Who to Watch | 2017 M2O Preview

Presented by SIC Maui

32-miles is only made slightly easier by the stunning natural surroundings. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

Who to Watch | 2017 M2O Preview

It’s that time of the year again. The granddaddy of all ocean crossing races is only a few short days away and anticipation levels are peaking.

The Molokai 2 Oahu Paddleboard World Championships represents the annual gathering of the world’s best downwind paddlers as they battle each other and the infamous Ka’iwi Channel—otherwise known as the Channel of Bones—during a vicious 32-mile crossing.

The storylines are plentiful: What will the next chapter of the Kai Lenny/Connor Baxter rivalry hold? Will Annabel Anderson finally conquer the one race missing from her near-impeccable SUP resume? Why isn’t three-time M2O champion Sonni Hönscheid racing? Can a dark horse claim a surprise victory on paddleboarding’s biggest stage?

Those questions will be answered once the 21st running of the M2O gets underway this Sunday morning at 7:30am HST (10:30am PST). The tradewinds are blowing and conditions look favorable heading into the weekend. While anyone who finishes this race is considered a winner in our eyes, these are a few of the top names you should look out for this weekend.

Can Kai Lenny repeat? We will find out Sunday. Photo courtesy of Molokai 2 Oahu

Men

Kai LennyAll eyes are on the Maui superstar following his first-career victory at the M2O last year. Not only did he win, Lenny reached Oahu with a record-setting pace of 4:07:41–breaking Connor Baxter's previous course record by 27 seconds.

“It’s different now that I've won it,” Lenny said. “It was so out of my reach for a while, there was an aura around it as it came closer. It was the whole world for me. Now I know what I need to do and there's not as [many] nerves surrounding it.”

Not only does Lenny feel more relaxed coming into this year’s race, he’s also more confident. This extra bravado is due to the many hydrofoil channel crossings Lenny has already comp/leted this year–including twice across the Molokai Channel.

While hydrofoils won’t be allowed at this year’s M2O, expect Lenny to be a top competitor in the Men’s Unlimited class.

Connor Baxter – Betting against Connor Baxter in a downwind race is not a smart move. This 22-year-old Maui paddler has proven time and again to be standup paddling’s equivalent of Michael Jordan when it comes to downwinding.

Baxter has won this race three times–and has held the speed record twice–but his last win came in 2014. In 2015 he got sick and had to pull out in miserably flat and hot conditions, and his performance was debilitated by a fractured rib in 2016. This year, he’s healthy and coming off his record-breaking eighth straight win in the Maui 2 Molokai race and is hungry to reclaim the M2O title from his rival.

“I want to not only win it but I'd like to get the record back as well,” he told us.

If the wind is up, expect Baxter to rise to the occasion.

Nerves will be running high on the start line for the 21st running of the M2O. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

Travis Grant – Despite a lighter training and race schedule due to his day job and his first child, wily veteran Travis Grant has been in strong form throughout the 2017 season. Like Baxter, Grant has won the M2O twice–in both 2013 and 2015–and is coming off a strong second place showing at the Maui 2 Molokai earlier this month. Grant relocated to Hawaii from Australia a number of years ago. Combined with his extensive outrigger resume and his open-ocean paddling chops, you can never count him out in the Ka’iwi.

James Casey – If you’re hoping for a first-time winner, look no further than 25-year-old James Casey. After winning the stormy Olukai Ho'olaule'a earlier this year, the Australian has continued to string together excellent results in the past few weeks. This includes a strong third-place effort in the M2M and just last weekend, holding off Baxter to win the Poi Bowl Maliko Race—an impressive feat no matter in any race.

Women

Annabel Anderson – The Kiwi has been a woman on a mission this year. After racking up victories everywhere from Carolina Cup to GoPro Mountain Games, Anderson has focused the second part of her season on one race–M2O.

This race has eluded her grasp and this year she’s hellbent on changing that. She has already won four races in Hawaii this season including the Olukai Ho'olaule'a, the M2M and last weekend’s Poi Bowl Maliko Race.

While many expected Anderson and reigning M2O champ Sonni Hönscheid to have a fantastic battle, the German paddler announced last week that she would skip this year’s M2O to focus on her upcoming art exhibition. Anderson will be a heavy favorite heading into the race, but the Channel of Bones is an unpredictable stretch of water and anything can happen.

The chaos that is the Channel of Bones. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

Terrene Black – While much of the pre-M2O talk is focused on Annabel, don’t be surprised if this Aussie spoils her party. Black won this race back in 2013 and has quietly had a very impressive 2017.

This included two APP World Tour event victories earlier this year in Japan and Maui. While sprinting is her strong suit, she’s a more experienced downwind paddler than Anderson. While she’s unlikely to out-paddle the Kiwi should conditions lay down, her experience could give her the edge she needs to pull off the upset.

Andrea Moller and Devin Blish – While many expected these two downwinding powerhouses to go solo, they’ve decided to join forces and create a super-team in the Team SUP Stock 14-foot Female Open division.

Andrea Moller is renowned throughout the SUP world as perhaps the best downwind paddler of her generation. Her career includes an impressive stretch when the Brazilian won the OluKai Ho’olaule’a seven years in a row. After an injury took her out of competition in 2016, Moller is back in action and hungry to put on a strong showing at this year’s race.

Devin Blish is no slouch either. She won last year’s M2M as a dark horse and finished a respectable fourth in this year’s race. With each paddler only having to paddle half the race, expect these two to put up an impressive time and easily win their division.

Stay Tuned

SUP magazine will be providing up-to-the-minute updates on all the action from this year’s M2O. As always, stay tuned to our Facebook and Instagram page to keep up with all the M2O happenings. SUP‘s 2017 M2O coverage brought to you by SIC Maui.

Related

Photos and analysis from the 2016 M2O.

What it’s like to compete in the M2O.