Pailolo Channel, Backward

In March 2011, Standup World Tour stalwarts Zane Schweitzer and Brennan Rose paddled the downwind run from Maui to Molokai, hunted down a deer, and the next day, loaded the frozen meat into a milk crate bungeed to one of the boards, and attempted something that no one had before: solo paddling the volatile Pailolo Channel back to Maui. Six trying hours later, Schweitzer, then 17, and Rose, at 21, completed the unprecedented reverse crossing. We highlighted the multi-faceted mission in the “Adventure Undercover” feature of our 2012 SUP Gear Guide, available on newsstands now. Their take on the trip:

Brennan Rose: Zane called me one day and said, ‘Let’s paddle to Molokai.’ So I said okay, and 45 minutes later he shows up at my house. We put our (short)boards on the front of our (16-foot standup) boards, and we started at his grandma’s house in Kahana.

Zane Schweitzer: It was honking winds so we were flying. We both had fishing lines on too, 50 feet tied to one of the rubber slippers [flip-flops] we wore standing on the boards.

BR: So just a line on a slipper with a lure. When you get going on those F-16s, you’re going fast trolling through the channel with such deep water. About an hour in, the lure’s dragging and an Ono had eaten the lure but was still traveling with me, slowing me down but not pulling me. So I’m over it, pull the line in and see this fish, two-and-a-half feet long. I’m grabbing on the line, slipper in one hand and line in the other, and wrapping it and pulling, wrapping and pulling. I try to get the lure out of his mouth and yell over to Zane, I get it 20 feet from my board and it jumped up, but I lost it.

ZS: We didn’t bring camp gear, I had a key I grabbed before leaving Maui to my uncle Scott’s house on the east side of Molokai.

BR: It was hard to land, but once he did, we landed right at his uncle’s house. Zane’s an incredible navigator, he’s been doing that channel with his windboard and with his dad his whole life. It took about two and a half hours.

ZS: It’s a small beach house, no electricity. He’s got chickens on his property so every morning we’d make fish and eggs, spend the day fishing, laying net and catching all kinds of fish.

BR: Every night we got our fish, wake up, grab 8-10 eggs, make fish cakes, do some downwinders with Ekolu [Kalama].

ZS: Ekolu’s born and raised on Molokai, we met up with him, started fishing, relaxing at the house, he asked, ‘Do you want to go hunting,’ and we’re like, ‘Guarantee.’

BR: In Molokai, you gotta be well known just to live there, but the boys, they all go hunting. Ekolu picks us up, they got their rifle, we’re rolling in the back of the truck Hawaii-style.

ZS: We spotted [a deer] from up on the road, we pulled over, I laid down with the big gun—it had a scope, the deer was a good 200-300 yards away. So we’re looking across valley over to next ridge, it took me two shots. I shot once, startled it; second shot, right through his heart, in and out.

BR: It was graphic, kinda gnarly, but the venison rolls off the gorge down a cliff. Ekolu says, ‘You gotta go down there, grab it and bring it back to the road.’

ZS: We didn’t know what to do, we finally found the deer after an hour and half of hiking, I thought, ‘Shit, I gotta call Ekolu, where do I start the cut?’ So we did it like that, on the phone, I had one hand on my ear and one hand deep in the deer.

BR: It was at least 100 pounds, and we’ve got to carry it on our backs and trek one and a half hours to the truck. We took turns carrying it, a couple times we almost fell, and we had to hold onto one another, had to tie rope on deer’s legs and lower it down to the next step of a cliff. It was a mental trip, and that was the easy part.

ZS: We were stoked, eating deer, eating like kings at this beach house. We were like, shit, let’s just paddle back, lets do it. Ekolu’s like, ‘You guys want to charge it, charge it, let me know if you guys need to get rescued, I’ll be waiting with the jet-ski if you need it.’ Because nobody’s ever done the Pailolo Channel backwards, upwind, not even in canoes. And Brennan and I are like, fuck yeah, let’s do it.

BR: We wanted to stay more, but I had to get back to work, we woulda probably never come back; I was so much fun living off the land, training with Ekolu. But if I’d missed another day of work I’d have gotten fired, so Zane and I picked up our balls and we went.

ZS: We woke at 6 and decided 100 percent we doing it, got on water 7:30 or 8 o’clock, board was loaded—we froze the deer that night so it would be solid, put it in a baggie, in a garbage bag, 30 pounds of deer, 10 pounds of fish, and put that in a crate—we went up to Rocky Point, a surf spot in Molokai more upwind, because we knew we’d be fighting current and wind. Brennan had the backpacks and both the (surf)boards duct-tapped to the nose, I had the deer.

BR: I went over there with board shorts and a shirt, and some protective gear: one cell phone, no flares, no walkie talkies, one phone that died halfway. And we had egg crates on the back of the boards and we bungeed that around the board right in front of the rudder. We did have rudders and we needed them; we were paddling up-current.

ZS: The Pailolo Channel’s one of the roughest in the world because the current and the wind and the swell. The current flows north, east, but we were paddling into the wind—you don’t want to paddle it—straight upwind, and we had 60 pounds of equipment separated between each board.

BR: When we left Molokai you could see Maui—Okay there’s Maui, we want to land there. In the middle of the channel we hear thunder and lightning behind us, and then we can’t even see Maui. It’s all fogged up. There was storm coming, so we just paddled the opposite way of the current.

ZS: It was rough, three hours into it were looking at each other, like, ‘What the fuck are we doing? Oh my god, this is gnarly. This is really nuts.’ Because not only are we working really hard, we’re also not going anywhere.

BR: We were supporting each other, when Zane would be, ‘Aaggh, lets turn back,’ or whatever, it’d be, ‘No, let’s go, let’s go,’ or if I’d say that, he’d go, ‘No no, we’re almost there.’

ZS: If we stopped for more than 30 seconds, we’d be 40 feet behind us. You stop paddling, you start moving backward, it was full overhead swell were paddling into.

BR: It’s hard to visualize because it’s a lot gnarlier—Hawaiian 4-5 foot, California 9-10 footers, overhead. They don’t always break, some do, coming at you with a lot of wind, 15-20 mph wind. It was upset. We were paddling side-to-side, and we’d get off our boards to refit the bungees.
Then in the middle, we saw these big humpback whales, a calf and a mom, that splashed up 15 feet from us.

ZS: ‘Aaahh, damn, that’s a good omen,’ we thought, so we felt safer and kept paddling. Sure enough, it started to get mellower as the wind shadow got closer. Oh my god, we sure were happy to get in the glassy water.

BR: Once the third, fourth hour hit, we were looking at each other like, ‘Oh man.’ We didn’t eat anything, just had a huge meal before we left.

ZS: We wanted to do it, so we were fighting to do it. We weren’t going to turn around.

BR: (Seeing land), it felt like hours, and days. The land never gets closer. It’s like an optical illusion. We finally see it, but then two hours later, we’re still going. It was frustrating, my arms, my whole body, my ankles purple and swollen.

ZS: So we’re paddling our frisking asses off the whole paddle and my phone’s going off because my dad’s calling from the beach with binoculars. He almost called the Coast Guard. I wasn’t answering; a few times I tried and I lost so much ground drifting. He kept calling, so I got on my phone, ‘Dad dude, I’m sorry, I can’t talk to you. We’re just trying to make it back.’ He’s ‘Oh, sorry, just wondering if you’re okay, do you need the Coast Guard?’ I told him, ‘No, we’re going to do it ourselves. We got this.’

ZS: We got into the beach at S-turns. All the local boys, all my uncles, were drinking beer, 2 o’clock in afternoon on the beach, asking, ‘Where the F are these guys coming from?’

BR: My body was sore. I couldn’t even stand on the board. We were stoked, so tired, we took the coast road home and a bunch of buddies out there gave us beers—you can’t say no to Hawaiians. I had a couple beers, didn’t feel good at all, was talking to my girlfriend and wasn’t even making sense, fell asleep at the dinner table and she carried me to bed.

ZS: We were dead. It was so heavy. I went back to my house, marinated that deer right away because wasn’t exactly frozen five and half hours later, put it in my dad’s smoker and rested the rest of the day, then party the next day. It was a fun, big adventure … a challenge and I’m gonna remember that for rest of my life.

BR: I’d do it again.