Travis Grant has outlasted Hawaii’s Connor Baxter to defend his Molokai-2-Oahu title and claim a fourth crown in the world’s most prestigious paddleboard race, while fellow Aussie Terrene Black has saluted for the second time after overpowering three-time champ Sonni Honscheid in a fantastic battle across the infamous ‘Channel of Bones’.
With strong winds but uncertain tides, competitors were tracking at record pace in the first half of the crossing before hitting difficult currents in the closing stages that turned the race into a real grind. Travis eventually crossed 24 minutes outside his race record from last year, while few athletes were able to break the fabled five hour barrier.
Trav’s win matches victories in 2013, 2015 and 2017, and his fourth title firmly cements the NSP team rider’s “legend” status in the sport. While his motivation for the sport in general may be on the wane, there’s never been a race as close to Trav’s heart as Molokai, and he was beaming ear to ear as he crossed the line with his Quickblade paddle aloft (the photo up top is from last year’s finish, however the grainy shots I’ve already seen from this year’s finish line show a near mirror image).
Despite strong challenges from pre-race fancies Titouan Puyo, James Casey and Lincoln Dews, the battle for the men’s solo title was once again an arm-wrestle between the two ocean masters, with Connor surging back into second around the halfway mark after a quiet start to setup a gripping battle in the final 10-15 miles.
After sitting back in fourth during the opening miles, Connor surged and seemed to have the momentum to overtake his key rival, but the Hawaiian couldn’t wrestle his crown back from the Aussie – Connor has won this event three times himself – as Travis surfed bump after bump and eventually pulled clear to win by a quarter hour.
And while he fell one spot short of his goal, Connor’s performance adds yet another chapter to this storied race, one that he’s been a key character in for the better part of a decade.
Chatting with his escort boat in the early stages of the race, Travis’ wife described him as “stupidly relaxed” as the trade winds whipped up near-perfect bumps for competitors as they meandered their way across the 32-mile wide open ocean expanse.
But what started as a dream downwind run ended as “one of the toughest crossings I’ve ever done,” according to just about every finisher. The currents were working against competitors and there were several DNFs and countless more who wondered if they’d ever reach the line. And some of those DNFs were some of the biggest names in the race.
The infamous Ka’iwi Channel took its fair share of victims today: Titouan, Lincoln and Mo Freitas were all forced to retire hurt after establishing strong positions early. Lincoln wrote it was a “disappointing result” but decided it was only going to do more harm if he continued (“felt it was getting progressively worse”), and that the current world number two was now focused on the next major event of The Paddle League World Tour: The Gorge Paddle Challenge in three weeks’ time.
Titou’s withdrawal was perhaps even more painful, at least mentally, given he was sitting in a virtual podium spot the first half of the crossing before being forced to abandon with extreme muscle cramps. The Frenchman – currently sitting third on The Paddle League World Rankings – was still feeling the effects on Sunday evening.
To complete the trio of high-profile DNFs, Mo Freitas pulled out just a few miles from the finish with an injured knee.
All of this left James “Jimmy” Casey, who’d been sitting virtual second behind Trav for the first hour of the race, as the only real challenger to the master duo out front. But while he couldn’t match Trav and Connor the whole way, Jimmy was extremely impressive and became the only other paddler to cross the line in under five hours, once again highlighting his ocean prowess. In addition to today’s podium, Jimmy picked up a second place at M2M (and a victory in the M2M warm-up event) to cap off yet another strong Hawaiian Downwind Month.
Kody Kerbox, in what he said was possibly his last major ocean race not on a foil, came home in a hard-fought fourth place to give the Maui boys two of the top spots and keep the flame flying for SIC in what was traditionally their dominant race. Kody was locked in a great battle with Josh Riccio as the pair hit China Walls – the traditional “beginning of the end” of the race – for the final mile and a half upwind grind to the finish.
In the stock division it was a big win for Riccio, who not only got the edge over Molokai expert Vinnicius Martins but also, incredibly, cracked the top five in line honours (finishing just 10 seconds behind fourth place overall). The result cements Josh’s reputation as arguably the most under-rated guy on tour.
Vinni also cracked the top 10 in his first year on a 14 footer–he’s a veteran of many unlimited crossings but stepped down a gear at the request of his board sponsor. The ever-smiling Brazilian described crossing the channel in mixed conditions on a stock board as “The hardest thing I’ve ever done on a SUP.”
Japanese duo Takuji Araki and Ryohei Yoshida finished 10th and 11th for the land of the rising sun after Aussie boys Ty Judson and Nathan Cross along with Tahiti’s Nuihiti Buillard scooped the minor placings.
It was victory for the next generation in the teams division, with the teenage duo Alex Bicrel of France and Hobey Moss of Hawaii giving NSP another medal to go alongside Travis’ title.
The battle for the “Queen of Molokai” crown saw a relatively small but equally stacked field, with 4x former champions lining up to do battle. That included three-time champ Sonni who’s been virtually unbeatable this season. The German powerhouse looked in form early, however Terrene quickly found her rhythm and opened a gap after the halfway mark that she wouldn’t relinquish. The two leaders were never far apart, but Terrene eventually pulled clear to match her 2013 victory and give the Aussies a golden double.
And in a truly golden day for the Aussies, that double turned into a quadruple victory as Harriet Brown and Matt Bevilacqua defended their solo unlimited titles in the traditional prone paddleboarding event, which mirrored the last clean sweep back in 2013. It was also a double victory for Team Quickblade with Trav and Terrene both using the famous QB Trifecta.
Terrene didn’t just win today, she put on a masterclass. Her time was so quick she would’ve finished top 10 overall in the men’s event, an impressive feat that highlights her status as one of the world’s strongest paddlers. But Sonni is still in the box seat for The Paddle League World Title considering her only challenger (France’s Olivia Piana) wasn’t competing today; this year’s Molokai race was a 6-star specialty event on The Paddle League World Tour, with Travis and Terrene both collecting 60.00 points for the World Rankings leaderboard.
Defending champ Penelope Strickland had to settle for third this year, while Jenn Lee and Kiyomi Sheppard rounded out the top five.
In the new foil division, which was already a success before it even started based on the media hype surrounding it, the new-school king Kai Lenny surprised absolutely nobody by claiming the historic first win. However Kai did surprise everyone, perhaps even himself, by completing the crossing in an utterly extraordinary time of 2 hours 52 minutes.
Three hours was always Kai’s goal, but he absolutely smashed that mark and would have been even quicker if not for having to prone paddle part of the final leg into the finish. 16-year-old South African sensation Nathan van Vuuren was the second foiler across the line, while fellow 16-year-old Annie Reickert made history as the first woman to cross the Ka’iwi Channel on a foil board after boldly switching divisions at the last minute.
More photos and video to come; follow the @paddleleague on Insta for behind-the-scenes Stories, and hit the official Molokai2Oahu Facebook for replays of the mini live streams from the 22nd annual edition of this epic event.
MOLOKAI: MEN’S SOLO
|5||Josh Riccio||5:01:27||stock (1st)||USA||25.50|
|9||Vinnicius Martins||5:24:25||stock (2nd)||Brazil||13.50|
|10||Takuji Araki||5:27:52||stock (3rd)||Japan||12.00|
|30||Terry Stevens||7:47:37||stock||Virgin Islands||2.40|
|31||Dr. Bob Arnot||7:49:45||unlimited||USA||2.28|
* Titouan Puyo (retired hurt; cramps)
* Lincoln Dews (retired hurt; shoulder)
* Mo Freitas (retired hurt; knees)
MOLOKAI: WOMEN’S SOLO
|3||Penelope Strickland||5:57:09||unlimited||New Zealand||36.00|
|6||Siri Schubert||7:06:18||stock (1st)||Switzerland||21.00|
MOLOKAI: TEAM CHAMPIONS
Men: Alexandre Bicrel & Hobey Moss (5:16:10)
Women: Thomas/McKee/Fuller (6:54:35)
1st: Kai Lenny, HAW (2:52:58)
2nd: Nathan van Vuuren, RSA (3:17:38)
3rd: Jeffrey Spencer, CAN (3:34:08)
4th: Bernd Roediger, HAW (3:43:20)
5th: Ryan Funk, HAW (3:47:59)
6th: Finn Spencer, CAN (4:28:34)
7th: Tomoyasu Murabayashi, JPN (4:57:47)
8th: Eric Terrien, FRA (5:19:24)
9th, Armie Armstrong, NZL (6:34:36)
MOLOKAI: WOMEN’S FOIL
Champion: Annie Reickert, HAW (5:20:06)
Women’s unlimited: Harriet Brown, AUS (5:51:32)
Men’s unlimited: Matt Bevilacqua, AUS (5:05:27)
Women’s stock: Mao Kamimura, JPN (7:26:26)
Men’s stock: Stewart McLachlan, AUS (5:33:26)
FULL RESULTS: http://live.pseresults.com/e/61#