Molokai 2 Oahu is the most prestigious race in the world. The 32 mile crossing of the Ka’iwi Channel (aka the Channel of Bones) is steeped in history, with each new edition producing countless heroic stories both in front of and behind the scenes. And this year’s race probably created more highlights than ever before…
With brutally slow conditions out in the channel – a hot day with virtually no wind – and overhead surf to greet paddlers near the finish line, Molokai 2015 will be remembered for a long time to come. Now that the dust has settled, I’ve been looking back at some of the amazing photos from this year’s classic race and wanted to share a few of the best.
Most of these shots come from 808photo, aka Johann Meya, one of my favourite photographers in the world of paddleboarding. Johann’s photos from Hawaii over the past few years have become iconic images in our sport (who could forget this one?). Johann was the official M2O photographer this year, and once again he’s captured the magic of Molokai with a series of striking shots.
If you ever need someone to bottle the beauty and spirit of your event, get in touch with Johann via www.808photo.me. Or if you’re simply just a fan of the sport, make sure you’re following 808photo.me on Facebook to get the latest and greatest images.
The last shot is from Dana Edmunds of danafoto.com. Dana captured some of the most amazing images near the finish line, including *that* photo of Travis Grant (aka the wave seen around the world).
You can find more great pics on the official Molokai 2 Oahu Facebook page. But without further ado, here are 19 awesome photos that tell the story of the 2015 Molokai 2 Oahu Paddleboard World Championships…
1. The Calm Before The Storm
The start line on Molokai the night before the race, with dozens of the escort boats already on the scene. Around 12 hours after this photo was taken, the athletes would be nervously awaiting the starting horn. Their destination, Oahu, is somewhere out there in the distance…
2. The Prayer Circle
The “Pule” is a traditional Hawaiian prayer circle, which gives blessings to the ancestors of the islands and asks for safe passage across the channel. It’s an intrinsic part of the Molokai 2 Oahu event.
3. The Start Line
The final moments of normality before the 32 mile challenge begins. Only one of these paddlers will make it across the channel in the next five hours. Most will take six or seven, some more than eight. Others won’t make it to Oahu at all…
4. The Defending Champ
Germany’s Sonni Honscheid, the daughter of a windsurfing legend and a regular guest on Maui, won back-to-back Molokai 2 Oahu titles this year. One of the nicest women both on and off the water, the SIC team rider cemented her reputation as one of the strongest women in the world of stand up paddling.
5. The Freak
Speaking of strong ladies, Annabel Anderson delivered one of the most amazing performances of the entire event. Paddling a production 14′ ocean board from her sponsor Lahui Kai, Annabel took second over the line behind Sonni. The world number one defeated all of the unlimited women bar one, and hit Oahu in front of many of the guys. What’s more amazing is the world number one only decided to race M2O a couple of weeks ago. It was yet another freakish performance from this freak of an athlete…
6. The Superstar
Kai Lenny really wants to win Molokai. Really, really bad. Kai spent big on his entourage this year – two escort boats including a trainer, nutritionist and full camera crew – and paid nearly 10x more for his custom board than anyone else in the field. He went all out in search of glory and prestige. And he almost pulled it off…
I have complete admiration for Kai Lenny’s unwavering commitment to the most prestigious race in the world. Many in the paddling community either don’t give Molokai the respect it deserves or simply know they’d be swallowed by the Channel of Bones if they attempted the crossing. But not Kai. This kid is committed 100%.
On the weekend he finished 16 minutes behind Travis Grant, but Kai kept fighting through the horrible conditions right til the end, finishing runner-up and earning his best M2O result to date. He’ll be back next year. He’ll keep coming back again and again until he wins. And as the only true superstar in the world of stand up paddling, that’s a great thing for both this race and the sport in general.
7. The Future Champion
Lincoln Dews was the revelation of Molokai 2015. Sure, he’s been around a few years already and is no stranger to the podium, but this was surely his biggest ever achievement on a stand up paddle board.
The Aussie whipper snapper went stroke-for-stroke with Travis Grant until the halfway mark of the race, before finally succumbing to the Aussie’s experience and then being overtaken by Kai in the second half. But still, third place is an absolutely massive achievement, and perhaps foreshadows a Molokai title in years to come.
Lincoln is now ranked inside the world’s top 15, despite having less races than anyone else at the top of the World Rankings. In the shot below you can see Lincoln (farthest from camera) keeping pace with the champ.
8. The Smiling South American
Vinnicius Martins isn’t as well known internationally as the other guys he shares the Top 20 world rankings with, however he’s probably the #1 paddler in what is fast becoming one of the powerhouse nations of the paddling world: Brazil.
One of the most likeable guys in the sport (not sure I’ve ever seen him not smiling), Vinni suffered heartbreak at Molokai 2014 when a broken rudder forced him to retire. He was on track to finish well inside the Top 10 last year. So with the pain of 2014 as a motivator, Vinni returned fitter, faster and stronger than ever to claim a heroic fourth place finish this year, just behind Lincoln and not far off Kai Lenny’s runner-up pace.
9. The Young Gun
Travis Baptiste’s amazing result at Molokai 2014, where he finished 5th over the line on his 14 footer and kept pace with the unlimited boards of Dave Kalama and Kai Lenny, was rememberd as one of the performances of the year (indeed, SUP the Mag awarded him that very title at their SUP Awards).
Travis repeated his incredible efforts this year, destroying the stock class field and finishing 5th overall against the unlimiteds. To me, this year’s performance was even better than last’s. The wunderind from Maui is known as a pure downwind specialist, however there were very, very few bumps on offer last weekend (see #15). It was a grind the whole way from Molokai to Oahu. So when you consider how much the conditions *didn’t* suit him (and the fact he was paddling a pure downwind board), Travis’ amazing performance deserves even more credit.
10. The Dark Horse
James Casey finished 5th in the prestigious and highly competitive solo unlimited division (6th over the line including Travis Baptiste’s heroics in the stock class), which made for five Aussie guys in the men’s solo unlimited Top 10. Fellow Aussie up-and-comer Matt Nottage had gotten all the pre-race attention as the dark horse to watch, but while Matt still had a great result (8th over the line), it was James who stood up and got an incredible result. A bomb set on the way to the finish capped off an amazing race.
11. The Underdog
Penelope Strickland paddles with a minimum of fuss, however she also paddles with an incredible amount of strength and determination. The Kiwi defeated past Molokai champions Jenny Kalmbach, Terrene Black and Andrea Moller. To the surprise of those who don’t follow this sport too closely, 2015 was actually Penelope’s second straight Molokai podium, after finishing third to Sonni and Jenny in 2014.
12. The Team
In what was a truly extraordinary performance, Danny Ching and Kaihe Chong didn’t just win the two-man team relay division, they also took out line honours.
It would have been great to see Danny compete head-to-head with Travis, Connor and Kai in the more competitive solo division (he switched divisions at the last minute), but either way there’s no denying this was a mighty fine effort. It was even more amazing considering Kaihe got taken out by the set of the day at China Walls (see #16), losing the board (and creasing it) and almost being overtaken by Travis Grant after earlier being three minutes ahead.
13. The Prones
Molokai began in 1997 as a purely prone paddleboarding event. Obviously. Stand up didn’t even exist back then… Laird wasn’t playing around on his oversized surfboards until a few years later. So the stand up paddlers who cross the Ka’iwi Channel each year owe a lot to their prone cousins. In fact the entire sport of stand up paddle racing owes a lot to traditional paddleboarding.
This year’s prone race, both the unlimited and stock divisions, saw classic encounters on the men’s side, while on the women’s it was Jordan “Magic” Mercer claiming her 5th straight title. That makes her “JM5” and continues the legacy of “JM10” that her mentor and sponsor Jamie Mitchell created last decade (aka the Decade of Dominance).
14. The Retirements
It was quite possibly a record for DNFs this year, with the Channel of Bones showing absolutely no mercy and claiming almost two dozen victims.
Defending champ Connor Baxter was the most high profile retirement, but other world class athletes such as Slater Trout, Livio Menelau and Jeremy Riggs (and more than dozen others) all had to call it quits mid-channel as well. Below: Connor not long before retiring. If you we could zoom in on this photo you’d probably see a world of pain on his face…
15. The Conditions
The 2015 Molokai 2 Oahu Paddleboard World Championships will be remembered just as much for the amazing performances of the winners as it will for the extreme conditions.
Out in the channel, where the big ocean swells usually roll through, it looked more like a lake than anything else. The wind was blowing in the right direction, but unfortunately it was hardly blowing at all. Downwind runners came at a premium, and most paddlers finished an hour below their personal bests. “Lifeless” best summed up the conditions.
Below: Travis Baptiste wondering why he signed up to paddle 32 miles across a lake…
16. The Waves
While the Ka’iwi Channel was as flat as we’ve ever seen, the ocean completely changed shape on the approach to China Walls, the point on the south east of Oahu that signals the final two miles of the race. A huge south swell had swept the Pacific in the days prior and was hitting Hawaii right when the 200 odd paddlers were finishing their crossing.
It’s kind of cruel that after five, six or seven hours of tiring paddling, athletes had to contend with bomb sets and rogue waves that would make most regular surfers think twice. Organisers even placed a mandatory safety buoy to keep athletes away from the cliffs, the first time that’s ever happened.
But of course all of this was great for us: It made for some awesome imagery, as well as a few heroic drops down the face of some set waves. Below: Kaihe Chong ignoring the fact the finish line is the other way and scratching like mad for the shoulder. He didn’t make it…
17. The Finishers
We don’t always remember who finished outside the podium, let alone who crossed the line well down the order. Those who took seven or eight hours plus to reach Oahu won’t find their names in the record books, but they deserve credit for just crossing the line all the same. Especially this year…
18. The Spirit
The post-race photos, showing weary paddlers being greeted as heroes, draped in flower leis and embraced by their family, friends, supporters and random fans, was so inspiring it would have brought a tear to even the most hardened of ocean paddlers.
That’s what Molokai is all about: The spirit and passion of paddling in the ocean with your mates, lining up beside new friends on the start line and reuniting with old ones at the finish. Thanks to Surftech USA for this great shot of Roch Frey and George Plsek.
19. The Travis
Travis Grant’s victory in this year’s Molokai 2 Oahu, his second title in three years, will go down as one of the all time great performances in stand up paddling history. Despite going up against an all-star field and all-time slow conditions, the humble Aussie dug deep and broke free to eventually win by 16 minutes. He was the only solo paddler to cross the channel in under five hours.
It was a truly determined performance from perhaps the single most respected athlete in our sport.
To cap off an amazing race, Travis caught one of the waves of the day on his approach to the finish line. This photo, courtesy of Dana Edmunds from danafoto.com, became an instant classic and the all-time most liked shot we’ve ever posted on both Facebook and Instagram.
The wave seen around the world…