Another slam dunk by Tahiti with Shell Va'a winning the Molokai Hoe in 4:40:17, just shy of the course record. But it wasn’t that bad for Hawaii. Wailea CC/Team Primo, a primo pack of paddlers from around the state finished second in 4:52:24, setting a new record for a crew from Hawaii. They were five-and-a-half minutes ahead of third place Tahitian crew Paddling Connection and prevented a 1,2,3 sweep by the Tahitians who sent three crews over. Era‘I Va‘a was fourth with 5:02:14 .
It had been flat and hot the days leading up to the Molokai Hoe. A vog from the volcano on the Big island of Hawaii blanketed the state, and Molokai was not visible from Oahu. The same was true for paddlers, coaches, officials, escort boat crews and locals alike on Molokai.
Everyone was preparing for a grueling day in the Kaiwi Channel. On Sunday morning as everyone converged at hale O Lono the 'ua' (rain - a good omen) lightly fell from the sky, and high above, the clouds were moving south, signs that the trades had moved in. The water was calm up to La‘au Point, but beyond the shelter of Molokai, the winds had stirred up the Kaiwi Channel.
"Because the waves were from the north with a reversing tide, it was a very physical channel," said last year's Race Director Kalani Irvine and current OHCRA president. "It was a test of how well you trained."
"It was more than we expected. It was spooky at the point where there were a lot of boats, kind of like a washing machine, but soon everyone went in their own direction and we just went on our own," said Samuale Keali'iho'omalu, Keahiakahoe Canoe Club.
After La‘au Point, crews had choices: Go straight to Oahu; head South — ride the waves first and swing in around the currents; go north — fight the currents in the beginning, ride the freight train to Diamond Head; or zig-zag — go with the flow, Nappy Napoleon style.
Te Awa Haku/Air New Zealand Dogfish went the same way they did last year. "It was hard," said Dave Haughan. "We were probably the most northern team. We passed five or six boats at the finish, so we all knew we took the wrong line. "Dave said they returned this year to do better than last year. They didn't, but said they will be back to try again.
Another crew betting on the northern course was Team Livestrong who finished seventh.
"We went so far north it wasn't even fun. We just beat ourselves," said Mike Field who steered the crew. "We though we could tuck in — and we watched everyone go south, and we thought they were going to have to pay for it later, but by the time we got to Hawaii Kai we saw this little helicopter just off Diamond Head and it was like … not what I wanted to see." Mike said from Hawaii Kai to Diamond Head was 'screaming' and they made up some ground, coming up just shy of Outrigger Canoe Club, who placed sixth.
Lanikai Canoe Club took fifth whose strategy changed a few times during the race said head coach, Kalani Irvine.
"Head to Koko Head. Get in the bay was the plan, but we slid too far south. We had a hard time climbing back up, I was going to burn the crew out, so we turned down and took a chance the current would let us in at Diamond Head," he said.Right now we are in a rebuilding program, were happy with 5th."
Hui Lanakila Canoe Club showed a lot of depth in their paddling program placing two crews in the top ten, 8th/10th.
"The club did awesome," said Raven Aipa. "We went into this race just to have fun, no expectations." In the channel he said they were out on their own most of the time, but as they headed around Diamond Head, "We got to battle with Team Livestrong. That was the best part of the race," he said.
Thanks to the returning trades there were waves to catch.
"At Portlock, we started to have a lot of fun. Lanikai was way south of us and ahead. We started surfing, we started catching them, and getting the idea maybe we could catch these guys," said Craig Gamble of Outrigger. (They didn't.)
Ryan Van Gieson who steered Leeward Kai said they took the direct approach, then as they neared Oahu, they made a sharp turn and 'dove inside'. The Beach Boys and Kai Opua who had been battling stayed south. All merged at Diamond Head. The outcome of a battle within a battle. Kai Opua was 20th overall with 5:32, Kaiola Canoe Club, 5:33, Waikiki Beach Boys, 5:34, and Leeward Kai, 5:35.
Another crew going straight was Lanakila/Imua, two of California's top two crews combined. Team member Steve Caldwell said they came here "because it's the best race of the year". They paddled straight for the 'Wall', then surfed to Diamond Head, hugging the surf line.
"It was challenging with the north winds," said Aaron Brummel of Hawaiian Canoe Club. "Kind-a-brutal… (but) we did actually come down some bumps at the end."
"I'm sore all over," said his team mate Bobby Bland. "When you're giving all you've got and doing what your supposed to across the Kaiwi Channel, you're going to be sore… and if you're not, you're probably not doing what you're supposed to."
But for the pain was their any gain? "The best part," said Bobby, "was the start of the race. We were in between Primo and Shell Va'a. We were with them for a while… then…"
Kailua Canoe Club who placed 9th took a southern route. "Everyone says they want it smoking. I like the light winds and open trough," said Donovan Leandro. "The current matters more than anything else."
Others liked a little wind and rain.
"It was good fun. The best part was coming down from Koko Head, with a rain squall cooling you off, and the wind behind you," said Bruce Ames of Keokaha.
The Molokai Hoe is a test of how well a crew has trained. Samuale Keali'iho'omalu, who steered a crew from Keahiakahoe said his crew is made up of a lot of first-timers.
"Seeing the expressions on their faces right now, with their families — they're stoked," and Samuale is happy with that. "So I told the guys, 'Next year were going to step it up.'"
One hundred-thirteen crews entered the race. For Team Pure Light (7:51:44), it was a monumental feat. "Molokai Hoe was a time of many 'firsts' for me... The first time I've ever paddled so far for so long... and the first time I actually shed tears of relief and joy when I crossed the finish line. But one thing for sure is it won't be my last," said Alicia Hatori who stroked the race for the adaptive crew.
After the race, the tents went up, the food came out, the 'iced tea' chilled in coolers, and everyone got to talk story and compare notes.
"The race was good until our escort boat broke down, then we paddled two hours, 45 minutes before an official boat got us, said Keola Kino of Kukui O Molokai. "We were prepared to go iron the rest of the way."
"The best part? The finish, AUTOMATIC," he said as he quenched his thirst (with iced tea).
More photos at PACIFICPADDLER.COM