Molokai is considered the ultimate test of ocean paddling, the one true race that people judge/admire and respect you on. The 53-55km crossing the channel is like nothing else in ocean paddling.
So what happens when a sprinter who only races over 3mins all his life with the odd 20-25km ocean race gets offered an opportunity to paddle the mighty Molokai.
I was lucky enough to join the Shaw and Partners Race Team as team manger in early August 2018 and as part of the team we would be going to Hawaii for 10 days and race the mighty race.
With my commitments to my Jimsquad training group of young paddlers we were committed to the Australian Surf Life Saving sprint surf ski races, this means lots of short hard explosive training.
Once the season had finished it was time to think about the next 5 weeks, this would be the time I would have to be able to prepare for the mighty race. I had only ever done The Perth Doctor before which is a 27km race outside of that I had never paddled that distance. This became the daunting part for me, how to train, father of 3, owner of a small business and a coach to many, how do I fit a program together.
I started the first week of my program by just doing some 12-15kms paddle to get used to sitting in the boat for longer periods of time, knowing I had 4hrs to contend with. As I started to build more and more time in the boat my bum started to get very sore and make my back seize up, making me develop some fear about would I make it. This started to become my main focus getting my bum and back right for the race, as a non stretcher I started stretching lots and sitting on a spiky hard ball and rolled on my gluts lots. Over the next 4 weeks it worked a treat my back held up so well, not a problem at all.
My training became a process of not developing fear about the whole 53kms in one go but being able to do it well. So I came up with a plan on two mornings and two afternoon sessions in a row this combined distanced would total 50kms, then I would do one morning and one afternoon followed by a weekend morning paddle, total for the week 80-100kms. I had to work, family, stay fit and not develop fear.
Once I arrived in Hawaii I had the time of my life I got to train and paddle with the best athletes on the planet and learn from them 9 days out from the race. Paddling with Cory Hill, Hank McGregor, Mackenzie Hynard, Alli Day, Josh Fenn, Hailey Nixon, Jordan Mercer, Georgia Laird, Shannon Ekstein, Kendrick Louis, Matt Poole, Mitchell Trim and the ocean ski legend Dean Gardiner. This time was invaluable just getting tips on how to race, hydration, surf runners and approach the race was something money can’t buy.
So over the week leading into the race I tried my very best to work on all the little things for the race, I tried my drink bottle when to pick up the cord from my bladder, what to wear in the heat and most of all work out what makes these guys so good. My observation was simple in the end, I worked out it was not how many runs I was getting and surfing but more how many runs I was missing. The key to ocean ski paddling is limiting the amount of runs you miss not how many you get. So I practiced as much as I could to be better at this each day, I think I improved.
Over the week I made sure I had some downtime to thinking about the race and all the tactics that were needed to have the best race possible. You can check out my Jim Walker and Mykayakcoach Facebook and Mykayakcoach Instagram to see all the fun that was had in the downtime.
The toughest part of the race is making sure everything is in order, escort boat and getting your ski to the island on time, this can be a very stressful time. I had managed at very late notice on my behalf to get the greatest escort drive Andrew Galzette he was so good. Once you have this in order you can relax and that is not possible as some people operate on island time. No one ever misses the Hawaiians involved are awesome people.
Race day, we flew over on the morning of the race, woke at 4:30am and in the bus to the airport at 5am. It’s tough doing this you need to get some food into you and my body is not used to eating at this time of the morning, I ate lots of little snacks for 2hrs, muesli and yogurt, protein bars and lots of fluids still.
Arrived on the island at 7:15am and racing at 10am lots of sitting and waiting. I set my boat up stuck my gels to my boat checked all my fittings to make sure everything was ok and then just did some small talk to pass the time.
9am arrived and I called my boat driver to confirm he was still coming and all was ok, he was fishing and told me all will be good. At 9:25am I made my way to the shore line to go out to meet my boat, I had been told that the shore dump could be massive, with that in mind I gave my boat all my drink systems so I didn’t lose them on the Shorey. The shore dump didn’t disappoint it was massive, you must stay patient. I was fine made my way out to the spot we were supposed to meet, I couldn’t find him I stayed calm till 9:40am and called him, when he answered he told me he was out to sea and on his way. When faced with this I started to panic then I asked myself what would the champions do, just paddle the race and the driver will find you later. Then 5 or so minutes later he arrived set up my drink bottle and water system and over to the start line I went feeling good about the race. Now there was about 5 mins till the start No time to panic, not worth it anyway you use up to much energy
‘Once the gun had gone we set about the 53kms ahead, it was the first race I had done that I didn’t sprint off the line. I went strong for about 10kms, I was feeling good and getting awesome instructions from Andrew my boat man, with that in mind I picked up the pace 20kms done and I had taken my first gel and drank a good bit of fluids. Now if you have an awesome driver like I did they start pointing you in the right direction, you must understand you start the race with only beautiful blue water around you and no sight of land from your little ski on the water bobbing up and down. I felt like I was holding good form then I got to 30kms 3kms more then I had ever done before in my life, I got nervous what would start to happen to my body, would I be ok if I keep pushing myself. I went with what felt right with my body. At 34kms I needed another gel, I had used material tape to stick them on because of the heavy shore dump at the start, i would normally use a soft tape. So when I went for my gel I pulled two gels off and so I went to seperate the two gels and as I did this I fell in, I lost everything. The off sider on my escort boat was in the water so fast to help me which was great, I held myself together, totally disappointed I got back on with no gel and no fluids. My escort boat stepped up again and delivered, the young kid jumped in the water, I paddled to him stopped and reloaded 1.5 litre fluids and gel, this would get me home.
At the 40km mark I started to think about the time I might be able to achieve as I could see my time, pace and distance to go and it excited me.
‘Before I left home for the race I wanted to come 15th with a time of 3:45-4hrs if I could do that I was set to be very happy with myself considering the pre I had done. Then when I arrived and read the start list I changed and thought maybe 20th and maybe 25th I wanted to be happy.
‘As I worked out the time and got more instructions and encouragement from my team I really though it maybe possible to achieve my goal.
Then at 45-46kms the rebound from Portlock Point and China Walls starts to hit you and you are going up and down like a yo yo, it now is the hardest part mentally. As I hit China Walls the surf was pumping and I was not going to end my race on a massive wave, again my driver put me in the best spot I got three waves into the last 1km of the race.
As I entered the last 600m and come around the bend the wind blew into my face the shallow water makes it feel like you have paddles made out of concrete. I looked at my watch and tried to keep pushing as a time and a goal I could never dreamt of was about to happen. I crossed the line exhausted but also desperate to know my place and offical time, this is not something you find out very easy at all. I climbed out of my boat and stood on land prouder then any other paddler who had completed the course as I had just achieved what I thought was the impossible 12th place and a time of 3:29mins. I could not of dreamt of anything like this.
What did I take from the race, be patient, believe in yourself, stay true to your race plan. I can’t say enjoy yourself as I’m not sure pushing your self for 53.6kms is that enjoyable. What I can say as I write this is that I enjoyed the whole experience that’s Molokai and it could never have been possible with out the generous support shown by Earl Evans and Allan Zion from Shaw and Partners two of the kindest men in the world.
‘My time in the 2019 Molokai Challenge was one I will never forget, will I be back well it’s a bit early to answer that.
‘For the Molokai Race
Shaw and Partners Wealth Management helped me with everything possible for Molokai.
‘I paddled a Molokai Edition Epic V12.
I paddled in the Vaikobi board short paddle pants and a Vaikobi singlet.
‘I used a Brasca 4 SMin Bennett paddle.
I wore Maui Jim sunglasses
‘I listen to a great array of songs on my Bluetooth set up.
Thank you to everyone who in someway helped me achieve my personal goal, I didn’t cross the line first but I feel like a real winner from my efforts.