The Molokai-2-Oahu Paddleboard World Championships, presented by Kona Longboard Island Lager, celebrates its 17th year on Sunday with athletes from 15 countries as well as celebrities from the world of surfing and television.
The 32-mile open ocean challenge sold out in record time this year. Among the top athletes to watch includes:
• Oracle Team USA Skipper and America’s Cup Champion (2010) James Spithill, 33, from Australia is racing solo SUP in his first crossing of the Ka’iwi Channel. No boat, no crew – just a man and his board.
• Face off in SUP: Hawaiian paddlers Kai Lenny and Connor Baxter go head to head in what will likely be the most competitive men’s SUP race in event history. Baxter, 18, is looking to repeat as SUP champion after setting a course record of 4 hours, 13 minutes, 26 seconds in 2012. He is coming off a victory in the Maui-to-Molokai World Cup of SUP two weeks ago.
• Danny Ching will be racing SUP in the channel for the first time. His experience is deep with multiple crossings in OC1 and OC6. Most recently defended his OC1 Molokai title earlier this year.
• Australians Brad Gaul and Jordan Mercer return to defend their traditional paddleboard titles.
• Dancing with the Stars semifinalist and General Hospital star Ingo Rademacher, 41, is racing solo SUP in his second M2O having finished the 2011 race in 5:33:38.
• Hawaiian Legends: Surfing icons and brothers Gerry and Victor Lopez team up with friend Dale Hope as a three-man team.
• German Surf Champ Sonni Hönscheid, 32, takes on the waves in the Channel of Bones for the first time.
The story line for the men and women’s traditional paddleboard championship can be answered by asking one simple question – Can anyone beat the Australians?
Watching an Australian paddler on a traditional paddleboard is a textbook lesson in power and efficiency. That is why it will be difficult to unseat male and female defending champions Brad Gaul and Jordan Mercer. However, good competitors do not get complacent, especially when the closest competition for these two paddlers will come from fellow Australians.
Last year, Gaul fell about three minutes shy of former champ Jamie Mitchell’s course record of 4:40:31. The 34-year-old Gaul will start this year’s race with a new board he designed and is reported to be on a rigorous training regimen in preparation to defend his title, and perhaps set a new record.
Familiar faces make up the grouping of favorites in the women’s SUP race. Returning champion Talia Gangini-Decoite, 20, will defend her title after breaking former champion Andrea Moller’s win streak, while also setting a new women’s record of 4:55:02. Gangini-Decoite’s record also represents the first time a woman has finished under the five-hour mark in the SUP division. In fact, she smashed Moller’s former record (5:26:51) by more than 30 minutes under favorable conditions.
Moller, 33, is back. The powerful paddler and big wave surfer has been refocused on her training after completing her course work to become a paramedic, while also working full-time and raising a family. Moller convincingly snapped up repeat victories in 2010 and ’11, setting new course records in each win.
All women will need to look out for Annabel Anderson, 32, from New Zealand. Anderson is brining with her the momentum from a series of recent international victories.
Sunday, race day, begins at 6:45 a.m. with a pre-race pule at Kaluakoi Beach. At 7:30 a.m. is the start of the solo paddleboard and team paddleboard races. The Solo SUP and team SUP Division racers start at 8 a.m.