 2009. In 2010, trailing late, the Ocean Kayak pro staffer paddled out from the Big Island. When he paddled back in, he did so with a 225.5-pound marlin, still the heaviest kayak-caught fish to make it to a scale. Cho won again in 2011 and 2012, notching one amazing catch after the other. He seemed unstoppable. No one had a better claim. He was Hawaii’s own, perhaps the world’s best kayak angler.

Most of those years, Oahu’s Chris Paglinawan consistently challenged Cho’s Makahiki reign. It was the man known as ‘Hammah’ who had that commanding lead in 2010 before Cho posted his marlin. “Last year Andy just smashed it,” Paglinawan says.

In 2013, once again he worked his way into the overall lead. He must have been looking in the rear-view mirror, wondering when Cho would make his late charge. It never happened. owner Isaac Brumaghim created and oversees the Makahiki. He says Cho told him the late summer fishing largely fizzled off the Big Island. In the meantime Paglinawan kept on chugging, claiming 36 or 37 of the permitted 40 competition days. No one else claimed 30.

“You commit the days you can. If you can’t, that’s part of the game,” Brumaghim says.

Paglinawan has immense respect for Cho. “Me and Andy, we have so many years of experience. We know our ground so good, if something’s not working we change it up. Other people might just stick with it. The fish are there, you just have to get them to bite,” he says.

Brumaghim puts it into perspective. Paglinawan’s win takes nothing from Cho’s legacy. In any case, it isn’t really a head to head battle. The Makahiki is an individual journey. Each angler is in a battle against the elements, in the traditional style, as stewards of the ocean.

“It's been six seasons now. Here in Hawaii, we have our roots, our culture. We’re bringing back the truth of the old time,” Brumaghim says.

It's not just a sport. For Aquahunters such as Cho and 2013 Makahiki champion Paglinawan, it's life. And it starts anew come February 1.

Read about Andy Cho’s astounding marlin, still the heaviest kayak catch to make it to a scale.