Navigating the waters from Maui to Molokai

As the wind continues to funnel through the Hawaiian Island chain, like a bellows aimed at a fledgling fire, the competitors who paid their way to Maui this past weekend were rewarded with sublime race conditions.

Four local Kauai paddlers made the island hop after arranging shipping of their canoes and surfskis with Young Brothers to join this annual event. Probably the Hawaiian Islands most reliable paddling conditions occur in the Pailolo channel. With zero escort boat requirements and a very affordable $60 entry fee, it is no wonder this race tops the entry numbers list out of all the solo races offered in Hawaii.

John Bresnahan, Patrick Fenway, Phil Morgan and Dylan Thomas all independently descended on the start line at DT Flemings beach at the north western end of Maui Saturday morning. An air of safety was noticeable in the presence of leashes and life jackets.

A heavy helping of anticipation and excitement was buzzing through the paddling field readying on the beach, mirrored by all the boat captains escorting the relay teams as they sat at anchor in the bay and their rides tugging heartily at the anchor chains.

The beach was littered with a collage of colored OC1s, OC2s, surfskis and stand-up paddleboards at 9 a.m., and the briefing and pule took place alongside a windswept shore break.

The racers went through their final motions — drinking down huge gulps of Powerade, eating bananas and bidding farewell to their loved ones on the beach.

As the masses entered the water and headed for the start line, the excitement stepped up even further. Chase boats, jet skis and paddlers all vied for space and made an attempt to lineup in an orderly fashion before the gun went off.

In most sports, competitors stay within reach of one another or are guided by a race track the entire length of the course. The joy of open ocean crossing is your platform and is completely three-dimensional.

In my case, within four miles of the start line, I could see just one other competitor, and then only every few minutes. The race committees enforced wearing bright orange race vests is a must in any open ocean event.

And so you race, almost in isolation, against your watch and against yourself. Using the oceans currents, the wind conditions and the swells, you head blindly toward the finish line or at least where you think the line should be.

For the paddlers experiencing the race course for the first time this is certainly one of the trickiest obstacles to overcome. One is unsure of their position in relation to the race course and one can easily push too hard, too soon, or not push enough at the right moment. It is best to stay within eyeshot of your respective competitors, but in the conditions that we were experiencing on this day, this proved to be extremely difficult.

Towering 20-foot waves that would crash in the mid channel and roll toward your boat, along with the 35-mile-an-hour winds that left whitecaps endlessly surrounding you, it took years of experience to maintain your boat’s course and direction, let alone try to follow someone.

In the end, three boats reported damage due to the severe conditions — one popped a seam, another cracked in half as it was bombarded by white water in the mid channel and one more was ripped to shreds as it raced down the particularly large wave and buried into the ocean.

On this day, a northerly track proved to be the better option and the well-seasoned local paddlers took advantage of this to finish on the front end of the results.

Well done to all the Kauai paddlers who took part in this amazing event.

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