Travis Grant Overpowers Connor Baxter to Win Epic Molokai Duel in Record Time; Penelope Strickland Stuns Favourites to Claim Women’s Crown

 
Molokai

Travis Grant (right) and Connor Baxter battled side-by-side all the way from Molokai to Oahu in yet another epic duel between these two legends of the sport (photo: Alain Teurquetil/NSP)

Australia’s Travis Grant has claimed his third Molokai-2-Oahu championship title after overpowering world number one Connor Baxter in an epic duel across the infamous Ka’iwi Channel today, setting a new race record of 3:59:52 and cementing his status as a true legend of the sport after becoming the first paddler to ever break the mythical 4-hour mark.

After an almighty, see-sawing battle that lasted almost the entire 32 miles from Molokai to Oahu, Travis pulled away in the final kilometre to claim a victory that will become an instant classic in the history pages of our sport.

As the clear favourites heading into the race despite a record number of genuine title contenders this year, Trav and Connor broke free from the field in the second half of the race but could never drop each other, hitting the iconic ‘China Walls’ that marks the entrance to Oahu and the final one and half mile upwind grind to the finish line literally side-by-side.

The pair could not be split until Trav found something extra to open up a slight gap, at which point he put the hammer down and charged away into the upwind flats towards the finish line at Hawaii Kai to leave Connor in his wake.

The victory leaves no doubt that Travis, who has won everything from Carolina to the BOP and virtually everything in between, will be remembered as one of the sport’s all-time greats.

Travis Grant

Travis paddling down China Walls en route to victory. At this point, Connor was actually a few board lengths ahead, but the 2013 and 2015 champion dug deep to find something extra when it mattered most… (photo via Molokai2Oahu on Facebook – check out their full gallery for more great shots)

UPDATE: I just chatted with Trav and got this rather amazing quote that explains how and why he was able to pull away from Connor in the final stages of their epic duel:

“Can’t believe it. Connor broke me so many times, but I just stuck to my plan and my tempo; I had my blinkers on and never looked at him. Somehow stayed in touch. Was neck and neck around the final corner at China Walls. But then my brother yelled out “Do it for Hugo!” (my young son), and my friends were also there on outriggers cheering me on. At that point, I found some sort of inner emotional strength and pulled away, and somehow got home under 4 hours…”

Connor, despite missing out on the crown that he’s been trying to regain ever since he last ascended the Molokai throne back in 2014, deserves huge wraps. It was a gutsy performance from a scrappy fighter that always goes about his business with a minimum of fuss but continually proves why he’s almost-permanently sitting on top of the world rankings leaderboard. The fact that Connor was narrowly leading halfway down China Walls suggest that if the race was 31 miles instead of 32, he may have won.

But in the end, the world number one had to settle for being world number two today.

Much has been said of the Connor/Kai rivalry in our sport over the past half a decade, but Connor and Travis now have one that arguably surpasses that in terms of scale and grandeur. Today’s epic duel mirrors the side-by-side battle these guys first played out across the Ka’iwi Channel back in 2014, where Connor won by a minute and they both set record times (just as they did today: Connor’s time of 4:03:46 would have been a record itself if not for Travis’ heroics).

Travis and Connor

Epic duel: Travis and Connor were still side-by-side with less than a mile to go (photo via Molokai2Oahu on Facebook – check out their full gallery for more great shots)

Behind the lead duo it was also a titanic struggle for the minor placings, with Travis’ NSP and Quickblade teammate Titouan Puyo outlasting Sunova’s James Casey to claim the third step on the podium, while it was a spirited performance from Brazil’s Vinni Martins to close out the top five ahead of one of the pre-race favourites Lincoln Dews.

All of these guys paddled hard enough today to win just about any other race in the world, and they all deserve huge accolades.

Titou’s superb finish, which is particularly impressive considering he rarely races on unlimiteds and is still getting accustomed to using a rudder, gives NSP and Quickblade a memorable double-podium that almost matches their famous 1-2 finish at Carolina earlier in the season.

Maui’s Kody Kerbox finished 7th just a few minutes further adrift in a mighty impressive showing for a guy that’s had such a light competition schedule this season.

Josh Riccio snuck home 8th across the line but as a clear winner of the 14′ stock division after he relished the downwind bumps (see the pic of Josh down the bottom), while Team Sunova board designer Marcus Tardrew was 9th overall just one second behind Riccio.

Titouan Puyo

Titouan Puyo milking the small runners in the opening stages of today’s race before the big open ocean swells starting rolling through mid-channel (via official M2O Facebook page – check out their big photo gallery of today’s race)

With five or six clear title contenders on the start line, the opening stages of Molokai 2017 lived up to the hype of being the most competitive and unpredictable edition of this uber-prestigious event. At the halfway mark of the channel crossing and with the wind howling and conditions firing, there were still six or seven guys in contention for the win.

After Lincoln led early, Travis and Connor soon took over to control the tempo, however Linc was never too far behind nor was fellow Aussie James ‘Jimmy’ Casey.

Titou was taking a more northern line but held a virtual 3rd spot just a hundred metres or so behind Connor and Trav, while Vinni surged at around the 13 mile mark to close the gap on the leaders and threaten to break onto the podium. Kody was also still within sight of the leaders at this point.

But as the race entered its third hour and the arms, legs and minds of these incredible athletes started to tire, it was the two favourites, who went into today’s race holding five of the previous six Molokai titles between them, who showed their true class to begin slowly but surely pulling away from the other contenders.
 

With defending champ Kai Lenny in Mexico for the WSL big wave event (and with rumours swirling that he may have foiled the channel even if he was in Hawaii) it seems there was always going to be a fresh champion this year. But whether that would be a previous winner or a new name was hotly debated in the days leading up to the big dance.

But after Titou, Jimmy, Vinni, Lincoln and Kody threw everything at them, in the end, Travis and Connor showed why they’re considered two of the all-time greats in our sport.

Trav’s third Molokai title also pulls him up alongside Connor (and Sonni Honscheid) as the winningest SUP athletes in the event’s history.

We’ll have more insights from this historic showdown in the days ahead, but in the meantime, there’s plenty more coverage over on the Molokai2Oahu Facebook page.

UPDATE: There are now 400+ great photos from today’s crossing up on Facebook.

I’ve also gotta say a massive thank you to Alain Teurquetil, the head designer of NSP who made the winning board for Travis, for sending us live play-by-play updates across the channel and keeping us in the loop with regular photos and videos as the epic duel unfolded. Cheers mate!

Molokai

Brothers in arms: Titou and Trav all smiles at the finish line (photo by Trav’s lovely wife Blair Grant)


 

PENELOPE STRICKLAND CAUSES HUGE UPSET TO CLAIM MAMMOTH VICTORY IN THE WOMEN’S CROSSING

UPDATE: New Zealand’s Penelope ‘Pea’ Strickland has just crossed the line to claim the 2017 women’s Molokai-2-Oahu crown, upsetting her compatriot, world number one and red hot favourite Annabel Anderson while also matching Travis’ efforts in setting a new race record.

Pea crossed in a time of 4 hours 52 minutes, which not only breaks the record by a few minutes it also puts her top 10 in the men’s field in what is surely one of the greatest performances Molokai has ever seen.

This is an absolutely massive result for Pea, who started the race this morning as a huge underdog despite having podium’d at Molokai twice before. After three-time defending champ Sonni Honscheid withdrew from the race, Annabel assumed pole position but ended up trailing her fellow Kiwi the entire way across the channel.
 

First woman around the corner @penelope_sup leading by a big margin. @molokai2oahu #molokai2oahu #SUPrace #M2O2017

A post shared by Stand Up Magazin (@standupmagazin) on

Making an absolute mockery of the pre-race predictions, Pea finished a mammoth 24 minutes ahead of Terrene Black, who in turn narrowly beat home Annabel Anderson to claim the runner-up spot.

The signs were there early, with Penelope, who’s been using the hashtag #2017ismyyear as a form of motivation lately, opening up a gap in the opening stages of the crossing and never looking back. Pea had a 500 metre lead over Terrene and Annabel around the halfway mark, but that ballooned out over the second half of the 32 mile course as her almighty performance seemed to simply snowball as the race progressed.

To add some delicious icing on top of what will already be a very sweet cake, Penelope’s time of 4:52:32 is a new race record, eclipsing the long-standing mark of 4:55:02 set by Talia Gangini way back in 2012. It’s only the second time a woman has broken the five hour mark at Molokai.

Penelope Strickland

Penelope Strickland paddling along China Walls towards the finish line. To highlight Pea’s dominance of the channel: the next woman was almost half an hour behind… (photo via Molokai2Oahu on Facebook – check out their full gallery for more great shots)

 


 

BERND ROEDIGER HELPS SET YET ANOTHER RACE RECORD

Elsewhere in the race, downwind wunderkind Bernd Roediger partnered with Naish veteran Michi Schweiger to upset the dream team of Mo Freitas and Andrew Logreco in the battle for the teams title.

Putting his world-beating downwind skills to good use in the firing conditions, Bernd propelled the duo to a big win in a time of 4:23:27, yet another race record that highlights just how good the conditions were this year (as well as just how competitive the M2O field has become).

Logreco/Freitas were eight minutes further adrift.

Young guns Lara Claydon and Kali’a Alexiou, who seem to be Molokai veterans despite not having even been born until the 4th or 5th annual edition of this 21-year-old event, teamed up once again and took top honours in a very impressive time of 5:33:07. That’s only just over 15 minutes off the pace of Terrene and Annabel, which is even more impressive considering the fact Lara and Kali’a were paddling a 14 footer.

The young duo comfortably accounted for the far more experienced team of Andrea Moller and Devin Blish.

 


 

AUSSIES THOROUGHLY DOMINATE PRONE DIVISIONS

Completing the virtual clean sweep of race records was Matt Bevilacqua from Australia, who won the traditional prone paddleboard title (the division that started this whole Molokai-2-Oahu event way back in 1997, let’s not forget) in a time of 4:29:20, beating his record from last year by just 12 seconds.

Bevilacqua finished 10 minutes ahead of compatriot Daniel Shade, while former champ Matt Poole was third. Not surprisingly, the entire top 10 was filled with Aussies, which included prone stock champion Stewart McLachlan and runner-up Lachie Lansdown.

To make it three out of four solo Molokai titles for the Aussies this year, Harriett Brown pulled away from Lizzie Welborn in the second half of the race to claim her maiden Molokai crown and, you guessed it, set a new race record of 5:14:15, eclipsing Jordan Mercer’s record by almost 10 minutes.

Yet another Australian, Madison Spencer, claimed the women’s stock division to make it a hugely triumphant day for the green & gold.

 


 

MEN’S SOLO

CHAMPION: Travis Grant
Team: NSP/Quickblade
Nation: Australia
Time: 3:59:52 (new record)

Runner-up: Connor Baxter
Team: Starboard
Nation: Hawaii
Time: 4:03:46

Third: Titouan Puyo
Team: NSP/Quickblade
Nation: France (New Caledonia)
Time: 4:14:05

#
Athlete
Time
Brand
Nation
Board
Points
1Travis Grant3:59:52NSP/QBAustraliaUnlimited50.00
2Connor Baxter4:03:46StarboardHawaiiUnlimited37.50
3Titouan Puyo4:14:05NSP/QBFrance (New Caledonia)Unlimited30.00
4James Casey4:16:06SunovaAustraliaUnlimited25.00
5Vinnicius Martins4:18:52JP AustraliaBrazilUnlimited21.25
6Lincoln Dews4:20:46DEEP/QBAustraliaUnlimited17.50
7Kody Kerbox4:23:18SIC/QBHawaiiUnlimited15.00
8Josh Riccio4:36:45F-ONEUSAStock12.50
9Marcus Tardrew4:36:46SunovaAustraliaUnlimited11.25
10Ty Judson5:09:48Blue PlanetAustraliaUnlimited10.00
11Ludovic Dulou5:14:37-FranceStock9.00
12Tomoyasu Murabayashi5:25:03StarboardJapanStock8.00
13Nico Schenk5:27:54ONESwitzerlandUnlimited7.50
14Kosuke Matsuyama5:28:13-JapanUnlimited7.00
15Paul Jones5:36:44NSP/QBAustraliaStock6.50
16Jeffrey Chang5:37:54-HawaiiUnlimited6.00
17Franck Fifils5:43:58-France (Guadeloupe)Unlimited5.50
18Robert Stehlik5:44:28Blue PLanetHawaiiStock5.00
19James Martindale5:58:18-HawaiiUnlimited4.50
20Chris Huerbsch6:00:17-PanamaUnlimited4.00
21Buzzy Kerbox6:01:00-HawaiiUnlimited3.75
22Will Taylor6:07:18SUP the MagCaliforniaUnlimited3.50
23Jason Stephens6:09:04-HawaiiStock3.25
24James Knowles6:11:28-AustraliaStock3.00
25Craig Winnett6:16:44-SingaporeStock2.75
26Adam Quandt6:19:07-Virgin IslandsStock2.60
27Scott McPhail6:26:43HawaiiUnlimited2.45
28Kevin Horgan6:28:12-HawaiiUnlimited2.30
29Wilson Schmidt6:37:46-CaliforniaUnlimited2.15
30Naoki Marutani6:44:09-JapanStock2.00
31Chikara Tsumura6:50:36-JapanUnlimited1.90
32Lee McLean6:51:28-AustraliaUnlimited1.80
33John Alexiou7:01:05-USAStock1.70
34Daniel Parres Puerto7:07:22-SpainStock1.60
35Michael Bennett7:15:17-HawaiiUnlimited1.50
36Rob Kavcic7:15:28-CanadaUnlimited1.40
37Belar Diaz7:16:11-SpainStock1.30
38Brad Feldman7:16:58-HawaiiUnlimited1.20
39Jorge Quintana7:17:48-Puerto RicoStock1.10
40Gareth Edwards7:18:12-UKStock1.00
41Terry Stevens7:38:28-Virgin IslandsStock0.95
42Andrew Mencinsky7:39:03-USAStock0.90
43Ricardo Chiari8:02:10-PanamaUnlimited0.85
44Ivan Trent9:35:33-USAStock0.80

WOMEN’S SOLO

WOMEN’S CHAMPION: Penelope Strickland
Team: Starboard
Nation: New Zealand
Time: 4:52:32

Runner-up: Terrene Black
Team: ECS
Nation: Australia
Time: 5:16:10

Third: Annabel Anderson
Team: Sunova
Nation: New Zealand
Time: 5:16:49

#
Athlete
Time
Brand
Nation
Board
Points
1Penelope Strickland4:52:32Starboard/QBNew ZealandUnlimited50.00
2Terrene Black5:16:10ECS/QBAustraliaUnlimited37.50
3Annabel Anderson5:16:49SunovaNew ZealandUnlimited30.00
4Kiyomi Shepphard6:53:28-HawiaiUnlimited25.00
5Joanne Hamilton-Vale7:08:19-UKUnlimited21.25
6Siri Schubert7:10:02-SwitzerlandStock17.50
7Tomoe Yasu7:29:43-JapanUnlimited15.00

SUP TEAMS

#
Team
Time
Category
1Schweiger/Roediger4:23:27SUP STK 14' Team 2 M01-79
1Hobey/Bicrell/Deisroth4:48:50SUP Team 3 Male
2Logreco/Freitas4:31:18SUP STK 14' Team 2 M01-79
2Huxley/Gregory/Sifford4:55:01SUP Team 3 Male
3Lee/Jaggers5:20:05SUP STK 14' Team 2 Mixed
3Mello/Alderman/Schaay5:28:49SUP Team 3 Male
4Jonsson/Cerdas5:21:15SUP STK 14' Team 2 M01-79
4Fong/Makua/Perkins5:46:40SUP Team 3 Male
5Kai Binney/Binney5:25:25SUP STK 14' Team 2 M01-79
5Bevan/Blackwell/Blake5:56:00SUP Team 3 Male
6Hoyer-Nielsen/Walsh5:31:42SUP STK 14' Team 2 M01-79
6Pugh/Upton/Vaine6:21:44SUP Team 3 Mixed
7Claydon/Alexiou5:33:07SUP STK 14' Team 2 Female
7Kalmach/Darbyshire/Welch6:24:59SUP Team 3 Mixed
8Moller/Blish5:36:44SUP STK 14' Team 2 Female
8Thomas/Lam/Morgan6:34:16SUP Team 3 Male
9Gittoes/Anido6:03:08SUP STK 14' Team 2 M80-99
10Scully/Patterson6:06:48SUP STK 14' Team 2 M80-99
11Ellis/Morris6:14:40SUP STK 14' Team 2 Mixed
12Klemawesch/Klemawesch6:24:06SUP STK 14' Team 2 M100+
13Kelso/Fitt6:26:14SUP STK 14' Team 2 Mixed
14Gomez/Waynar6:29:53SUP STK 14' Team 2 M80-99
15Mawae/Mawae6:43:25SUP STK 14' Team 2 Mixed
16Willis/Moniz6:52:42SUP STK 14' Team 2 M100+
17Tierney/Gallagher6:59:58SUP STK 14' Team 2 M100+

Follow the official Molokai2Oahu Facebook for more coverage.

You can also watch a full replay of the GPS tracking map to see exactly which line each athlete took across the infamous channel.

Josh Riccio

Stock class hero Josh Riccio showing just how good today’s conditions were (photo: Mike Jucker/Stand Up Magazin)

 


 

Penelope Strickland

CHAMPION: Penelope Strickland (photo: M2O Facebook)

Travis Grant

CHAMPION: Travis Grant (photo: M2O Facebook)