Molokai 2012 - Oscar's 12th?

Sunday, 13 May 2012 11:13 | Written by 
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Marty Kenny heads along the famous China Wall before heading for the finish - Molokai 2011 Marty Kenny heads along the famous China Wall before heading for the finish - Molokai 2011 Credits: Bob Coello, Freya Hoffmeister, Vince Bechet


Yep, it’s that time of year again when all eyes turn to the long range forecast for the Kaiwi Channel.  Will it be the raging open ocean downwind mayhem that made this race famous, or a hot, oily-calm killer?  It’s a massive challenge either way.

The Race

Every paddler should do this race once in their lives – simply because there is nothing else like it.  Nowhere else in the world do you get to do an open ocean channel crossing of 40km or more.

Here’s how it goes:


You prepare your ski on Kepui beach in front of the semi-derelict resort at Kaluakoi; the shore break is intense and you can see nothing as you look across the channel towards Oahu, just open ocean and a misty haze on the horizon.

You strap your juice bladder (several liters of energy drink) to the ski along with energy gels and you slather yourself with sunscreen to guard against the burning sun.

On the bay in front of you, there’s a veritable sea of fishing boats – the escorts.  You will have agreed with your escort that he’ll be flying a combination of flags so that you’ll recognize him.  He knows what color your ski and race gear are so he can find you…  The escorts are only allowed to start 20minutes after the race, so there’s a scramble as they power after the skis, each trying to find their own.

An hour before the start, paddlers and officials gather in a circle for the race blessing.  Head bowed, you reflect on the journey – physical and mental – that lies ahead.


Before the start - the escorts fill the bay


Finally it’s time to head into the water.  Timing is a little tricky; big bruising dumpers march in, crashing on the beach.  Wait for the set to finish, run in, launch and accelerate over the first of the next set.  Done it!

You head up the coast for a kilometer or so, warming up as you do so.  Adrenalin is running high and you’re trying to gauge just how strong the wind is and how big the open ocean swells are likely to be in the channel.

The start - molokai 2008

And they're off...

And then you’re off!  A mad frothing, spray filled mayhem until the leaders accelerate into the distance, the pack spreads out and you settle down for the long haul.  The finish lies something like 4 to 4 1/2 hours away (unless you’re a contender in which case you’re looking for 3 ½ hours or less (Dean Gardiner’s record, set in 1997, is 3:21:26.

Half an hour into the race, the escorts come speeding past, setting up a maelstrom of wakes, and you try your level best to work some benefit out of them.  Around this time though, you’re starting to get out from the lee of Moloka’i island and the swell is starting to push through.


The escorts come past, wakes everywhere.

Downwind mayhem

You’ve set your GPS to navigate mode; you’ve been told that although you should steer somewhat to the north to begin with, you shouldn’t stay too far north of the channel; as you approach Oahu, the notorious currents will tend to push you still further to the north.  Ideally, if you’ve made friends with your escort, he’ll give you advice on your line.  Listen to him!

And now you’re in the runs…  Massive, fast, breaking swells come roaring down from the NW.  The only way to catch them is to accelerate onto a smaller wind swell, and then turn onto the big ground swells.  You’re overwhelmed by the combination of noises and the sensation of speed; the howling of the wind and the crashing, rumbling of the breaking swell.  You’re out of breath, gasping.  Putting your paddle down, you glance round to find the next wave of the sequence, then, digging deep, you sprint to accelerate again…

Molokai 2006

2006 was a classic year - and the young Clint Pretorius took on his mentor Oscar Chalupsky and beat him at his own game!

Mid-channel - Molokai

Dean Gardiner - mid-channel.  Oahu's still a long way off

Some time ago the conical peak of Diamond Head came into view – but does it ever seem to come closer?  No, it does not!

China Wall and finish

Finally though, as fatigue is really setting in, you’re approaching the notorious China Wall.

China Wall has a reputation all of its own.  The ocean swells curl around the tip of Oahu and crash against the sheer cliffs, rebounding, creating a minefield of klapotis.  But in that washing machine are dominant wave fronts, heading towards the finish at Hawaii Kai.  If you still have the balance and the balls, you head close to the Wall and catch the runs past and over the reef at the end of the Wall.

Marty Kenny

Martin Kenny rides the waves next to China Wall

Then it’s a last effort to paddle the kilometer or two of calm water across the bay to the finish…

Always a Challenge, wind or no

During the week before the 2008 race we watched the forecast with sinking hearts as it changed from the steady trade wind to a fluky, variable breeze.  The night before the race, on Molokai, the palm trees were rattling with a brisk northeaster.  In the morning, however, the wind was a light 8-10kt that died almost completely an hour into the race.

It was a challenge of a different sort: I’d done all my training in downwind conditions and I found the heat absolutely debilitating.  (It didn’t help that our escort boat had delivered our skis only 30min before the start of the race, and that I’d tripped on the beach before I launched which meant that I had to wash the sand – and my sunscreen – off on the way to the start.)

I enjoyed the first hour of the race, catching wakes, and then the small runs.  But then the wind died and so did I.  I spent the next 3 ½ hours in a state of dehydrated exhaustion.  Half way into the channel the current hit us and my speed slowed dramatically.  I’d organized GPS tracker units for the race and my wife, back in South Africa, watched me barely moving, my speed at times dropping to just over 5kph.


Wind or no - Molokai is a CHALLENGE!

Far from my target time of 4 to 4 ½ hours, I crawled across the finish after nearly 5 ½ hours, nearly last.  Kanaka Ikaika means (roughly) "mankind's respectful challenge of the great ocean".  Clearly I wasn’t nearly respectful enough – and I was slapped, hard.  Respect to anyone who does this race.

Logistics and other challenges

Along with the unique challenge to the paddlers, comes a unique challenge to the race organizers. In times of economic recession, it's never easy to find sponsors, but costs keep rising.  The sponsors of this year's race include Epic Kayaks and Stellar Kayaks.

In recent years things have become a little easier as the race has arranged transport of the surfskis direct to Kalua Koi.  The race starts later in the morning too, allowing the paddlers to fly across to Molokai on the morning of the race simplifying logistics (and reducing costs).

But it’s a challenging race to enter.  It’s expensive to fly to Hawaii, and to stay there – and to pay for the escort boats.  (The weekend warriors need the escorts for safety but the contenders need them too for their local knowledge of the currents and best lines to take across the channel.)  Personally I found the 12 hour time zone difference between South Africa and Hawaii yet another challenge to overcome.  Ideally you should arrive in Hawaii 10 days in advance of the race in order to recover from the jetlag!

And then there’s the water.  I’d been warned that the warm Pacific sea water was hard on the hands – and sure enough, after the 3 hour Makapuu Run we did the day after I arrived, my hands were in shreds.  Much worse though was the condition of my coccyx – I couldn’t sit in my ski for the next 5 days and I had to fashion a bum pad for the race.

World Championship

So make no mistake – there’s a reason that this race used to be regarded as the World Championships of surfski paddling.  Now it’s one of 18 races in the Oceanpaddler World Series, but it retains a reputation second to none.

2012 Entries

49 year old Oscar Chalupsky (SA) is back – and is in the best shape he’s been in for the last 5 years or more.  He’s been training hard with Matt Bouman and Hank McGregor in Durban, and would love nothing more than to take his 12th title.  If the conditions are big, he might just do it.

Clint Robinson (Aus) is also paddling.  He and Chalupsky have dueled several times before at Molokai and he’d dearly like to win, both to extend his run of two wins (2010 and 2011) but also to put Chalupsky to the sword.

Matt Bouman (SA) has beaten Chalupsky consistently over the last couple of years in South Africa and definitely adds to the quality of the race this year.

Dean Gardiner (Aus) is watching the weather.  “Depends on the forecast,” he said a few days ago.  “If the weather looks good, I’ll try to get there, but I won’t paddle if it’s flat.”  Gardiner has won the race a total of nine times.

Bruce Taylor (Aus) is the dark horse in this race.  In 2011, Taylor led the Perth Doctor almost the entire way across the channel from Rottness Island, only to be pipped on the beach by a charging Tim Jacobs.  Taylor is a genuine contender for this race.

Zsolt Szadovski (USA HI) and Patrick Dolan (USA HI) will be in the mix, while from mainland USA, Gabe Newton, fresh from a downwind training stint in South Africa should also provide some challenge to the pack of Australians in the race.

Women’s Race

In contrast to the men’s race, won consistently almost from the start by overseas paddlers, the women’s race has been totally dominated by Hawaiian local Lauren Bartlett.  The defending champion has four consecutive victories (and also won the OC-1 category another three times back when the two disciplines used to combine for the race.)

Lauren Bartlett

Lauren Bartlett on the way to the first of 4 consecutive (surfski) wins

Entries to date

Altman, Tim M SS1 Stellar Sel Excel Australia
Apthorpe, Tracey F SS1 Epic V10l Australia
Barry, Robert M SS1 Epic V12 Australia
Bartlett, Lauren - Defending Champion F SS1 Epic V10 Elite Hawai'i
Beyer, Michael M SS1 Ocean Paddle Sports Cx Hawai'i
Booth, Michael M SS1 Think Australia
Borgnes, Erik M SS1 Epic V10 Sport USA
Bouman, Matthew M SS1 Epic V10 South Africa
Bouttell, Creagh M SS1 Epic V10 Australia
Burke, Tim M SS1 Epic V10 Sport USA
Burnham, Wade M SS1 Epic Sport Australia
Carter, Rick M SS1 Epic V-10 Sport USA
Clarke, John M SS1 Epic V10 Australia
Clegg, Simon M SS1 Fenn Elite New Zealand
Coghill, Rowena F SS1 Epic V10l Australia
Coulter, Steve M SS1 Epic V12 Australia
Currie, Peter M SS1 Epic V10l Australia
Currie, Alastair M SS1 Epic V10 Sport Australia
Daley, Damien M SS1 Dd3 Turbo Maxi Australia
De Carmejane-vesc, Camille F SS1 V10 L Hong Kong
Dolan, Patrick M SS1 Allwave Cx USA
Dunlop, Bruce M SS1 Fenn Elite Australia
Germain, Richard M SS1 Stellar Sel Excel Québec ( Canada )
Glatzel, Andrew M SS1 Cx Hawai'i
Hansen, David M SS1 Epic V12 Australia
Harpur, Clive M SS1 Epic V10 Sport South Africa
Hinton, Carl M SS1 Epic V10 Sport Australia
Hodge, Robert M SS1 Epic V10l Australia
Hope, Bob M SS1 Think Uno Australia
Judd, Kala M SS1 Epic V-10 USA
Lemmo, Samuel M SS1 Epic V12 Hawai'i
Manzewski, Boris M SS1 V10 Sport Hong Kong
Middleton, Cam M SS1 Fenn Elite Australia
Newell, Kevin M SS1 Epic V10l Australia
Newton, Gabe M SS1 Fenn Elite USA
Nielsen, Thor M SS1 Vajda, Orca - Epic, V12 Denmark
O'regan, Stewart M SS1 Think Uno Australia
Ogarey, Matthew M SS1 Stellar Ses Ultra Australia
Parker, Philip M SS1 Epic Sport Australia
Puffett, Richard M SS1 Epic Ultra V10 Australia
Quirk, Chris M SS1 Either Fenn Swordfish Or Epic V10 Sport Australia
Ressel, Mark M SS2 Epic Double Great Britain
Robinson, Clint - Defending Champion M SS1 Epic V12 Australia
Rohozinski, Eric M SS1 Fenn Elite USA
Sargent, Andrew M SS1 Epic V10 Sport Australia
Sean Lupton-smith, Patrick Hemmens M SS2 Fenn Elite Double USA
Shoebridge, Mark M SS1 Fenn Swordfish Australia
Spork, Richard M SS1 Epic V10 Ultra Mau'i
Swan, John M SS1 Vajda, Orca Racing Australia
Sweeney, Jeff M SS1 Stella Ses Australia
Switzer, Patrick M SS1 V12 USA
Taylor, Bruce M SS1 Fenn Elite Australia
Topfer, Danny M SS1 Epic V10 Sport Australia
Tutt, Kurt M SS1 Fenn Elite Australia
Wadley, Geoff M SS1 Epic V12 Australia
Wagner, Nickolas M SS1 Epic V10  


And the forecast?

According to the long range forecast at, we’re looking at a 6-7m/s northeaster at Hawaii Kai.  That’s 11-13kt.  It tends to blow harder out in the channel, so this would make for some good, if not classic, conditions.


Some History

Past Winners

Dean Gardiner holds the men's record time; Lauren Bartlett the women's.  

YearWinner Time
1976 Dale Adams USA (HI) 07:30
1977 Dean Hayward USA (HI) 06:45
1978 Kalai Handley USA (HI)  
1979 Grant Kenny Australia 05:37
1980 Grant Kenny Australia 04:42
1981 Grant Kenny Australia 03:35
1982 Grant Kenny Australia 03:39
1983 Oscar Chalupsky South Africa 03:24
1984 Oscar Chalupsky South Africa 03:27
1985 Oscar Chalupsky South Africa 04:12
1986 Oscar Chalupsky South Africa 03:43
1987 Oscar Chalupsky South Africa 03:31
1988 Oscar Chalupsky South Africa 03:35
1989 Oscar Chalupsky South Africa 03:39
1990 Grant Kenny Australia 03:44
1991 Guy Leach Australia 04:30
1992 Dean Gardiner Australia 04:49
1993 Dean Gardiner Australia 03:30
1994 Dean Gardiner Australia 03:24
1995 Oscar/Herman Chalupsky South Africa 03:52
1996 Dean Gardiner Australia 03:38
1997 Dean Gardiner Australia 03:21:26
1998 Dean Gardiner Australia 03:27
1999 Dean Gardiner Australia 03:37
2000 Oscar Chalupsky South Africa 03:21
2001 Dean Gardiner Australia 03:35
2002 Dean Gardiner Australia 03:24
2003 Oscar Chalupsky South Africa 03:28
2004 Herman Chalupsky South Africa 03:48
2005 Oscar Chalupsky South Africa 03:28
2006 Clint Pretorius South Africa 03:22
2007 Lewis Laughlin Tahiti 05:20:06
2008 Lewis Laughlin Tahiti 03:40:26
2009 Hank McGregor South Africa 03:54:39
2010 Clint Robinson Australia 03:23:02
2011 Clint Robinson Australia 03:31:58
1980 Eve Anderson Unknown 06:29
1984 Kuumomi Ho USA (HI) 05:11
1985 Lesline Conner USA (HI) 05:59
1986 Julie Leach USA 05:01
1987 Lesline Conner USA (HI) 06:47
1988 Lorey Bode USA (HI) 04:44
1989 Lesline Conner USA (HI) 04:48
1990 Lesline Conner USA (HI) 04:56
1991 Jane Hall Australia 05:11
1992 Jane Hall Australia 05:43
1993 Jane Hall Australia 04:14
1994 Kelly Fey USA (HI) 04:12
1995 Kelly Fey USA (HI) 04:34
1996 Kelly Fey USA (HI) 04:23
1997 Kelly Fey USA (HI) 04:02
1998 Kelly Fey USA (HI) 04:09
1999 Kelly Fey USA (HI) 04:20
2000 Maile Chong USA (HI) 04:12
2001 Nicole Pedersen USA (HI) 04:15
2002 Nicole Pedersen USA (HI) 04:17
2003 Kirsty Holmes Australia 04:22
2004 Jasmin Cohen Australia 04:27
2005 Jasmin Cohen Australia 04:08
2006 Maggie Twigg-Smith USA (HI) 04:27
2007 Megan Quale USA 06:39:39
2008 Lauren Bartlett USA (HI) 04:21:28
2009 Lauren Bartlett USA (HI) 04:46:34
2010 Lauren Bartlett USA (HI) 04:00:12
2011 Lauren Bartlett USA (HI) 04:23:53

Total Victories by paddler

Oscar Chalupsky (SA) heads the rankgings with 11 titles; Dean Gardiner (Aus) has 9.

PaddlerCountryTotal wins 
Oscar Chalupsky South Africa 11  
Dean Gardiner Australia 9  
Grant Kenny Australia 6  
Clint Robinson Australia 2  
Herman Chalupsky South Africa 2  
Kalai Handley USA (HI) 2  
Lewis Laughlin Tahiti 2  
Clint Pretorius South Africa 1  
Dale Adams USA (HI) 1  
Dean Hayward USA (HI) 1  
Guy Leach Australia 1  
Hank McGregor South Africa 1  
Kelly Fey USA (HI) 6  
Lauren Bartlett USA (HI) 4 Plus 3 OC-1 victories
Lesline Conner USA (HI) 4  
Jane Hall Australia 3  
Jasmin Cohen Australia 2  
Nicole Pedersen USA (HI) 2  
Eve Anderson Unknown 1  
Julie Leach USA 1  
Kirsty Holmes Australia 1  
Kuumomi Ho USA (HI) 1  
Lorey Bode USA (HI) 1  
Maggie Twigg-Smith USA (HI) 1  
Maile Chong USA (HI) 1  
Megan Quale USA 1  

Victories by country

Australia leads the title count with 17 victories.

CountryTotal wins
Australia 17
South Africa 14
Tahiti 2
USA (HI) 3
Australia 6
USA (HI) 20
Unknown 1

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