Travis Grant and Sonni Hönscheid have just won the most prestigious race of the year: The Molokai 2 Oahu Paddleboard World Championships in Hawaii.
Travis claims his second title in three years to stamp himself as one of the greatest paddlers in the sport.
Is this guy the best paddler in the world right now?
His world ranking is #4 but that doesn’t do him justice. Trav has been on an amazing roll the past six months. He was unbeaten in Europe and before that won the Carolina Cup, which means he’s now saluted in the two biggest races of the year: Carolina and Molokai.
Oh and he won today by 16 minutes, in what was the most competitive field in Molokai history. That’s an amazingly dominant result.
Meanwhile Sonni Honscheid showed she belongs up there with the best after going back-to-back. Epic performance from the German.
With some of the slowest and most grueling conditions in recent memory (there was virtually no wind at all), Travis outlasted Kai Lenny and Lincoln Dews for the men’s solo unlimited crown, while Sonni held off a supremely impressive Annabel Anderson, who took second place over the line despite paddling a stock 14 footer, and Penelope Strickland.
Kai was very impressive. The superstar never gave up and dug deep right to the line to finish runner-up. He kept up with Travis’ pace for most of the race, and was still in contention until the Aussie broke well clear in the final 10 miles. Kai wanted to win this race more than anything and almost did, but one other guy was simply better on the day. Kai will be back next year though. He’ll keep coming back til he wins Molokai. And that’s great for the sport – Kai is a superstar.
Above: Travis Grant with Oahu in sight (and no other paddler anywhere near him) photo credit: Kerry Powell
The highly under rated Penelope from New Zealand upset more fancied rivals to claim third in the women’s for the second year in a row, ahead of former Molokai champs Jenny Kalmbach and Terrene Black.
Young gun Travis Baptiste repeated his top-five-overall-on-a-stock-board heroics from 12 months ago. And this year’s result is even more impressive than last year’s considering the flat conditions didn’t favour his style of paddling at all.
There were heroic performances across the board and some of the dark horse men really stood up today: Lincoln Dews third? Are you kidding me? That’s massive. The kid was actually leading the race early and sat side by side with Travis until the halfway mark. Vinnicius Martins fourth? Awesome. What a champion this guy is. He’s the #1 paddler in Brazil – one of the emerging powers of world paddling – and he’s also one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. Top 10 finishes from James Casey, Matt Nottage and Niuhiti Buillard. Brilliant. These three could be true contenders in a few years.
Actually, that was such a tough race that anyone who crossed the line today deserves a medal… That was a long, hot, painful channel crossing. There were several withdrawals and probably a lot more that wished they could have retired, including Beau O’Brien’s who just said this on Instagram:
“Glad I had this girl on the boat, if it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t have made it. I wanted to quit after hearing so many elite paddlers had pulled out, but she wouldn’t let me on the boat. My goal coming into this race was Top 10 and I am happy to have done that.”
That kinda sums up the race. As does this face from Kai Lenny, who was clearly hurting towards the finish when Travis upped the pace and left him behind. He was almost overtaken by Lincoln and Vinni but fought hard to get his highest ever placing at Molokai.
Though one of the really big stories involved a non-finisher: Connor Baxter retiring hurt with severe back pain and stomach cramps mid-race. The defending champ came in to today’s race as one of the hot favourites along with Travis, Kai and Danny Ching, but had to withdraw before the halfway mark. He was in 6th or 7th place at the time of retirement, so he was clearly out of contention before he pulled out, but he was also clearly hurting. Connor is the most determined and spirited paddler you’ll ever meet. He doesn’t like to give up. So for him to retire hurt he must have been in some serious, serious pain.
Danny Ching was also expected to battle for the major title this year but switched to the two-man team relay division at the last minute, in what became an interesting sub-plot to the race. The official word is that he tweaked his knee a few days ago (which he did), but given how incredibly strong he performed today that seems an unlikely reason. Either Ching over-estimated his own injury or he simply switched divisions to try and improve his result.
I’m sure the injured knee had some bearing on his decision, but the most likely story is that Ching saw the conditions, realised his best chance of line honours glory was a team relay and then switched divisions accordingly. Word through the grapevine is that he wasn’t happy with his unlimited prototype during testing over the past couple of weeks. If that’s the case it was a smart decision to switch. He had nothing to lose this way: Win and you go down in the history books as the stock relay team that defeated the unlimited boards. Lose and people would say “Oh well they were on 14 footer.”
There were a few questions raised by the beach commentary crew as to whether or not Danny was seriously injured or just chasing the line honours glory. It would have been great to see him go head to head with Travis and Kai but either way he got what he wanted: Danny and Kaihe Chong took line honours on their 14 foot stock board, just 20 seconds ahead of Travis. They were actually two minutes ahead with just a mile to go, but the set of the day (see below) cleaned them up when they were within sight of the finish line. Their board got creased and was almost written off completely, but it held together just long enough for them to reach the line.
The result takes nothing away from Travis though: He was the grand champion of the main event. But take nothing away from Danny Ching and Kaihe Chong either: They paddled like animals across the channel and deserve their own separate spot in the history books. Hopefully next year all the top guys race in the solo division…
After 30 miles of grueling paddling the competitors were met with one final obstacle near the finish: Freak set waves. There were a lot of freak set waves near the finish line today, with a big south swell delivering 8ft+ surf to the area around China Walls on Oahu. Look for some epic photos to come out in the wash over the next day or two…
But while there were big performances and high drama right across the field, it was Travis and Sonni’s day.
Travis has now stamped himself as one of the true greats in the world of stand up paddleboarding.
The Aussie, who was racing a new 17’10” prototype board from his sponsor NSP that clearly works well, hasn’t always gotten the recognition he deserves. But now there is no question. This guy is an absolute champion. It also helps that he’s one of the humblest guys you’ll ever meet both on and off the water. Travis won Molokai in 2013 and was runner-up last year, making him the most successful paddler in the past three years of the event.
Speaking of humble champions: Sonni Honscheid.
The quiet-spoken German now has back-to-back Molokai crowns, following her maiden victory 12 months ago. The SIC team rider has been on a roll this year, with big results in Europe cementing her spot inside the top five on the World Rankings and now the “most prestigious” race in the world added to her CV for a second time.
Annabel was also very impressive considering her shorter board length and much shorter prepration time – the Lahui Kai team rider only decided to enter this race two weeks ago.
Anyway we’ll have full analysis of this amazing event in the coming days. Epic race. There were so many fascinating sub-plots to what is already such an interesting, storied event. I bloody love Molokai.
In the meantime here are the top times. You can scroll down to relive our play-by-play and find more photos of the action. Hope the live blog gave you a bit of an insight into this classic.
Molokai 2 Oahu 2015: Men’s Solo Results
|31||Antonio Chaer Filho||6:44:44||Stock||1.18|
|39||Kelly Tam Sing||7:19:16||Stock||0.68|
Molokai 2 Oahu 2015: Women’s Solo Results
Two-Man Team Relay
1st: Danny Ching/Kaihe Chong (4:59:21) *line honours*
2nd: Buzzy Kerbox/Kody Kernot (5:
3rd: Armie Armstrong/BLake Richardson (5:26:03)
4th: Chuck Patterson/Jerry Bess (5:31:24)
5th: Tucker Ingalls/Ridge Lenny (5:36:11)