Senior Editor

The Inertia

The Pailolo Channel between Maui and Molokai is arguably one of the best downwind runs on Earth. The lines are so true, and the wind direction so consistent, it allows for one of the most radical open-ocean paddling adventures in the Hawaiian Islands. But lest we ever forget, those winds are a giant life force unto themselves that we cannot begin to control. They’re in charge.

To wit, more than a decade ago now, Pearl Jam icon Eddie Vedder—a lover of ocean play himself—was paddling the channel on a six-man sailing canoe when the craft ran into trouble and overturned. The team stayed with the overturned canoe for hours before a broken mast apparently allowed the traditional vessel to right itself. Half the crew was able to scamper aboard. But they did so without paddles, and the wind immediately shot the vessel downwind and quickly out of reach of Vedder and two female companions.


Meanwhile, a young Ashley Baxter was riding on her father Keith’s boat, traveling the channel by pure coincidence, when she ran to her father in the captain’s chair, swearing she heard voices out in the water. Keith trusted his daughter’s instincts and they were able to find Vedder and his friends, and swing back to locate the out-of-control sailing canoe and tow it back to shore. Now Vedder—in a well-timed display of holiday spirit–is repaying the debt big time.

Fast forward a decade and a half and Keith—who along with wife Karen were at the forefront of the sport of windsurfing in the 1980s and 1990s and whose son Connor is a fantastically-gifted waterman—is in a boating accident where a rusty anchor nearly cuts his leg off at the calf, leaving him with a bone infection that has thus-far been incurable.

A note from Vedder.

A note from Vedder.

Ashley randomly ran into Kacky Ovrom Chamberlain, who was apparently saved along with Vedder by the family that fateful day, and told her about the accident and Keith’s subsequent troubles. Ovrom Chamberlain contacted Vedder and helped set up a GoFundmePage, which raised $70,000 for treatments not covered by insurance on Keith’s leg (he still might lose his limb). Well Vedder–whose song “Future Days,” was inspired by the rescue—came up huge this week, with Pearl Jam members matching the money already earned and helping to bring the grand total to over $140,000.

“Yes, it’s all true,” Karen Baxter wrote us in an email. “Pearl Jam (Eddie, Stone, Jeff, Mike, and Matt) matched what was originally raised ($70K) through”

This is the kind of stuff that could soften even the Scroogiest amongst us. And as a tireless idealist myself, definitely something I love to hear about during the holidays. Especially if you know the Baxter family, a really cool Maui clan, all talented in the water—whether it’s surfing, windsurfing or paddling. The rescue that afternoon on the Pailolo Channel wasn’t just random. That’s the kind of people they are. Every day, even when no one’s watching. Good to hear someone has been watching over Keith.


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