Connor Baxter, a native of Maui, rules the Pailolo Channel, especially if it involves crossing on a stand-up paddle board.
On Saturday, Baxter, 19, won the Maui-2-Molokai World Cup Championships SUP race for the sixth straight year. Baxter completed the 27-mile crossing in 3 hours, 4 minutes, 31 seconds, less than two minutes ahead of fellow Maui paddler Kai Lenny in second place (3:06:44). Baxter set the course record two years ago at 2:55:49.
Leaving at 10 a.m. from Honolua Bay, the paddlers headed for Molokai, slogging through low wind conditions. Where the race speeds up and gets fun is when the paddlers pick up the downwind swells all the way to Kaunakakai Harbor. The race stayed close for the crossing with the world’s top SUP paddlers — Dave Kalama, Travis Grant and Livio Menelau — staying close with Baxter and Lenny.
But when the racers began to pick up the downwind bumps, Baxter was able to create some separation between himself and the others.
“Next thing you know I had a very comfortable lead,” wrote Baxter on his Facebook post. “Knowing that I have a lot of races coming up I let off some of the power off and just started surfing the bumps. I was in the zone and kept a good pace going for the last 13 miles down the coast to the harbor.”
The biggest rare Baxter has coming up is the Kaiwi Channel crossing from Moloka to Oahu on July 27. All the other top paddlers are expected to return to Molokai for that race.
In the women’s race, Devin Blish took first place in 3:48:37, upsetting the Downwind Queen Andrea Moller. The 2012 Molokai champ, Talia Decoite, came home third, just three-and-a-half minutes behind Blish.
In the unlimited division, Kalama placed third behind Lenny and Baxter in a time of 3:08:58 followed by Grant (3:14:13) and Menelau (3:18:57).