Annabel Anderson Shares The Athlete’s Take on Molokai 2 Oahu
It happens every year and it's one of the few events you can set your annual calendar by.
The final Sunday of every July, prone and standup paddlers make the journey to the island of Molokai for the crossing back to the island of Oahu. This will be the 19th year in which hardy souls both young and old come from near and far to navigate the Ka'iwi Channel in an attempt to take the fastest line back to the neighboring island.
For some it's a right of passage, a heritage of inter-island travel that they are born and raised with. For others it's a personal journey representing months of dedication, training, planning and coordination of logistics.
Steeped in history and the pinnacle of ocean and channel crossings, the roots of M2O began lying down. The windy summer months and lack of swell provided the perfect opportunity for the surfers and lifeguards to hone the critical fitness and prepare themselves for the big swells of the winter season ahead. Prone boards were the perfect tool.
While some years were bigger than others, the group of paddlers from the Hawaiian Islands, California, Australia and beyond held to their annual date with the Channel, which continues today.
As the popularity of SUP kicked off, the prone paddlers welcomed these newcomers. SUP became the new kid on the block in the Channel.
The metamorphosis of standup has brought major attention to this weekend, but the roots of prone paddling extend far into the heart of the newcomer.
With the popularity of the event reaching gargantuan proportions in recent years, registration fever hits every March. Priority is given to those who have crossed before, and with more and more people wanting to participate, an entry lottery was introduced for those wanting to pull off the trifecta of training, travel and logistics.
While this year I had no intention of making the crossing (having crossed in 2011 on a whim) other years I have made entries only for plans to be upended with circumstances beyond my control.
In 2012, two days before leaving New Zealand for Hawaii to make the M2O, I slipped down some stairs on the way home from dinner. A torn MCL and a cancelled race followed.
In 2013, 'sticker' wars hit their peak. The prominent flavor of unlimited downwind boards had been sold and the new corporate owners weren't too fussed on having the stickers of competition gracing their gel coats. It would be fair to say that some ugly exchanges affected a couple well-known athletes and rather than step into the firing line for the same round of public target practice, for me, the lure of Tahitian downwind paradise beckoned and I accepted.
In 2014, the lure of warm Costa Rican waves overpowered the stress of pulling off the logistics of the channel.
Then, 2015 hit and with no intention other than having a clear diary for the month of July, I was set to take things as they came and make the most of the freedom of a couple of open weeks in my schedule.
You see, that's the funny thing about M2O, it's not just signing up that guarantees you're going to cross the channel.
First up, the challenge of boards and equipment runs far deeper than people realize. Downwind boards (unlimited or stock) are unique shapes, which only work in the waters of the Kai'wi Channel (it's not unusual for people to have different boards for different downwind runs around the Hawaiian Islands and further afield. Such is the specificity of each stretch of water and the conditions each holds).
Then you have to factor of getting a board: ship one in, try to buy locally or get something made there. None of these options are a home run.
The waters of Hawaii are unique as are the trade winds which generate the big rolling ocean swells that make downwind paddling here unparalleled. The same goes for the currents and climate that go with them. Only a fool would turn up unprepared to cross the channel having not experienced it prior.
So, now you've got your entry, you've got your board, you've figured out if and where you're going to spend time beforehand. Then, you've got the nitty gritty of the critical logistics to get your head around.
More akin to a Rubik's Cube, some people (most likely local) have the magic code for M2O. For anyone outside, it quickly becomes a cryptic jigsaw of trying to work out how it may possibly come together to make it to the start line.
A couple of weeks ago, I found myself at home (winter, in Wanaka, New Zealand - my first winter visit home in six years) and I wondered if there might be the smallest chance of the planets aligning to make the 2015 M2O crossing. It would be dependent on two critical factors first up - was there a board I could use and could I secure an entry?
A couple of emails later, confirmation was through. Brian Szymanski of Lahui Kai--a board brand that has been shaping for M2O virtually since its inception--had shaped a third 14-foot stock board and it was being shipping to Oahu. And, receipt of an email gave me the go ahead--I was lucky enough to secure a late entry.
Once the tickets are booked, teamwork comes into play. Anything to do with a Channel crossing is a complicated maze of teamwork. The transfers, carting of equipment, places to stay, where to train, downwind shuttles and more - none of it is possible without the goodwill and team work of locals and others.
Maybe it's this logistical nightmare and shared experience that makes the M2O the event that it is. The camaraderie shared from the sheer achievement of making it to the start line and then across the channel to the finish line is phenomenal.
There is no massive prize purse, just the satisfaction of pulling off a monumental effort that was months in the planning and preparation. The expense (yes - this comes with a high price tag attached) and the sacrifices you make are outweighed by personal achievement.
In the few days since I arrived on Molokai, I've had a few surprised looks when bumping into some familiar faces.
"Yes, I'm doing the race."
"No I'm doing it Stock - the hard way, on a 14' with no rudder."
You see, when the planets align to have the opportunity to tow the start line of an M2O, why not?
Sure there is the glory of the Unlimited class - all board and the forgiveness of a rudder to help you paddle and surf your way against the prevailing right shouldered breeze that tries to push you south of the rum line.
But for those that line up without a rudder on a shorter board - either individual or in the team's event, the reasons for participating are the same - to cross the Channel of Bones and to make the best crossing you are capable of that day.
You may beat your buddies, they may beat you. The trash talk between the teams may have been going on for months, but in the end you're all winners when you hit the finish line bursting with stories to share.
This week, I have no expectations; only gratification for the teamwork that has allowed me to make it to the start.
I will do my best to make it from the start to the finish with power, poise, grace and strength.
I will endeavor to call upon my mental strength when I find myself hitting a tough spot mid-channel.
I will channel the strength of those who have come before me and the team that has made all this crossing possible.
I will go through a raft of emotions and have to face some deep dark places in my head.
I go ... because I can. See you at the finish.
Complete rundown for Molokai 2 Oahu 2015.