Racer’s Perspective: Finishing M2O 2017

SUP magazine editor Will Taylor midway through Molokai 2 Oahu 2017. Photo: Thea Hutchinson

Racer’s Perspective: Finishing M2O 2017

This coverage is brought to you by SIC Maui.

It’s done. Molokai 2 Oahu 2017—the 32-mile race across the Ka’iwi Channel—had a banner year by all accounts. Records were broken: Australian Travis Grant won his third M2O title and is the first standup paddler to complete the race in under four hours. Kiwi Penelope Strickland came out of the blue then paddled fast across that blue for a new women’s course record and a huge upset victory.

SEE THE 2017 RESULTS.

The wind was howling, but that did not mean it was easy.

I felt strangely calm sitting on the start line with all the other paddlers. After the months of preparation, the logistical conundrums and last-minute freak-outs it was finally time. All I had to do was paddle. All 32 miles this time, though, not just half like I’d done last year.

The red flag dropped, the green flag went up and we were off. Race starts are always hectic and this one is no different. I zig-zagged between other racers and tried to push my heart rate down while finding a rhythm. We started to spread out and catch some bumps as the wind picked up as we got farther from the island. At about a half-hour after the start, escort boats (each team or individual paddler is required to have a support boat) rush in to find their paddlers and that creates another scene of chaos with boat wakes adding to an already churning ocean.

My boat crew found me and then we were really off. The wind swell grew and I started connecting runners, trying to catch my breath and stretch out as I surfed along. I was still jittery though, and had multiple falls where I should have been solid. At mile eight I started to feel properly warmed up. The early race nerves settled down, my body was warm and I felt synchronized with the ocean. Dare I say I even had some fun. Those feelings would only last for ten more miles.

Burns so good. The author at the finish line. Photo: Molokai2Oahu

At mile 19, I hit the current coming off Oahu. I went from averaging about 9.5-minute miles to doing over 12-minute miles. Glides from the swell got harder to come by and each mile became a battle. Some were better than others but all were slow. After a good first half of the race it was a mental blow that was hard to deal with. I tried to settle in and deal with it the best I could, one stroke at a time.

Things got worse. Not only did the current stray strong but as you get closer to Oahu, the refraction from the wind swell and ground swell sends another layer of chop through the water. This was not a welcome addition after 27 miles of open ocean paddling. It was rowdy and I got bucked off my board in almost every way possible, including a full backward somersault. With only a few miles to go, I wondered if this part of the race might finally do me in. But I kept getting to my feet and pushing my blade in the water.

Racers and their boats all converge off Portlock Point, before turning in past China Walls and heading into Maunalua Bay for the finish. Here, the wind that helped us all the way across the channel became our enemy, wrapping behind Koko Head and funneling straight offshore into our faces. This an only slightly lesser evil than the chaotic choppiness of the open ocean.

I so badly wanted to give up. It seemed so cruel, so unnecessary. I wanted to paddle on my knees but my pride would not allow it. I leaned against the wind and inched toward the finish line, my whole body threatening to cramp up. The red buoys of the finish line crawled closer, closer, closer until I finally limped past them.

It was done. I wanted to lay down. I wanted to celebrate. Most of all, I didn’t want to paddle any more. My goal had been to finish in under six hours. I finished in a time of 6:07:18. I’m OK with that. I finished strong. And that’s enough for me.

Get the pre-race perspective.

Read the full feature on M2O 2016.