Terrene Black: My Molokai
My lead up to this year’s race felt a little hasty. I sustained a rib injury not long after last year’s M2O which forced me to take 6 months off from paddling. This combined with a fatiguing illness felt like a major setback and even as we started the New Year, I still didn’t know if I would make it back.
Thankfully with the guidance of a new doctor, a naturopath and a myopractic therapist I finally started feeling better. By February I was paddling again. Slowly at first and mainly in the flat. This may have been a blessing as I focused solely on technique. My coach and training partner Will Anido and I started devising a new training schedule. It was a bit different to last year and there was also a lot of focus on recovery. After what I’d been through it was so important I did not overdo it. Rest and diet was the key.
Although it felt slow at first it was amazing how quickly I came back. After a month you start having some really good days training where you feel like you’re killing it, but then you have bad ones and start wondering if you’ll ever be ready in time.
March 18 and registration opens. I submit my entry and then it starts. The buzz, the excitement and the anxiety of if I can be ready in time. The next few months are focused entirely on training. I work as a lifeguard which suits my training schedule as I can train before and after work. Even fit in a bayswim whilst at work. By June, our biggest month of training, everything starts falling in to place. We do some big paddles. Some of them are an absolute nightmare. Variable winds, no winds headwinds and we usually aim to paddle alongside steep headlands where the water is rough. These conditions can bring you to tears but this is what breeds a Molokai champion!
The wind is inconsistent in Australia, so we try to make the most of every opportunity. Hawaii is usually windy!! That’s why we love it- for downwinding. I have the skills for this but needed to get better. Those Maui girls are so good at it. We were lucky to get some epic runs in before we leave for Hawaii. I was feeling really good and doing my fastest splits on my Garmin. I was stoked. My last 40 kilometre paddle we had good wind, massive swell, I had a bullet to train on and I finished feeling amazing. We made great time, I felt comfortable the whole way and I managed to stay with Will. We’ve always said that for me to win Molokai, I would have to beat Will. Will has only just been beaten by the winning girls the last few years.
Arriving on Oahu June 24 gave me plenty of time to acclimatise and continue my preparation for Molokai. It also coincided with a bunch of races in the lead up. Including the Da hui 4th of July race on the North Shore and The Cline Mann- a Hawaii Kai run. Both were held in light winds but still awesome races to be a part of with great atmosphere and also providing good training.
It was then on to Maui for the Maui to Molokai World Cup of SUP. This is the race that for anyone who competed in it 2012, had been thinking about all year. It was insane last year. I reckon I did the course flying, completely out of control. It was a race you did not want to end. It was a wild rollercoaster ride. The wind and swell this year just wasn’t the same. It was still a really fun race and there were so many entrants this year, it was so good to enjoy it with so many other enthusiastic sup’ers who love to downwind. It was a longer, harder race which took a toll on my body. My recovery over the next few days were crucial. My ribs weren’t too bad but my lower back was killing me. I thankfully met an awesome dude on the Lahaina ferry who was a physio- Chris Pagdilao. He came by the day after and fixed my back- amazing!
The next week Maliko provided some of the funnest downwind runs yet. We were all hoping they would continue for the Maui Paddle Championships. This race is massive, a prelude to Molokai 2 Oahu which usually brings a strong presence of international paddlers.
The race kicked off and conditions were good at the start. I love taking 2 strokes straight into a run at the start of a race. The Maliko is about 16 kilometres, so it’s still a fair distance. I was having a great battle with Devin Blish throughout the race. Towards the end conditions got tough, the wind died and there was lots of current. I went pretty hard at the end of this race, trying to catch Devin, it hurt. I finished 3rd with Sonni Honsheid closely on my heels. I was stoked to be a bit closer to Andrea and Devin this year on their run, I know I’ll probably never beat Andrea on that course, she is just too good.
That race smashed me!
I was worried I’d made a mistake doing it. Tuesday was my last paddle before heading back to Oahu before then heading over to Molokai for the big one. I felt very ordinary. My ribs were tight, I wasn’t paddling well. I decided that all I’d do for the rest of the week was yoga and some light swimming.
I needed a massage. Thankfully my good mate and fellow Aussie stand up paddler- Sondra Purser was in town and she is a massage therapist. She worked on me Thursday, claiming that yes my left side was very tight. Friday I was very anxious. We arrive on Molokai Friday night and Saturday we spend relaxing and I start feeling good. I have a swim and I feel freer. One more night and I should be feeling good.
Saturday night is the official race briefing and they put on a great feed. I catch up with everyone, get some last minute tips from experienced channel veterans and try and get an early night… Sleep did not come easy. Waking up to the sounds of rain was a bit eerie. But it did rain the morning of last year.
The morning was filled with nerves but everything ran smoothly. I’d done so many long paddles before, my preparation was routine. I’d spoken to Matt my boat captain the night before and his mates Will and Kurk, who had all been on my boat the year before and were back as pumped as ever. They wanted to win as much as I did. We discussed race strategy and agreed to go straight like last year. I knew there was a lot of talk about heading south because of the current but I felt that we’d be catching enough wind swells toward the south to make up for it. It was the end I was most concerned about. That last 5 kilometres.
Paddling out to the start line was a little different. The prone paddlers had already started. We were starting with the entire stand up paddlers, including the teams. This meant there were a bit more bantering and laughing going on, not as serious. Still there was plenty of well-wishing, warm up paddling, stretching and sitting. Then finding a position at the start line that you’re comfortable with. For me I don’t want to be near people that make me nervous. I see Mariko Strickland Lum, she is such an amazing, inspiring and beautiful person. We started together last year. I decided I would like to paddle out with her.
I sit down and wait. Turn my music on. Watch the start boat. Slow my breathing.
The yellow flag is up, there is a minute to go, we all get to our feet.
The red flag goes up and down, we’re away. I start my Garmin and cruise on out. I do not stroke hard but comfortable. I do not want to elevate my heart rate too much and I still need to warm up properly. I’m not sure how my body will feel so I am cautious. I take a look around and spot Andrea and Jenny spearing a head strongly, I ignore this. There will be plenty of time for catch up.
Mariko and I are together for a while. I warm up in to it. Some little bumps start to appear. I am anticipating the feel of strong wind on my back. We get into deeper water and it starts to become lumpier. I start catching some little bumps and try to gain as much ground out of everyone, whilst also standing upright and relaxing as much as I can. The first half of the race I want to conserve as much energy as possible. This is a long race, there will be plenty of opportunity to work hard.
I am still waiting for the feel of wind on my back and looking for those epic wind swells that appeared last year. They never come…
An hour into the race I start to accept that these are the conditions. I decide to not look at my Garmin every kilometre because I don’t want it see how slow I’m going. We won’t be breaking any records this year. I look up and see Andrea about 500 metres ahead. I didn’t expect to see her again. I look over to my right and there is Jenny also a couple of hundred metres ahead. I realise this is a good thing. They are obviously not pulling away from me. I am in a great position to conserve my energy and follow them.
I continue catching little bumps and keeping focused. I start gaining ground on Andrea. I could see the moment when her support crew finally spotted me. They all turned around at once and then ran forward to shout encouragement at Andrea. I felt a little sorry for her, that would be the last thing I’d want to hear. I’d been paddling along behind her for quite some time. I knew Jenny had already seen me.
I decide to make a move. I rip off my water pack and put my head down for the next 20 minutes and pull up alongside her. I then get the boys to bring me a new water pack and gel. I take a moment to put this on and then continue on pacing with Andrea. At this stage I’m less aware of Jenny. She is behind my right shoulder and I’m not able to catch an easy glimpse.
Andrea and I battle it out for a while. She gets in front then I do. After a while I decide to make my next move and put my head down and put some distance between us. I am feeling good, I have trained for this.
I am not sure how long I keep this up. But eventually I start to lose the plot. I start looking at Koko head and wonder if I’m taking the right line. I fall in.
I get back up and look around. I can’t see anyone. I yell out to my boat “where is Andrea?’’ Dad yells back “Andrea is 400 metres behind” – I think wow, is that all. Then “Jenny is 200 metres behind” oh shite..
Time to put the hammer down again.
Being out in front is a new thing to me. It’s hard to know what pace to set, how to maintain it and what line to take. There is team boat just ahead of me and I realise it is Greg Pavao and Robert Stehlik. I decide these guys will be good for me to pace with. They are also locals and will know what line to take.
After a while Dad yells out “Jenny is 400 metres behind” I’m happy about this, now I just have to maintain this pace. As we draw nearer to Oahu, the water becomes rougher and you really start to notice the current. Those little bumps I was catching easily before, I could no longer get on. I was wasting energy busting my guts trying to get into them.
For ages Koko Head does not get any closer. I check my Garmin and realise There is only 10 kilometres to go. Awesome!! An hour of hard work left. I can do this!!
Hardest hour of my life. I run out of hydration and decide to do the end free of my pack. Any little bit helps. I also switch paddles. I have a slightly shorter paddle as back up. This makes a huge difference. I’m not hitting chops with my blade and it will be easier in to the headwind.
Coming into China Walls was ridiculous. I had been looking forward to it because I love catching backwash. I might of caught two but the current was horrendous. You could literally see the whole body of water moving against you. This could be the moment where I lose this race. I felt you could be 10metres north or south and be on a better line. I told myself that these girls were following me so they will have to get through it as well.
Getting close to the wall, there seemed to be people and boats everywhere. I had my music on so I didn’t know what was going on. I was in a world of hurt and just had to get home. I knew I had the whole of the Aussie SUP community behind me. I wanted to win not only for myself but for them.
The whole race I wondered where Sonni was, but had to believe my Dad when he said I was leading.
Coming in to China Walls I see where the surfers are and I want a wave so bad. I had no idea that my training partner and coach Will was right next to me. I look over my shoulder and beauty- there is a nice size wave approaching and I am in position. I go for it. My legs are fine as I haven’t been doing much surfing this crossing. I hope I don’t hit any surfers as there is only so much control you have over a 16ft board. I managed to ride it through the keyhole. I look over my shoulder and perfect timing for my second wave. This is a great start into the headwind. Maybe I can get a wave in at each reef.
That wasn’t to be. The last kilometre was the longest and most ridiculously hardest part. Why are those red finishing boys so far away? Where has this wind come from? It feels like 20 knots!
I continue to paddle with my head down. Trying to work out the best route.
Somehow I make it. There is the finish line. I see Jordy ahead take line honours. Stoked for her!
Crossing that invisible line was the best feeling in the world. I raise my arms above my head, I am crying and then I collapse in to the water. It’s done, I can’t believe it!
I see my family and friends at the finish line, they are all so happy. I turn around and see Will paddle in. I’m a little confused to see him there but he is just so proud of me. Will has won the over 40’s division, which is a very competitive age group. Awesome! I see Gauly and he has the winners crown on, unreal! I then see Zeb who also has the winners crown on- far out I am so stoked for him. I then ask someone who won the men’s SUP. Travis! OMFG!! What a day for the Aussies, I am just so stoked for everyone.
I’d like to congratulate everyone who completed that crossing. When I watch people finishing after me, I think wow. Those guys are the real champions. They have been out there for longer. You can’t imagine what they have gone through.
Thanks Jenny and Andrea for pushing me the whole way. Well done Sonni for finishing third and Mariko 5th. Also to Bridgette for completing that crossing on a 14ft board, no rudder, that is inspirational!
A massive thank you goes to Will Anido, my coach and training partner. My family and my friends who have supported me along the way- they know who they are.