by Dean Gardiner
For quite a few decades now paddlers have been lining up on the Western end of Molokai to make the 52 kilometre journey to Oahu across what some people like to call the worlds roughest channel.
While the former is fact the later is what ever you really want to believe. Sure it gets rough out there but not really any different to others parts of the world and on May 30 this year most definitely nowhere near as rough as some will make you believe.
Yes, relatively calm conditions had descended on the event again. Very light trades with quite a North influence was creating runs but nowhere near the size and consistency that most on the line at Kaluakoi that Saturday morning were looking for.
There was a pretty good field for the event with a solid representation from Australia and pretty well the best the Saffas could chuck at the event.
For me, I was on again off again about doing the race. I had not planned to compete again, but a call from my friend Joe in New York 8 weeks earlier, asking me to meet him there and to take part inspired me to do some last minute paddling and get over and compete in the same race as Joe.
A bout of Bronchitis set my limited program back another two weeks so it was all up in the air on if I would even get over to the event.
Joe passed away just over a week out from the race so my inspiration to even start had completely diminished.
Over the last 20 years Joe and I had raced in many events together and this one was one of his favourites.
Not seeing his face at the Outrigger Canoe Club when I arrived was a bit of a disappointment.
My sole motivation to line up again had come from his fight with illness and the fact that we were going to paddle across the channel no matter what.
The fun bit
I arrived on the Wednesday as that was the day the freight forwarding company in Hawaii had told me that my container from Australia would be ready to unload.
I had sent a number of skis up for some of our paddlers so there was some urgency to get the skis out so the guys waiting on them could spend some time on the water.
Pretty straight forward stuff.
The person whom I became most acquainted with on this visit to Hawaii would have to be the guy at the Freight Forwarding Company. For the next three days I spent hours on the phone listening to him tell me that the cargo would not be ready till the week after the race.
My friend on the phone was reluctant to look at any alternatives other than the fact that the container would not be ready.
Bring in Gib Bintliff and Mark Buck. Some frantic calls were made by both these guys and some cogs were starting to turn down at the docks. Gib put me in touch with a gem called Via at a company called Island Movers and things started to happen.
I transferred all the rights over to her to take the necessary steps to secure the load.
By this time my posse of anxious paddlers had lost all their finger nails and had given up on asking me for any updates.
Friday came around and yes the magical Via had somehow gone around all the obstacles that previous Freight Forwarding Company had put up, and she had the load on a trailer ready to move.
Mark ‘Ando’ Anderson, Michael ‘The Giant’ Booth, Cory ‘Chill’ Hill and Greg ‘Tony Reg Ray’ Booth jumped in the car and made our way down to the scenic industrial wharf area of Oahu.
Some quick unloading and we had the skis back at the Outrigger Canoe Club at 3pm on Friday afternoon 19 hours from race start.
One hurdle left, the skis still had to make the perilous journey across the Kaiwi Channel to Molokai. Step in Danny Sheard and Ivan and the skis were on their way to Molokai.
Flying over to Molokai the morning of, and you could see the chop on the water. It wasn’t big and there wasn’t a lot but there was enough. There was quite a strong Northerly influence on the wind so it was definitely going to be a day of cut backs.
I started with the rest of the top guys which was the last of three starts on the day. The paddle boards had gone first, the slower paddlers and hour later then the elite field at 10.30am.
The Northern group of the start line rocketed out lead by David Mocke, I was South of that group with Martin Kenny and we began a game of cat and mouse for the next 30 kilometres.
There were moments of brilliance out in the deep blue but there were also long patches of sloppy back wards and forwards movements of water and my eagerness to continue disappeared. Had my friend Joe been there he would have made me finish.
This gave me the opportunity to catch up to the leaders on my escort boat. We skimmed passed Marty and he gave me a nasty look, then Ando, Mocke, Sean Rice and the front three of Clint Robinson, Hank McGregor and Cory Hill. I couldn’t find Boothy who was also in the mix. I will leave the jokes to you guys.
We met the frontrunners with 10 kilometres to go. They were moving quick in a line of three Cory to the North, Hank 200 meters South and Clint a little further back and another 150 meters to the South. From what I could see Cory had the best line.
Having done the race a few times, and this is a hint to escort boat people, the one thing you want to know is where the others are. As a racer you don’t really need to know that you are looking good, you just got a good one, the island is getting closer we generally know that stuff.
I gave Cory a bit of an update on where he was and the distance to go and that his line was good. Wow, that was like putting Tiger Woods in a models change room, Cory’s tempo lifted and over the next 3 Ks he put a little bit of distance on the two. Those two are defiantly not lame when it comes to throwing a paddling in the water.
Earlier this year Cory had started paddling the new Elite S from Fenn and was making the boat do exactly what it is supposed to do and that is surf runs.
Everything that came Cory’s way was his and I did not see him miss a single run as the gap between the Island and him narrowed and he and Hank grew.
Five kilometers to go and Cory had a 100 meter lead over Hank with Clint just a fraction behind. Three kilometres to go the gap was now 200 meters and Cory was under the wall out of what now was a side wind.
Looking back I could see Hank fighting the wind trying to get his ski closer to the wall and into the lee of the island.
Portlock Point 2 kilometers to go and Cory now had a 400 meter gap on the other two.
There were waves on the point coming from a Westerly direction which meant they were breaking towards the rocks. Cory plucked a nice smaller one that moved him out of the danger area and across to to the deeper water.
For the next two kilometers you could see him working, he had earned this day and nothing was going to take it away from him.
Cory won the race in good form and was just under a minute shy of the record. Clint got past Hank for second, Hank followed by Sean Rice, Michael Booth, David Mocke, Mark Anderson then Marty Kenny. From a purely brand perspective it was good day for the Fenns with five in the top eight and wins in nearly every category. Considering the skis are regarded as the best downwind skis it was a good performance in relatively calm conditions.
I worked out if I had of stayed in the race at the pace I was going Cory would have beaten me by a whopping 25 minutes. To put that into perspective it is around 6 kilometres.
For me it was a bit of a let down to pull out but I have done it enough and my days of racing on the ski are very numbered. I did get to see one of the greatest races of all time and knowing the messed up preparation Cory, Boothy and Ando had leading into the race, all three raced very well.
Our training crew at Oceanpaddler did well also. Our training group alone made up about a fifth of the field and all completed the race ,many for the first time. It was great to see the happy faces of all of that crew and we will start our preparation for the next one soon.
Cory now puts himself in some pretty elite company. A win in The Doctor would see him as one of the very best and he definitely has the ability to complete the quinella.
Now Cory Hill, welcome to the club. I am pretty sure that is all of them.
You also have to remember the likes of
Who have all knocked at the door and had some very memorable moments in the channel. Im sure there are others but for now they are the ones I remember.
A big thanks to Jim Foti and his crew who do a very good job organising a pretty logistically challenging event.
It would be great in the future if there was some way of allowing paddlers to race without escort boats as this puts a massive financial strain on competitors and is probably what holds back the numbers in what is a great event.
A qualifying series through events like The Doctor, Cape Point and Maraamu in Tahiti where paddlers who finish within a certain time of the winner are allowed to race without escort boats or at least share between a number of them would see bigger numbers attending.
Molokai, the race and Island hold some great memories for many of us and when you look at the number of elite paddlers that have taken on the challenge then you can see clearly that for many years if was the race to do and for most it still is.
The number of events that have popped up around the world still cannot dilute the esteem for which is held by many for this great ocean crossing.
Molokai 2015 Official Facebook page – check out videos and photos
Some photos of Molokai 2015 by Pacific Paddler.