Blue Planet Mixed Team 2 Person Relay at the Molokai 2 Oahu 2017 World Championships
The Molokai 2 Oahu Race (M2O) is just that, a SUP and prone paddle board race from the island of Molokai to just below Hanauma Bay on the island of Oahu. Often times the solo race steals the show. However, the 2 person relay race usually draws a who’s who list of elite athletes who for whatever reason, often race scheduling and recovery time, decide to challenge themselves in the relay event instead of the solo crossing. In the relay race the two athletes share the same watercraft and cross the channel while doing intervals, meaning that they trade off efforts from the escort boat using the same board all the way across the 32 mile stretch of wild open ocean water.
I have fallen in love with the relay race itself. In years past, 5 years in a row I raced solo. I have come mostly to peace with the solo race, although there was never a smooth year, something major always happened, food, equipment, illness, heat exhaustion, you name it, it has happened. Through it all, I finished all five years, and I love the challenge of seeing what I can endure. However, going relay is completely different, it feels like a sprint race, there is nothing but hurrying, teamwork, and being in that zone, "the zone", which for me is probably the most addictive thing about sports in general. I absolutely love that moment where what you are and what you are doing become the same, that moment where human, SUP and ocean all become one.
Last year Tyler and I raced team both for Maui 2 Molokai and Molokai 2 Oahu. We put in great efforts and did quite well. We took first mixed team at M2M and second mixed team at M2O. We finished runners up to this year’s female solo M2O world champion and her former husband who had been a top ten M2O men’s solo finisher in years past. But we had wanted the win like nothing else and although we were happy with our race we absolutely were not satisfied.
This year going in we did a few things differently, both of us decided to race 6 man canoe on top of SUP. We really have been training harder than ever before. On top of that it’s been an incredibly fun summer paddling where it has become as much about enjoying time on the water as it is training. Our Molokai adventure was no different. We broke tradition and got to Molokai a day earlier than usual and spent the day exploring Molokai which included a trip up to the lookout over Kalaupaupa and an amazing ice cream cone in Kaunakakai, after that off to the condo to settle in and take in the relaxed pace of Molokai for 12 hours.
With that said, going into M2O, I tend to be fanatical. I make sure every "T" is crossed and every “I” is dotted, twice. Every single year in the past has provided a lesson, or ten. This year I really sat down and took an inventory of the lessons learned and looked at what I thought the water and wind were going to do and we drew out our best possible plan for the crossing and decided to absolutely stick to it. M2O is as much about reading the ocean as it is fitness. You could be the best athlete in the world and if you read the ocean wrong, you can come in dead last, or worse not finish at all. Everything we did had a Plan A, Plan B, Plan C.
After our fun adventure day on Molokai we had a few hours to enjoy the relaxation but then it was back to business. The morning of the race the escort boats bring the boards. It’s the athlete’s jobs to swim the boards to shore, there is no dock, so every single item is swum or paddled to shore. This is also the time when I usually finalize my race plan with my boat captain, make sure we all agree, set the way-point for Oahu and get last minute stuff off of the boat.
Then it’s back to the condo for lunch, shower, and relaxation just in time for our pre-race interview. This is the time when the beauty and magic of the race start to really hit me. The backdrop of the Kaiwi Channel is stunning and the buzz of the competition and what we are about to do starts to get real. Part of what makes this race so magical is really the people that started it and the heart around it. It’s kind of similar to what I think climbing Mount Everest would be like, or doing Ironman Kona. It’s not a normal stretch of water, you have to respect it, it can give you the best moments of your life or the most painful and those butterflies of not knowing what is coming start to come into play.
This year was a little different for me in that usually being the only girl on the team, the day before the race is really sort of a lonely solo endeavor. I usually fly in with my helper and have a really quiet day on Molokai before paddling back to Oahu. With Tyler last year it was a little more adventurous but we knew we had really stiff competition and badly wanted a win so even Tyler was pretty mellow. However, this year Blue Planet had a fully international large team presence. Between Tyler and Ty the Aussie, next thing you know there is a whole lot more hanging out than normal. That is something that I really enjoyed this year was how our little tiny Blue Planet team had actually grown to the point where we all really felt like we were on a team. Rob and Jeff’s condo overlooked the race start at the center of everything, we had a lovely few hours of rest on their balcony among friends before getting ready for dinner. Pre- race dinner for me is always the same, one of the ways my body starts to know its go time. And there was of course the pre-race briefing. This year, because the channel was going to be big they paid particular attention to making sure we stayed safe getting in and out of our escort boats, which is by far the most dangerous part of the channel crossing. It is at this briefing that the channel starts to speak.
It’s always a strange feeling the night before the crossing because I always start to notice the channel has its own sounds, some years it’s still and others the wind is absolutely howling through the tall palm trees. After a few years of crossings I find myself acutely aware of which direction and how hard the wind is blowing. Although the general weather in Hawaii is easy to predict, the wind is an entirely different matter and often the last, best weather forecast consists of observing the wind is doing the night before the race. Some years it is has been eerily still and others the wind is howling like I remember as a child wind howling in the Sierra’s when a storm is coming. All the anticipation of what is to come combined with the language of the Kaiwi channel causes a collective feeling of anticipation like none other. I can only imagine it must feel like base camp on Everest or the Big Island the night before Kona. Then before you know it, it’s race day and the next thing you find yourself swimming out the boat and rushing off to the start.
We had a race strategy, and made sure we stayed on our line. A big challenge for us was equipment, we selected the smallest possible rideable board for Tyler who is 6’3 and 210 lbs because I am 5’5” 130. Making a board for this type of race situation is not easy at all. Tyler is notorious for breaking both boards and paddles and I’m notorious for not being able to paddle wide or heavy boards. So the board had to be glassed thick enough for Tyler’s weight and light enough for me to pull while having enough volume to float him without creating too much wind resistance for me since M2O is a side-wind/down-wind race. It really takes a master of the art to make something that would work in those conditions for both of us; Rob did an incredible job, our Bump Rider was absolutely perfect!
For me the morning of the race is all about energy conservation. I’ve lived the consequences of expending too much energy before the start of the race, so I stay in the condo until the very last moment, get my stuff together, get out to the boat and do what I need to do. Tyler is a bit more relaxed he wants to be in the mix and feel what being part of the race feels like. I can tell he’s dreaming about going solo but for now we are on a mission. This year was no less competitive, than last, many of the teams consisted of professional paddlers and we were pretty well matched which meant it was anyone’s day. Our other big concern was actually the women’s teams, particularly in my mind Andrea Moller and Devin Blish because on a windy day they can beat most men including pro men, and it was WINDY. Then there was the younger women’s team who can work magic on narrow 14’ boards and I know well enough that kids are hungry to take out the adults. I knew we would only feel like a win was a win was if we beat the women’s teams.
Tyler started the race as I watched from the boat, he held pace with Annabel so he was very easy to spot, the minute they said we could change, I hopped on and away we went. You’d think that crossing as a team, you’d be faster than the solo athletes but between taking the time to take off and put on the leash (which these days is mandatory) and the fact that you can’t go faster than the waves, meaning that everyone is catching the maximum amount of bumps and you can only go as fast as the bumps will allow, it really is anyone’s game.
We were feeling good, however, next thing I knew I noticed we were neck and neck with Jimmy Fitt and Kristy Kelso. I knew they were hungry to beat us. I yelled at Tyler at the top of my lungs that Jimmy was behind him and Tyler surged ahead. Next thing I know they turned south and we held to our more northerly line, we wanted to go straight across. All the sudden the channel got lonely but we knew that wherever we were our competition was with us. We took no chances and constantly stayed in attack mode. If either of us fell off our pace we switched out, we knew we were fit enough to even go every 10 minutes if we had to although we didn’t have to. The channel was a complete blur of focus, intensity, and a lot of large rolling swells. We had a job to do! Since it was close I decided to paddle the wall (I’m good at the wall) and Tyler was going to paddle it home through the surf (he’s far better at that than I am), once he got to the inside, I would paddle the final upwind leg to the finish. Everything went to plan and the sense of urgency was unbelievable! All we wanted to do was get to that finish line with every ounce of everything we had.
Next thing I know Beau Hodge is announcing our names at the finish line. For years I had thought of what it might feel like to cross that finish line in first. So often I think of first as first solo but the team race is just as competitive but in a different way. Crossing for me was relief, confusion and resolve to find out if we had achieved what we had wanted so badly.
An hour later the adrenaline was still flowing strong, we needed to know! Finally after an hour of waiting we found out that not only had we won our division by 55 minutes but we had come in 3rd for all of the 2 person teams, something that no team with a woman has ever done. This is beyond a dream for me, I have had so many emotions in that stretch of water but until now never have I gotten to feel what it feels like to do something amazing out there. The fact that as a team we were able to rise and do something greater than what the two of us should have been able to do together is something I will never forget. Teamwork done right elevates the team well past the sum of the individual parts should be able to do on paper together, but it rarely happens. I’m so grateful to have been able to be a part of that. I’m sure in the coming weeks it will sink in, yet I can already feel the channel once again calling me back for another year.
A huge thank you to Blue Planet and all of our sponsors for their unwavering support which made this possible: Blue Planet Surf, KIALOA, Vitamin A Swim, Hook-Up-Surfing, Honolulu Pet Clinic, On It Pro, Infinit Nutrition, Indo Board, Tactical Strength and Conditioning, ENRG Performance.
Also a special thank you to Outrigger Canoe Club as well all of our canoe coaches and teammates for all of their time and energy, because strong and correct in a canoe is strong on a SUP.