Saturday, 10 March 2007 01:32 | Written by  Joe Glickman
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ImageWhen you think of the history of Molokai, the unofficial World Championship of open-ocean racing, you think of Oscar (11) and Herman Chalupsky (2), the brothers from Durban who have combined to win 13 titles, and Australians Dean Gardiner (9) and Grant Kenny (5). The only other man to have won this storied race in the last two decades is the young Springbok Clint Pretorius, who last year edged out Oscar and two-time Olympic medal winner Clint Robinson of Oz.


But there’s another, oft-neglected name that people forget about when discussing the best paddlers ever to race across the Molokai Channel -- Oahu native Marshall Rosa, who during the 1980’s finished second to Oscar Chalupsky seven times. A contractor and one-time surf ski builder (his ski was called the Rose ski), Rosa hung up his ski to concentrate on work and raising a family. A few years ago, intrigued by the newer, longer skis, he hopped on a Fenn and won the Oahu State Champs. It’s worth noting that he was in his late 50’s at the time. And then, once again, he disappeared from the racing scene.

... one time surf ski builder... Photo: George McCloskey

Incredibly, on February 3 of this year, Rosa was back. Now paddling an Epic V10, he won a 15-mile Kanaka Ikaika series race in a time of 1 hr. and 56 minutes. No big deal? Rosa edged out perennial top-10 Molokai finisher Stuart Gaessner, who at the age of 45 is 15 years younger than Rosa. Yup, Rosa is 60 and going strong.

Quiet and self-effacing, a man who’d rather talk about anything other than his incredible paddling resume, I asked his protégée and sometimes training partner Mark “Sandman” Sandvold to give me the skinny on Hawaii’s all-time best ski paddler. Sandvold, who finished sixth in ‘06 at Molokai, started paddling skis under Rosa’s watchful eye when he was 15 years old. The following year, at the age of 16, Sandvold did his first Molokai, finishing 10th.

"He's a very humble man and will not talk about himself or his paddling ability," says Sandvold. The Sandman told me that he has been approached by the papers and TV to do a story on him but Rosa always declines. Rosa grew up in Hawaii surfing and paddling outriggers canoes from the time he could stand upright. In the late 1970’s he was part of the winning Molokai six-man outrigger canoe team with the Outrigger Canoe Club. “When the Australian surf ski invasion came to Hawaii in the early eighties," Sandvold said, "Marshall learned the sport from Hayden and Grant Kenny. When Marshall was 40 he raced against Grant in the Molokai ski race. He never beat Grant but he always gave him a good race till the very end. Then the Big O came to Hawaii and much the same happened -- with Marshall being the only competitor to give Oscar a run for his money.” 

Fittingly, from the rear window of his house at the water's edge in Hawaii Kai, Rosa can watch the Molo finishers rounding the point along the cliffs of Oahu. Says Sandvold: “For as long as I can remember he has always paddled his ski like clockwork up the wall three days each week.” (The currents and rebounding water of these cliffs make for some of the most dynamic paddling in Hawaii.) “His current interest has been sparked by the arrival of newer faster skis like the V10, which seems to have given him a reason to compete and race.  He is constantly pushing us younger guys when we train together. I'm constantly amazed at his speed and surfing ability which allows him to pull away from me when my heart rate is pegged at 175+ -- and me being 20 years his junior.” 

So, I asked, will Marshall race Molokai this year? Sandvold said: “I can't say for sure. If the wind is blowing I wouldn't bet against it.  He could easily break the top ten and push the leaders if there is big wind and surf." Oscar concurs: "He was strong the first time I raced him 24 years ago and he's still strong.  He looks tough and paddles the same way.  He excels downwind; I would still say he is Hawaii's best."

George's restored Rose Ski (Photo: George McCloskey)

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