By David Lichtenstein
The third annual Molokai Holokai on Saturday, May 19, began and ended as most events on Molokai do, with a pule. At the start, the 11 paddlers formed a circle to ask for ke Akua’s blessing and safekeeping over the 8.5-mile downwind course.
As a malihini paddler with less than two years experience, competing in my first-ever SUP race made my slightly nervous. Lining up with my back against the Kamalo Wharf, 10 miles east of Kaunakakai, I could see I was facing some of the top Molokai stand-up paddlers. At the sound of the start signal the stomach butterflies gave way to the adrenaline boost of being in a race. Then the waves, currents and spray of the surf fully engulfed my senses; I had no time to be nervous.
My goal for the race was simple: don’t finish last. I had completed this downwind run three or four times before in practice but I could tell I was up against some seasoned locals.
At the start I made a quick move to the outside of the pack in an attempt to get to the reef and the bigger waves, but I soon found my board bumping up against the board of Alex Mawae. Although only in fourth grade, Alex is a top paddler in his age group who has consistently beaten me on previous downwind runs. I slid outside while Alex took a more inside line.
Throughout the race, competitors enjoyed a smooth and steady wind clocking around 20 knots, making the swells easy to surf.
While some of the top paddlers headed outside the reef into the deep blue, I followed the line of Clint Labrador, the race’s eventual winner, a friend of mine and the most dedicated all-around waterman I know on Molokai. Labrador found a comfortable path directly over the fringed reef. After one mile Labrador had a substantial lead. After two miles he was a small figure in the distance. After three miles he was just a dot on the horizon.
I felt I was making good time paddling an 11-foot-6-inch Naish Nalu board. The hybrid board offers a smooth combination of wave riding control and downwind coasting. The board, courtesy of Clare Mawae of Molokai Outdoors, was a pleasure to ride.
I had ridden the Nalu once before on a downwind run. But this time, in an attempt to stay aggressive, I stood farther forward on the board, forcing the nose to occasionally pearl underwater. I moved with speed through the first part of the race. With just a little effort, a couple of well-timed paddles would allow the board to surf the waves at a steady clip for 15- to 30-second rides.
In the second half of the race, as I approached the Kawela area, the waves got a little trickier to read. As I paddled harder in an attempt to make up time, the waves bucked me into the water a couple of times. One of the racers, David Dillberg, was gracious enough to wait for me as I scrambled atop my board and gathered myself to continue.
The two of us paddled together through most of the second half of the race, exchanging notes about the wave conditions and our background in SUP. David told me how Ekolu Kalama, the legendary Molokai paddler and musician, had taught him the secrets of paddling.
Ekolu had taught Dave one essential truism for open ocean paddling: “It’s not about always paddling hard but knowing when to paddle hard,” he said. He also shared with me a key paradox to paddling: sometimes you go faster when you learn to slow down and relax on the board. Dave also showed me how to use the paddle to stabilize and balance the board through rough sections. Thanks, Dave!
In the end, I did accomplish my goal, barely. I finished at Hotel Molokai in ninth place in 1 hour 38 minutes, a full 27 minutes behind Labrador.
Here is a list of the finishers:
1. Clint Labrador 1:11:13.9; 2. Dickie Stone 1:16:05.3; 3. Todd Yamashita 1:16:58.6; 4.Carlos Kuhn 1:20:55.1; 5. Tabitha Pupuhi 1:29:48.8; 6. Boki Chung 1:32:04.6; 7. Josie Mawae 1:34:32.8; 8. Alex Mawae 1:36:01.1; 9. David Lichtenstein 1:38:27.8; 10. Kekai Adachi 1:39:39.8; 11. David Dillberg (escorting kids and me) 1:39:46.5.
The turnout was not as strong as in previous years. This may have been the result of a recent Molokai-Maui ferry rule that does not accommodate paddleboards. The difficulty of SUP racers to make it to Molokai with their boards kept the field local.
The Molokai Ohana Surf Club, along with Clare Mawae’s organization Youth in Motion, presented the Molokai Holokai. A big thanks to race organizers Todd and Noelani Yamashita, along with Clint and Loretta Labrador and anyone else I have forgotten to mention.