Molokai 2008 Observations from the back of the (front) pack

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Oh, how I look forward to the Molo after-party. Eat what you like, drink what you like and go to bed...whenever. And of course, everybody has a story to tell. I started to tell mine to Rob before he said, I'm tired and I've got a long flight ahead of me - and I'm going to bed. But he asked me write about my race experience for surfski.info so here it is.

Dean Gardiner Molokai 2008
Dean Gardiner (Pic: Vince Bechet)

Pre Race Nerves and the usual dramas

I don't care who it is. The rookie or the 10 race veteran. Everybody is more than a little bit nervous on the morning of a Molokai race. It is not so much race. That is the easy part. It is the logistics. Getting your drinking gear right, applying the vasoline in all the right places, negotiating the shorey with all your luggage (to transport to your escort boat), finding your escort boat and the list goes on.

With so much to get right, it would be unusual for something not to go wrong. I was no different.  Having decided to try something different this year and fly over to Molokai on the morning of the race (with many of the other Aussies) I really needed to be organised as the start time is 9AM sharp - leaving little time for problem solving. My problem this year was a biggy - no ski. My escort boat driver never arrived - his boat broke down. He gave my boat to another guy (a quite famous Hawaiian surfer). As the surf was pumping - he decided to go surfing leaving my ski on his boat. As I was preparing to hitch a ride home and enjoy the race as a spectator, this guy, dripping wet from a great surf, casually asked if anyone was looking for an Epic V10. OK - that would me - we now have 30 minutes to get to the boat, untie the ski, get it back to beach load it up with drinking gear, GPS's etc, get luggage to escort boat and get to the start (about a 1km away). Put it this way - I didn't need a pre-race warm up!

My big regret about my hassles was not being able to watch the 133 paddlers (fully laden on 10kg skis) negotiate the shore break. While not wishing ill on anybody, it is riveting stuff - especially this year. Fortunately (and amazingly), no craft were lost and everybody made it to the start line safely.

The Start - absolutely FRANTIC

You cannot begin to imagine what the start was like this year. The combination of a record field and most of the world's top ocean paddlers sent anxiety levels to fever pitch. With 5 minutes to go, it seemed like all 133 starters were jockeying to get that slightly better spot on the start line. The sound of skis and paddles clashing was becoming more frequent as the pace of the creeping field quickened. Predicably, the field just took off only to be immediately stopped by the official referee's boat. Perhaps resigned to the fact that he couldn't hold the hungry mob back any longer, he started the race - 2 minutes early.

Molokai 2008
Molokai 2008 start (Pic: Vince Bechet)

Is this a 10km race or 55km race?

Due to a shorter than usual preparation for this year's Molo, I decided to race conservatively. The result - one of the most enjoyable races I have done. It was kind of like being a spectator as I was able to sit back and watch what everybody was doing.

Even if I had gone hard off the start, I doubt I could have kept up with the front guys. After 1km I was in about 30th place and in disbelief at the pace on the frontrunners. I began to settle into a nice pace with my WA mate, Dean Beament, who was also content to sit back. We speculated that some of the guys were going to pay a very painful price for forgetting that this is was going to be a 4 hour slog in hot relatively calm conditions.

North and South Groups

Right from the gun, 2 distinct groups emerged. The South Group, who were taking a more direct line to Koko head, and the North Group, who were going high of the rhumb line.

GPS Tracks - Molokai 2008
GPS Tracks - Molokai 2008

Due to my dramas before the start of the race, I did not have time to organise my GPS so adopted the strategy of match racing. After sitting in the middle of the two packs I decided to go with the North Group - not really knowing how far north they would eventually go.

The Wrong Call

I began to get a little worried about our line when the south group (including escort boats) basically disappeared from view after about an hour. There were still quite a few guys and escort boats in front of me so I just decided to follow them. The next worrying sign was when I paddled up next to new South African sensation, Ian Gray. He asked where Oscar was. That's when it hit me, all the guys who really knew the channel well (Oscar, Herman, Dean and Marty) were in the South Group. Mental note for next year - if I don't follow the rhumb line - go with the old guys.

Marty Kenny Molokai 2008
Marty Kenny (Pic: Vince Bechet)

So who were the guys still in front of me? In the next hour I would catch up to Damien Daley, Steve Woods and Kirk Jarrott. They had all followed Dawid way north and together we worked our way down from Makapu'u at what seemed a ridiculously slow speed for the effort we were putting in. The problem with going north is that you have to then paddle back to Koko Head against the current. We were getting pretty good runs but rarely getting over 15 or 16 kmph.

One guy I never remember passing is Brad Stokes. Stokesy was looking absolutely fabulous over the first hour and just paddled away from me, however, he just seemed to be going the wrong way - I would love to see his GPS - I ‘m sure he would have done a few more kms than everybody else in the end.

The Finish

Unless you have done it yourself, it is hard to understand the pain of the last part of this race (take a look at Rob Mousley's face in the previous article). The stretch from Portlock Point to the finish (in The Cove at Hawaii Kia) measures 2km. It is flat, shallow and into a head wind. No matter what route different paddlers have taken, they all pretty much hit Portlock together meaning a sprint finish. And so it happened, I hit the Point with my 2 good mates, Marty Kenny just in front and Kirk Jarrott on my tail. That last 2km hurt - alot. Are you with me on that boys? I'm sure TJ, Deano and Hank experienced a little pain also.

Oscar and Herman Chalupsky Molokai 2008
Oscar and Herman Chalupsky in the Kaiwi Channel (Pic: Vince Bechet)

Post Mortems and the After Party

The after race function at LuLu's was abuzz with war stories from the day's events. And as the free beers flowed the stories got better. There was Glick's close encounter with the reef just 1km from the finish - I am sure he has taken a bit of the Hawaii back with him to his trendy little digs in NY (Rob, do we have a picture of this?) Why does misfortune seem to follow the same people? Ask Glick about his misadventures in the 2004 relay race on the island of Kauai - very amusing.

There were also the usual escort boat dramas. I will not mention any names but one paddler simply refused to communicate with his escort boat driver after the ski was only delivered to him 20 mins before the start of the race and then he didn't see him for the first 3 hours of the race. Just a little pissed off...

Oh yeah - another one. One paddler forgot to bring money for his escort boat driver and casually said he would drop it in to him the next day. Big Mistake. Fearing for his life, he offered his $5K Epic Ultra as security until payment was made. So the Epic came off the car and into the escort boat as a deposit. Funny in hindsight but a little scary at the time.

Tim Jacobs Molokai 2008
Tim Jacobs (Pic: Vince Bechet)

Summary

While conditions were a little disappointing for the top paddlers, it was probably perfect, overall, for the massive field. There seemed to be a lot of rookies and the conditions would have offered a nice introduction to what is a pretty intimidating race.

It really seemed as though the sport of ocean paddling took a giant leap forward in so many ways including:

  • The live coverage on surfski.Info. People I spoke to raved about how good this was.
  • The quality and depth of the field. There were probably about 20 world class paddlers in the field. Realistically - all of these 20 were top 5 contenders.
  • There were about 100 "surf ski paddlers" in the race. In past years there seemed to be around half this number. Where will it go from here?

I would just like to offer a final word of thanks to all those who made the race possible and the stay so enjoyable. I will not mention names as there are too many.

Let's all hope for big tradewinds next year - we are definitely due.

 

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Published in Pacific

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