By Léo Azambuja

A cowboy shows his skills at a past Koloa Plantation Days Rodeo at CJM Country Stables. Photo by Chuck McKeand/Hawai‘i Rodeo Photography

For three days each year in July, Koloa resembles the Wild West, with roughly 140 cowboys from all over Hawai‘i, and some from the Mainland, competing for glory, buckles and prize money at one of the largest rodeos in the state and the largest one on Kaua‘i.

In its 20th edition, the Annual Koloa Plantation Days at CJM Stables in Koloa will once again bring thrilling entertainment for local residents and visitors, with roping and bull riding contests, along with live music, food trucks, bars and more.

“Come on down, you don’t want to miss it,” said Joyce Miranda, founder and coordinator of the Koloa Plantation Days Rodeo. “It only happens once a year. It’s good fun, and it’s a place where you can bring the whole family.”

This year, the public will be treated to a pleasant surprise. Famed cowboy Manny Gonzales will be showing his bag full of roping tricks during the event.

“He performs at a lot of major rodeos in California,” Miranda said.

Gonzales and his son will team up to compete against Hawai‘i’s cowboys in the High Dollar Team Roping Competition Friday evening. On Saturday and Sunday, Gonzales will show his roping skills to the public during the half-time entertainment.

Country music band Not My First Rodeo at the 2016 Koloa Plantation Days Rodeo. Photo by Léo Azambuja

The rodeo got its start more than 20 years ago, when Miranda used to run the Koloa Plantation Days Parade, and suggested a “little rodeo” at the stables after the parade and the party at the ballpark.

“We put on what we call a ranch rodeo; if you were a ranch on Kaua‘i, you were invited to get all of your cowboys together and make teams,” said Miranda, adding it would cost each ranch $100 to enter this one-day rodeo. There were five or six ranches that entered those first ranch rodeos, and the revenue was used to buy monkeypod bowls as trophies for the winners.

After a few years of organizing the ranch rodeos, Miranda said she wanted to hold a larger event.

“We decided after those four years, maybe we should invite other islands’ cowboys, let’s get the bulls, let’s get higher dollars, let’s give belt buckles away,” Miranda said. “And it just evolved like that.”

Kelly Foster with daughter Uluwehi Foster at the 2016 Koloa Plantation Days Rodeo. Photo by Léo Azambuja

That’s how the first Koloa Plantation Days Rodeo was born, after four years of ranch rodeos. But the much larger event had its growing pains. Miranda said there was a lot to be done, there were too many cowboys, and the whole thing became very cumbersome, especially with the rodeo being held on the day of the parade. So they decided to move the rodeo a week earlier, making it the opening event of the Koloa Plantation Days Festival.

At first, the rodeo was held Saturday and Sunday. But the event got bigger, with more contestants and more public. So organizers added Friday morning and afternoon to hold preliminaries, with 20 teams qualifying for the Saturday and Sunday rodeos.

On Friday evening, the event will offer the High Dollar Team Roping Competition, sheep riding with little cowboys and cowgirls, barrel racing qualifiers, bull riding and live music by Not My First Rodeo from 8 to 10 p.m.

On Saturday and Sunday, the rodeo will be held from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., offering Hawaiian pa‘u riders, Poo Wai U Hawaiian event, barrel racing for juniors and wahine, team roping, double mugging, bull riding, calf scramble, three-man wild cow milking, and performances by Gonzales. Big Island’s Dr. Billy Bergin will be under the big tent sharing his knowledge on paniolo history.

Taylor Langtad leads her horse at the keiki barrel racing competition at Koloa Plantation Days Rodeo in 2016. Photo by Léo Azambuja

There will be food trailers and two bars on every day of the event.

Miranda said all three nights are popular among spectators, and there is something different at the rodeo every night.

“You don’t see it all at one time,” said Miranda, adding it’s best to come early to get a good parking spot.

The 20th Annual Koloa Plantation Days Rodeo will be at CJM Country Stables, about 1.5 miles past the Grand Hyatt Kaua‘i Resort and Spa at the end of Po‘ipu Road on July 19 from 4:30 to 10 p.m.; and July 20 and 21 from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Visit cjmkoloaplantationdaysrodeo.com or call (808) 742-6096 for more information.