Team Saffa Does Molokai 2 Oahu
The Saffa Team descended on the Molokai experience with some trepidation – none of us had ever raced a similar distance and everyone had told us how tough it was. What little did we know….
Well, where do we start… lets start with the Saffas:
Kimon Dos Santos: 15 yo schoolboy from Cape Town. Is one of the top 3 juniors back in South Africa, totally laid back and fueled by youthful exuberance. He was also the youngest entrant into this years M2O – 14’ Stock.
Brigette van Aswegen: 38yo mother of three, also from Cape Town and the top racer in SA. Generally only likes downhill (wind) and is tough as nails – 14’ stock.
Ryan Butcher: 33yo from Durban. Don’t let the mellow looks of this guy fool you – he holds a strong will to win and has talent in spades as his silver medal to Brad Gaul at the 2013 ISA SUP Worlds proves – Prone Stock
Peter Petersen: 48yo Naish SUP importer to Africa – I just like downwinding and thought the whole experience sounded like a great idea…. – 14’ stock.
Logistics – everyone warned us about them, forget trying to organise anything via email from South Africa, wait till you get there and get on the phone and make friends where you can. Everything will eventually fall into place and be good, until the dreaded curve-ball finds you. This time round, I was served the curve-ball at 1pm the day before the race, in the form of a phone call from my skipper to say his one engine had blown a turbo on the way to the start on Molokai. “Holey Turbo – what now?”
In my ignorance I asked him if he couldn’t just use the other engine – “No, was the reply, I need to turn back to Maui”. Shucks…no boat and he’s got my board and the start is tomorrow morning. Back on the phone to Clare Seeger (transport-accomodation-logistics-organiser extraordinaire on Molokai) + Mike Takanashi (M2O organiser) and within 20 minutes my board had been organised to get transferred to another boat and Kenji was setting sail from Oahu to escort me across. What had initially taken months was suddenly all done in 20 minutes….
The broken boat was also carrying Guido Luiz’s (Brazil) board but he was no-where to be found, so he was blissfully ignorant of the fact that he nearly missed the race. To this point, I’m not sure if he really understands how close he was to not having his board as the language barrier seemed to get the better of us when I tried to explain the turn of events to him.
The delay meant I missed the race-briefing and was last man to get my goodie-bag – but at least I made the 10$ dinner. Seeing all the athletes in one place was amazing, Danny Ching, Connor Baxter, Terrene Black, Dave Kalama etc – these guys are the fittest human beings you’ll ever see short of visiting an Olympic village.
Race day: Up at 4am, shuttle at 5am, arrive at race start 5.45 – time to find your boat. My skipper Kenji had said he’d be easy to find; all white boat, 2 outriggers and a red flag with a fish. Pretty much the first boat that caught my eye, amongst the hundreds at anchor in the bay, fitted the description – too easy, mate. Pack all my stuff on the board and paddle out. When I got closer to my boat the fish on the red flag turned out to be turtles and it looked a fair bit bigger than the 17’ I was supposed to be looking for – wrong boat. Shucks, now what, he was the only dude with a red fishy flag. Scramble for the phone, I’m on 8% battery life with no reception (note get AT&T sim-card next time) – pull up to a boat and ask them to please call Kenji – they oblige and tell me he is not even here yet but about a mile out and incoming. Well, that’s better news than the prone-guy I spoke to on the beach as I paddled out. His boat had broken down 4 miles out – and it had his board…..with 30minutes to go for the prone start. I still don’t know if he ever got to go….
Kenji arrives and I can offload and paddle back to the beach. During all this they all had the Pule-prayer on the beach holding hands and finding the spirit of the event – missed out on that, like last nights briefing…
Time to drop some fools in the pool – dude you don’t want to know… Five-man line to the de-port-a-loo and inside it’s like a nuclear fall-out – I nearly threw-up but got it back together and paddled to the start-line. Proners just set off, amazing sight, windmill arms and boats peddling for the horizon. Pull up next to Michi Schweiger, he’s the product manager for Naish and has done the crossing several times. He was looking a little anxious. Said hi to a couple of other paddlers and just tried to soak it all in. We’re here, we’re ready and although the wind is light, it is right up our backsides for the start.
Red flag, horn sounds and we’re off. Kimon had said he was going to give it horns and he was flying. I just hoped he’d conserve enough for the supposed tough end-bit. I just got into the groove and tried to stick with the people who settled in around me. After 30 minutes the escort boards are allowed to pull in and find their paddlers, this caused a fair bit of cross chop as there were boats going everywhere. Wind was slowly picking up – 5-8 knots and you could pick up tiny runs and you could kind of see Coco Head in the clouds ahead so it was sort of easy to plan your way.
Kenji pulls up next to me with Barry White, then Michael Jackson glaring from his speakers, hey – this could be a party paddle, all good! He takes a few pics and is all smiles – I like Kenji.
As we get 2-3 miles deeper into the Kaiwi channel the wind starts turning 35-45degrees over our right shoulder and now its all paddling on the left. At least for us rudder-less creatures.
The ocean seems quite messy and I’m wondering, if it’s the current, or the South swell, that is causing it to just stand up all over the place. The NE lumps had zero power so you’d glide a few meters at best and always being weary about not drifting too far South. Speed felt ok – it was not downwinding but we were making progress. Started dicing with a team who had one paddler who’d take out 1-200meters on me then they’d swop and I’d make up the lost ground and so we went on for what seemed ages.
Paddling is one-sided and getting a bit tedious, still no bumps and ocean is not letting up, just lumpy crap everywhere. My thoughts are wandering, focus on the paddle, rhythm, breathing and keeping the nose straight. Suddenly Kenji pulls up and shouts – “Doing good, you are past halfway and you are a little North of the rhumb line”. I looked at my watch and can’t remember what the time was, but it wasn’t looking too bad. I was carrying 3 liters of energy drink, 2 liters of water, 3 bananas and a wad of gels, Cliff Bloks and some protein bars. I wasn’t sure how things would work with Kenji and I had no-one to play Sherpa on the boat so I’d decided to just carry it all myself – it probably added 8kg. I was now eating every 30 minutes, sit on board rip out gel, stuff it in mouth and back up. Normally you do this on the runs, but there were none and the sea was super messy so balancing was becoming an issue on my otherwise stable Glide 14’.
“Keep on paddling, Keep on paddling” singing to myself like Dora in “Finding Nemo”. It wasn’t great, shoulders were hurting, my one foot had started cramping but a banana sorted that and I was still just paddling on the left. I‘d given up trying to get bumps and Coco Head just didn’t seem to be getting much bigger.
Every now and then Kenji would pull up and say: “Doing good, you’re on the line, keep going” They say it’s the little things that matter, and it was amazing how motivating it was to hear this encouragement from this man I had only met a couple of hours before. He genuinely sounded like he meant it and it just pushed me on.
My goal before the race was to finish. I knew that if it was pure downwinding I’d easily do sub 5-hours, but after the Maui – Molokai I knew that I mustn’t expect it to be downwinding and that I mustn’t let the grind get to me like it did on that run. This probably helped keep me going, I wasn’t going to let the crappy conditions get to me – at least not yet….
Kenji pulls up: “10 miles to go – doing good!” – I looked at my watch, 4 hours on the button, I could be in under 6 hours – I got all amped and thought, hell, this isn’t to bad. I mean, I’m still only paddling on my left and its been pretty bad, but I’ve done 2/3rds and although they all say last 8 miles are hard, how hard could it be?
Well, let me put it this way….it got bad….and then it got worse……. and then it got cataclysmic……
You’ve been grinding for over 4 hours on one side only, one normal paddle stroke, one side swipe to keep nose straight and then a quick brace to keep your balance as the side-chop is trying to throw you off. It was like being on a wild bronco, but I had only fallen off once this far when a lapse in concentration made me trip over the front and bear-hug the nose of my board. Must have looked pretty funny because Kenji immediately sped over to see if I was ok.
Water was getting worse, the South swell and North wind chop was now being joined up by refraction from Oahu – chaos, dude. Combine this with the wind picking up from the NE and constantly forcing your nose South we were about to enter the true testing arena. Wind was exceeding 20knots and as anyone knows – unless you have it up your ass, it’s not your friend – especially when you are rudderless.
It was getting bad, 7.5miles to go, couldn’t work out the maths but I was definitely slowing down. My power was sapping 5 odd hours passed and I felt like I was making zero progress. That bloody rock wasn’t moving. Fair enough, I was supposed to be doing the moving, but still…. I hadn’t seen any of my Saffa compatriots since the start and had no idea where they were – I just hoped Kimon remembered to eat and drink and that Brigette kept her game face on – somehow I wasn’t worried about Ryan.
5 miles to go, 4 miles to go, I was making progress, but my 6hour goal was completely blown, what is happening????? I was standing still. The supposed outgoing tide should have turned by now (pays to be slow) and should be sucking me back in…but to me it seemed like the opposite was happening. At this point I was just fighting the ocean, we were no longer friends and I felt very small. Thankfully, my body was still holding up but my power was getting drained out. Every 30minute gel session was a welcome relief.
I now started seeing boats come by at speed – paddlers were throwing in the towel….man, we’re this close, you can’t give up. Now I’m 2.5miles out and I’m trying to get in close to China Wall.
Armageddon…..I cannot get in there, I fall in and immediately start cramping in my arm and leg as I haul my sorry ass back up. This is no good, I’ve eaten all my bananas – I shout:”More bananas, Kenji” he throws one to me – I stuff it in my face, stagger back up and try again. Going no-where. Wind now feels like its coming from cross up-front, chop is outrageous and as organized as a riot in LA.
I paddle 3x side-swipes, 2x braces – repeat. I never put in one normal paddle stroke, my technique is retarded, I’m pulling with my left arm and pushing with my top arm – forget trying to engage core and twisting my back or shoulders – it would have resulted in immediate seizure. So now I’ve got no more power, my technique has deserted me and I’m not thinking straight. That fokken wall is just not getting any closer. I can’t get around the corner, time is ticking away. I see a solo and team paddler just ahead of me also looking like they are in all sorts. More boats pass me with boards on them – damn, it looks tempting….Kenji suggests going with the runs for a while, that would only have exacerbated the problem – I need to hug the corner or I’m going to get blown to Waikiki. Wind was now easily 25knots, and I love the wind…..but this wind was from hell and back and the refractive cross-shop made my Glide dance around like it was on roller-bearings.
I drop onto my board, eat another Cliff Blok and shout to Kenji: “I can’t get to the wall…” – he shouts back: “Come on, the finish line is right there!” I sit on the board, start paddling sitting on my ass, and I actually start moving. Stuff this, I know its frowned upon (I’ve never kneeled, ever, in a race) and I’m on my knees and I’m making progress. 800meters to what looks like a bit of lee from China Wall. I kneel and pray the officials on the boat right ahead turn a blind eye. Finally, I get to lee of the wall and I can get back up and turn my ship straight into the wind. What a relief, at least I can now paddle normally again. Then the first gust out of Hawaii Kai hits me, straight up, and I’m again standing still. Wind is picking up as it always does mid-day to mid-afternoon. The quicker paddlers would have just gotten under this wind and I was now being punished for being so slow.
The cross chop is replaced by head-on wind ripples and I can focus on paddling, no more bracing and sideswiping – just hit it head on. I look at the watch, I’m past 7 hours. Dude, are you even going to make 8hours? I have 1 mile left and I’m virtually not moving. Stuff it, keep going, I stumble across every reef I can find to get some push inwards while Kenji is in the channel. I fall off twice more in the waves, I’m too wasted to even set a rail on the waves.
Finally, I get through the bay and I have 200meters to the two red buoys…I start paddling like mad, cross the line, try and look composed and stumble up to be greeted by lovely ladies, flowers and my old mate Felix and his girlfriend Katie, Coke, Red Bull, Ice Water – not sure in which order – you want a beer? Man, I can’t think straight but I made it. In 7hours 48 minutes…..holy crap, that was hard. The last 10 miles had taken the same time as my first 22….
Stagger back to my feet, I see Kimon, he came in 1 hour before me – stoked! Ryan came in 3rd in the stock – stoked for him as well! Where is Brigette? Still going, is the reply – stoked, I know she will make it.
And now it’s back to logistics, find Kenji, get board to the return boat, find the other boat driver who has the money from broken boat guy and with all this I also missed out on the beach vibe, my posters, M2O mug and the hot party chicks (actually, I was told they had left hours before). Got escorted to the North shore with my friends and also missed out on the Outrigger prize giving party, like I had missed the briefing and Pule – so I pretty missed out on everything surrounding the race – at least I did the paddle!
Big congrats to our winners from Australia, Travis Grant, Terrene Black, Brad Gaul and Jordan Mercer for Bustin’ down the Door and wrestling the big event from the Hawaiians stranglehold. Also big kudo’s to the Hawaiians for being as humble in defeat as the Ozzies were in victory – sometimes us peoples learn from history!
Brigette finally came in in 8hours 55minutes…last paddler standing and an outstanding achievement on a 14’ rudderless beast on a day when even the top pros where on their knees and about to give up on the unlimited boards. Brigette spent twice the amount of time on the water as the winner – in deteriorating conditions…..incredible.
Biggest lessons learned?
Don’t bring a butter-knife to a gun fight, the M2O is not a down winder and train twice as hard as you thought was necessary in the worst conditions you can find….it’s pretty simple really.
And, if you need an escort boat..pm me for Kenji’s number!