Stand-up paddling across the Kaiwi Channel during the 12th Annual Quiksilver Edition Molokai to Oahu Paddle Board Race is an adventure of a lifetime and a lesson in pain. I had a lot of time to think while paddle racing for 32 miles this season and I have some tips for you, whether you're going solo or as part of a team.
An important issue is whether you need to think about your paddling technique. If you have to "think" about blade entry, short or long stroke, strokes per minute, "J" stroke, or whatever, you are not ready to do this race. The Molokai Channel can be one of the most turbulent forces you will ever come across. At times, this year's race felt more like a wild bronco rodeo event rather than fun runners and surfing your way down the course like at my home training grounds on Oahu's North Shore. The northeast wind bump would collide with capping north swells, sending you either flying off the board or trying to frantically balance as if you were in a 7.0 Richter earthquake. All your focus is on the shapes and angle of oncoming bumps and how you are going to position your board, body, and paddle with them. There's no time to think about paddling technique here. It has to be a natural part of you, like breathing. The best paddlers look fluid, natural, and explosive in their strong body movements.
Another issue is whether you like to paddle equally on the left and right sides of your board. If you feel a need to be symmetrically balanced, don't even consider this race. The prevalent trade wind direction hits you from the right rear side, so you end up paddling on your left (leeward) side most of the time. On my home turf, the wind hits you on the opposite side during downwinders. I would estimate that I paddled 26 miles on the left side and 6 miles on the right side, and that's with having the luxury of a rudder although the unstable waters made it difficult to even use the rudder at times.
Also, everything feels heavier and heavier as you go along, so having a really light and efficient paddle like the Werner Spanker is important. Working out with heavier solid wood paddles helps, and sometimes I have even used weights on the paddle.
I could go on forever with all the little challenges of this odyssey. But it's best to focus on why you are doing this race because that is your ultimate fuel. For myself, the main pleasure was to completely let go of my terrestrial existence, embrace the open ocean adventure under the power of my own body, bond with nature and pristine coastlines, and soak up the rich Hawaiian ocean culture with my paddling tribe. This is the beauty of stand-up paddling and why I love focusing my energies working within the industry at everpaddle.com.
As I started the race and as I paddled through all the barriers of physical and mental pain and slight seasickness, knowing that I crossed the same magnificent churning 2300 feet deep Kaiwi Channel that King Kamehameha and his 10,000 warriors with 1200 canoes did in 1795 to do battle with King Kalanikupule of Oahu, I felt completely at awe, and at home.