When it comes to Stand Up Paddle racing, the Molokai 2 Oahu race is the ultimate challenge. After competing in the race for the first time in 2009, I knew I wanted to do it again. I have been thinking about, training and preparing for the race on July 25th, 2010 pretty much since then.
No other SUP race I know of requires the kind of preparation, commitment and support from family and friends as this one.
We started doing long distance training earlier this year as I reported in an earlier blog. My training partners and I all significantly improved our race times, see "biggest losers" below, so the training really paid off.
The week before the race, I was talking it easy and people kept asking me, "Are you ready for Molokai?"
I was not sure how to answer at first because I don't think I could ever really say, "I'm ready for this race." Anyway, I had signed up early, trained hard, had my equipment ready, escort boat organized, packing list, air ticket, accommodations, race numbers and I was not going to get faster by training the week before the race, so my answer became: "I'm as ready as I'm going to be."
My escort boat Captain, David Von Hamm, is a commercial fisherman and one of my neighbors. Our sons Christian and Andrew are friends and went along and left early Saturday morning to take David's boat, the Sweet Kimi II from Ko Olina to Molokai, which took them all day. They did catch some nice fish along the way and did a great job supporting me the next day. Thanks guys!
I did not want to get sea sick and boarded this 9-seater plane to Molokai on Saturday afternoon. Everyone on the plane was on the way to the race.
The weather was beautiful and the ocean was covered with whitecaps. I was pretty excited flying over the west side of Molokai where we would start early the next morning.
The one taxi at the airport was not big enough for all 9 passengers from the plane so the the driver called his dad to bring the other cab. Gotta love Molokai, it's not overcrowded like Oahu, that's for sure.
We got to the Kualakai resort in about 15 minutes and I made my way to the beach to look for the escort boat. The bay was full of boards and Dave's boat showed up right on schedule, but anchored pretty far outside all the other boats. I was hoping they would come in closer to the beach, but no such luck and I had to swim out pretty far. It felt good to get in the water though. They had a long, but good day of fishing. I was happy to find that my board and paddle survived the trip in good shape.
I paddled back to shore and took a quick shower in the nice condo that Jeff rented. I got to the pre-race dinner late, but there was still plenty of food left. I had a big plate plus seconds and felt pretty good. A lot of things could have gone wrong, but so far everything had gone smoothly and it was time to let go of the anxiety of getting everything organized and relax.
Doug Lock and Jeff Chang's boards where on a boat in the next bay over, north of the resort and I walked over there with them after dinner.
A bunch of people were camped out in this beautiful bay and had beach fires going. I love camping and was wishing I was camping, too. On second thought, it was nice to have a bed, kitchen and bathroom, too, especially the next morning.
Jeff and Doug swam out to the boat to paddle their boards back in the full moon while I walked back. On the way I stopped by the ocean front condo where a bunch of my friends including Kaipo Guerrero, Edmund Pestana, Heather Jeppsen, Ekolu and Honora Kalama, Gerry Lopez, Herbie Titcomb, and a bunch of others were hanging out and talked story for a while, then headed back to our condo where I prepped my hydration packs, GPS and gear for the next morning.
Jeff and I relaxed for a while and went to bed early. Kevin Seid was still doing last minute work on his board, glassing the rudder assembly on his new Everpaddle unlimited board. The poor guy had to endure the night before seasick on his escort boat as he could not get a standby flight on Friday. Then he spent all day Saturday working on the rudder system for his board. He finally came in at 11:30 pm after taking a test paddle in the moonlight and finally seemed pretty content and ready to go.
The next morning we got up early, had some coffee and breakfeast, got our stuff packed up in the cool drybags that all competitors received and headed to the beach. I paddled out to the the anchored boat to drop my bag. I missed the Hawaiian Prayer (Pule) as David anchored his nice boat even further out, about half a mile. It took me a while to paddle out to the boat and back into the wind but I figured it was a good way to warm up.
Oahu was visible for a while but by the time the prone paddleboarders started at 7:30 AM, it was shrouded in clouds again.
My SIC F-16 on the beach ready to go. Along with my C4 Pohaku paddle. I had tried lots of boards over the last year and decided on this one because it catches bumps well and is stable enough for the rough channel conditions. Thanks to Evan Leong from standuppaddlesurf.net for letting me try his board and then selling it to me, I hear these things are hard to get.
I had my Garmin GPS mounted on the deck using the two unused screw inserts on the deck for the goofy foot rudder mount. I used a piece of foam, taped the GPS to it, then screwed it on. The GPS was pretty key, more on that later.
Ok, it was time to head to the starting line and join all the other amped up paddlers. Everyone was excited and ready to go, the start boat had to keep pushing back the starting line.
Aaron Napoleon provided some comic relief by pulling his boat up right in front of the starting line. Riggs jumped off the back right at the starting line- first class service. Aaron and Kai Bartlett had the fastest crossing last year. He would have been a favorite this year too, but he skipped the race so he could escort and coach his 12 year old son, Riggs- pretty cool.
The horn blew at 8am sharp and everyone was off to a fast pace. The prone paddlers had headed out on a really northerly route and the pack followed them. Oahu was not visible and instead of following the pack, I followed the arrow on my GPS which pointed me in a more southerly direction. Last year was the opposite with the pack heading south of the direct line. More on that below.
Dave Kalama was the only one in front of me south of the pack. I had a good start and was trying to keep up with him for a while but could not match his pace. He was wearing a white shirt while the solo paddlers all had green shirts, so I thought it could not be Dave as I knew he was paddling solo and the two man teams were wearing white shirts. He ended up finishing the race in record time with a comfortable lead and I'm pretty sure his direct line gave him an edge.
My ambitious, personal goal was to finish in under 5:30 and top 5. I knew I would have to go fast all the way across to meet that goal.
The first part was pretty smooth until we got out a mile or two where the bumps started getting bigger and got more defined. The trade wind was not as easterly as I had hoped, it had quite a bit of north in it. The Molokai race is not really a downwind race like some of the coastal races where the wind is straight from the back most of the way, as you are really quartering the wind and bumps all the way across. The bigger, faster windswells were really northerly so I had to fall off the direct line to catch them and trim along the wave as long as possible, then between bigger waves gain ground again on smaller, slower bumps going in a more easterly direction. This was working well, I was making good time and I was feeling pretty confident.
The first 10 miles went by pretty quickly. I was paddling mostly on the left and occasionally took some hard strokes on the right side to catch the bigger swells. Despite hydrating and refueling regularly, by the time I reached 16 miles, my muscles (forearm, triceps, lats, abs and even toes) started cramping, interestingly mostly on the right side where I was taking less, but more powerful strokes.
I was drinking Gatorade, eating shot blocks and gu gel, which provided some relief, but I had to slow down and deal with cramping muscles by stretching them which is not easy while paddling for the rest of the race. Luckily I was able to keep paddling more or less normally on the left side and only cramped when I took hard strokes on the right. Needless to say, the cramping had a big impact on my race and I spent lots of time after the race researching it as I don't want to go through this painful experience again next year. Although I had some cramps at the end of last year's Molokai race, I never have cramps during training or shorter races. If others have had this problem and found some solutions, I would like to hear from you. I did get some varied advice from other paddlers after the race, including Advil, salt tabs, baking soda, Rolaids and more. It's really quite interesting, exercise-induced cramping is not well understood scientifically and there are there many theories. I might write a future blog on this. For now, I can recommend this page for further reading on cramping on the Hammer nutrition website:http://www.hammernutrition.com/problem-solver/cramping/
Anyway, back to the race. After making it through the painful second half of the race I finally got close to Portlock point, where the water got sloppy and there was less and less push from bumps. I saw Zane Schweizer on a faster line, closer to the wall and passing me pretty easily. I had fallen off too far south too early and had to paddle hard to get to the point, but I was close now and determined to finish.
The waves were tiny but I caught one by China Walls and cut through the opening in the reef. The headwind in the bay was overwhelming and it was obvious that I would not meet my goal time of under 5:30. Dave Parmenter and Archie Kalepa were right in front of me at the point, with a jet ski, switching out every few minutes. At this point I was wishing I had a partner, too and did not even attempt to keep up with them. I followed their line, hugging the coastline where the wind was a little lighter. The tide was high so we were able to paddle right along the breakwalls.
The final approach to the finish. At this point I was no longer feeling any pain, just happy to be there. My wife and kids were there to greet me with hugs and a lei. I made it!
My time was 5:41 and 34 minutes faster than last year. The scene at the finish was great, lots of smiling faces, food, drinks, even a massage. Now that the pain was gone, the endorphins were kicking in and despite the fatigue, I was feeling great. We stuck around to watch and cheer as more of our friends finished. Some of the later finishers actually got the loudest cheers and anyone who finishes this race is a winner. Rigg's finish was awesome and emotional. He made the Napoleon Ohana proud- way to go Riggs!
The awards dinner at the Outrigger Club was first class and a great way to finish this amazing day.
A big Mahalo to everyone who made this great race possible and better than ever, including all the Sponsors, Mike Takahashi, and the Molokai 2 Oahu team. Many thanks to my wife and family for letting me go on long training paddles and to my training partners, especially "coach" Jeff Chang without whom I would not be doing all this.
Please support 32:32 - 32 for a cause by purchasing a cap and shirt for $32 and supporting some great organizations at:
My secret weapon: using the GPS
Using a GPS with a pointer gave me an almost unfair advantage over other paddlers, especially in the beginning when Oahu was not visible. After using a GPS in the last two races, I would not want to do the race without it.
There are advantages to taking a more northerly route (you can drop off and go faster later) or a more southerly route (get a faster start and then ride the bumps more north), and knowledge of current is key. Nevertheless, knowing the direct line is very helpful, even if you don't follow it and especially if you are not experienced at crossing the channel. I know from experience that following everyone else is not always a good strategy, because they could all be off course. Although the direct line may not always be the fastest line, it is the shortest distance, and for anyone doing the race for the first time I highly recommend a GPS with a pointer for this race.
I saved the finish in Hawaii Kai as a waypoint and set my GPS to point to it. I set the screen to also shows the elapsed time and distance. Knowing the distance is also key because Koko Head starts to look really close even though you are still 10 miles from the finish and you need to save your strength for the last 5 miles or so, which are the toughest of this race.
This is a picture of the direct line from the start to the finish on Google Earth.
This is a close up of the line intersecting Oahu just North of Hanauma Bay
And the view of the line from the water. At this point it's tempting to run more downwind towards the tip of Portlock but it's better to aim for the saddle and get close to the wall before rounding the point. I let myself drift too far south at the end this race. If you get pushed further south before going into Maunalua Bay, it can be almost impossible to make it to the finish, this is important adivce if you are thinking of doing the race for the first time.
Molokai race: "biggest losers"
Many of the paddlers in this year's Molokai race improved their times from last year. Regardless of where you finished in the field, improving your own time is always a big achievement. The conditions played a role in this but I like to think that better equipment, training, preparation, nutrition and mental state played a bigger role for those who significantly improved their race times. I compared race results from 2009 to 2010 for solo and team SUP racers that competed in the same division both years and calculated the difference.
I may have missed some but here are some of the SUP racers with the biggest improvement of race times (minutes difference, not counting seconds)
Connor Baxter: -103 min !
Dave Kalama: -50 min
Team: Alika Willis, Tony Moniz: -49 min
Jeff Chang: -38 min
Andrea Moller: -34 min
Robert Stehlik: -34 min
Kevin Seid: -33 min
Carolyn Annerund: -22 min
Team: Christian Bradley, Todd Bradley: -18 min
Scott Gamble: -16 min
Jenny Kalmbach: -9 min
Congratulations to all finishers and thanks to the organizers and sponsors for a great race.
Aloha, Robert Stehlik