SUNDAY UPDATE: The race is done. And what an epic channel crossing it was.
Get the full results, insights and pics of the action over on our Molokai 2 Oahu RESULTS page…
The countdown to Molokai is almost over. In just 24 hours time, several dozen of the world’s best (and bravest) paddlers will line up on Molokai for a 32 mile battle across the Channel of Bones. Destination: Oahu. You can’t even see the finish line from the start, that’s how far this race is. M2O is a serious test of physical and mental strength.
UPDATE: We’ve just begun our LIVE Coverage of Molokai 2 Oahu
Speaking of things you can’t see: Predictions. This year the field is strong in both the men’s and women’s divisions and there are no clear favourites. That makes my job exciting but very difficult. How do you pick a winner with so much talent, so much determination and so many variables in play?
Well it wouldn’t be fun if it was easy, so without further ado, here are my 2014 Molokai 2 Oahu PREDICTIONS.
In the men’s unlimited division, I see this year’s Molokai as a clear race between five. Defending champ Travis Grant, two-time champ Connor Baxter, 2010 winner Dave Kalama, perennial bridesmaid Scott Gamble and the young superstar Kai Lenny.
Any of them could win it.
I really wouldn’t be surprised if any of these five took the crown. They’re all legitimate contenders. I’m not just being polite – I’m seriously having a hard time separating them right now. I think in the end it’ll come down to conditions…
If there are big bumps it’ll favour Scott and Dave. In fact if it’s a macking downwinder I’d go as far as saying those two are the favourites. They are absolute guns in the big stuff. However the forecast isn’t calling for a macking downwinder, so I’m not sure they’ll do it.
If there are small bumps it’ll favour Travis Grant, who’s a downwind master but really comes into his own when the bumps are small-medium sized and very technical. The smaller the bumps, the less of an advantage the Hawaiian locals will have against the Aussie #1. Having said all that, Travis now lives on Oahu now so he’ll probably kill it no matter what the conditions.
If there are no bumps at all and it’s a downright grind then I think Scott and Dave will struggle. With no bumps, it’ll be a three way race between Travis, Connor and Kai, though I think the kids will have too much speed for the Aussie.
So what’s it gonna be? The forecast is suggesting something in the middle. The wind and the tides are in the right direction, so times this year should be very decent, however it’s probably not going to be an all time run.
UPDATE: We’ve just begun our LIVE Coverage of Molokai 2 Oahu
Then there are a dozen other random factors coming into it…
Kai and Connor were on the other side of the world last weekend racing in Germany. Will jet lag have any effect? They’re young guys and they’re used to traveling every other weekend, so I doubt it. However if this race comes down to the one percenters, it may just come into play.
Dave has been training better than perhaps anyone else in the field. He did six Maliko runs in a single day last week. Six…! That’s almost 60 miles of paddling (or two Molokais back to back). In the lead up to Molokai 2014, Dave has been at home on Maui more than he usually is and is determined to put in a good show on Sunday. I think he’s got a very legitimate shot.
Trav is the first to admit he hasn’t done the miles in the pre-race training. This guy is always humble and talking down his chances, but he doesn’t seem to rate himself. Though he said the same thing last year and look what happened. So ironically, Travis’ lack of confidence should be taken as a sign of confidence. Travis is hard to pick. I’m good friends with the guy so I’m either going to be overly kind or overly harsh in my predictions with him. It’s hard to be unbiased. The guy can win it, as he proved twelve months ago, and really he’s probably in better form now than in 2013, seeing he’s now living in Hawaii.
Scott Gamble doesn’t get the attention of the other four, perhaps because he rarely races outside Oahu, yet from what I hear this guy is on fire at the moment. He’s been out-paddling Travis during training runs and has the necessary experience across the Ka’iwi Channel to take it out. Scott has been runner-up several times in this race and will surely be hungry to go one better in 2014.
A lot of the focus has been on the battle between Connor and Kai but I really think this will be a five-horse race. I think Connor and Kai have an edge, because they’re so good all round (and you can include Travis in that category as well) whereas guys like Scott and Dave are downwind specialists. But if the conditions turn on, and they very well might, then it’s open season.
If you look at the Connor/Kai rivalry, the match up is fairly even. Connor has been edging past Kai in most of the races this year, but never by much. Last year the two had an epic duel across the channel, only to realise at the very end that Travis and Scott had taken a better line and hit China Walls 10 minutes before them. Kai and Connor are hard to separate, but on current form you’ve gotta give it to Connor. One interesting point is that these two young guns drive each other to go faster, because they have such a great rivalry. Although they both wanna win no matter who they’re up against, I feel they lift that extra 1% when they’re racing head to head. So if Kai and Connor are next to each other and the others are further to the north or south, I’d say one of these two youngsters will almost certainly win.
But seriously you could throw a blanket over these five guys. I wouldn’t surprised if we see the tightest ever finish between the top finishers. Conditions aren’t good but they aren’t bad, so it doesn’t help or hinder anyone too much. I’m really doing my head in trying to split these guys. But who’s got that little extra? Who’s gonna master the channel and take the glory? Scroll down to see my top 10 picks…
UPDATE: Sounds like the conditions might be improving. There’s a storm over the Big Island of Hawaii that, if it heads in the right direction, could increase winds in the Ka’iwi Channel to 25 knots. Right now they’re calling for 10-15 knots. We’ll know by tonight how it’s gonna look.
While I believe the winner will absolutely be one of the “Big Five” there are a few other guys who could challenge for the podium. Livio Menelau, Kaeo Abbey and Armie Armstrong have all shown good enough form to challenge for a top five spot. They don’t have the speed required to win, but they may still cause an upset or two. You could throw in Brazil’s #1 Vinnicius Martins as a solid bet for a top 10 finish.
Kaeo took out the Maui Paddle Race on the weekend while Armie was second and Livio third. Meanwhile Vini has performed very well the past few weeks that he’s been camped out on Maui with a dozen of his Brazilian paddling buddies (the Brazos are taking over!). Then of course young gun Mo Freitas can’t be discounted, even though he performs better on a 12’6.
Outside that you’ve got probably another dozen guys that could sneak into that last one or two spots inside the top 10. The Brazilians are here in force, the Aussies have a strong crew, the Japanese are here, hell there’s even one guy (Ed Wheeler) doing the crossing on a Standamaran.
It’s gonna be a great race no matter what happens.
UPDATE: We’ve just begun our LIVE Coverage of Molokai 2 Oahu
The men’s field runs a lot deeper but the women’s race still contains a handful of the very best ocean paddlers in the world, meaning it’s still gonna be one very tough race to win. I see it as a three way battle between the Downwind Queen, Andrea Moller, her SIC teammate Sonni Hönscheid and the ever present Jenny Kalmbach, with the dark horse being Talia Decoite.
Strange to call someone a darkhorse when they won this race in a record time just 24 months ago, but Talia (who was known as Talia Gangini back then) hasn’t raced a whole lot in the past year. That makes it very hard to read her form and also makes me wonder if she’s got the race conditioning to repeat her last crossing (Talia missed last year’s race, so this is her first crossing since winning in ’12).
I also thought Morgan Hoesterey would be a chance, however she pulled out on race eve with a sore back.
So I really think it comes down to Andrea, Sonni and Jenny. Within that trio it’s almost impossible to pick. So just like the top five guys are super close, the top three women are the same.
But there has to be a winner… and again it’ll probably come down to conditions.
The smaller the bumps, the less of an advantage Andrea will have over her two main rivals. With the forecast looking intermediate right now, I think Sonni might just be able to muscle her way across the channel a little bit faster. However if the wind improves overnight, you can’t go past Andrea. Jenny is the wildcard. She could win no matter what the conditions. And she may just, though I think Andrea has her beat in the bumps and Sonni can out-muscle her if conditions deteriorate.
No matter what happens though, just as with the top five men you could throw a blanket over these three ladies. It’s going to be extremely close.
Missing from this list is the defending champion, Australia’s Terrene Black. After an extraordinary performance twelve months ago, Terrene succumbed to a serious bout of chronic fatigue that has sidelined her for several months. She’s been fighting back into training the past couple of months but had nowhere near the preparation time required for this race. So this year we’ll see a new champ…
The STOCK CLASS
While the battle for line honours on those big, beautiful unlimited boards is the main event at M2O, there’s a sub-plot in this race that’s also very intriguing: The Stock Class. For Molokai 2 Oahu, stock means 14 foot and for some guys that seems to be the board length of choice. In years gone by we’ve seen the likes of Kai Lenny and Travis Baptiste put in monumental efforts on their shorter boards, crossing the line ahead of most of the unlimiteds.
This year will be a hard fought stock battle. The young charger Travis Baptiste should start as favourite, however as of Friday afternoon he was sitting in hospital on Molokai on an IV drip. Not the greatest race preparation… If Travis can’t recover in time, looking to steal his crown will be the likes of Josh Riccio, Andrew Logreco,
Kody Kerbox and Matt Becker. All those guys are super fast across the channel, but gun to my head I’d probably go with Kody. (Update: Kody has been sick this week as well and is not racing! Bummer…).
However there could be another 14 footer that beats all of them: The dream team of Zane Schweitzer and Titouan Puyo, who are doing Molokai as a two-man relay.
Technically that’s a whole different division to the stock class, but I’ll be watching very closely to see if Zane and Titou can defeat the other guys on the 14 footers. Despite the time they’re gonna lose during changeovers, I think they can do it. They’re both absolute machines that would be strong contenders for the stock class win if they were doing it solo, so combine them together and you’ve got a formidable partnership.
But no matter what happens the battle of the 14s will be just like the unlimited men’s and women’s divisions: Very, very difficult to predict.
So with all these disclaimers and asterisks, I guess I should just shut up and put up.
Here they are: My picks for Sunday’s big one. I decided to try and pick the entire top 10 in the men’s race, just because I feel like ruining my reputation even further.
Check back on Sunday morning for our live coverage of the race and to see how close I got…
(Wanna know exactly who’s racing? You can find the complete start list right here)
Molokai 2014: The Predictions
1st: Connor Baxter
2nd: Scott Gamble
3rd: Kai Lenny
4th: Dave Kalama
5th: Travis Grant
6th: Kaeo Abbey
7th: Livio Menelau
8th: Armie Armstrong
9th: Vinnicius Martins
10th: Mo Freitas
(Note: I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple of the 14 footers sneak into the top 10 overall…)
1st: Sonni Hönscheid
2nd: Andrea Moller
3rd: Jenny Kalmbach
4th: Talia Decoite
Morgan Hoesterey (pulled out on race eve with a sore back)
MEN’S STOCK (14′)
1st: Travis Baptiste (* If he’s fit enough to get to the start line…)
Kody Kerbox (sick! not racing…)
3rd: Josh Riccio
4th: Andrew Logreco
5th: Matt Becker
1st: Titouan Puyo + Zane Schweitzer (the Dream Team!)
2nd: Riggs Napoleon + Aaron Napoleon
3rd: Brad Gaul + Tom Carroll
Feel free to leave a comment below with your own predictions, then tune in for our Molokai 2 Oahu LIVE race coverage all weekend.