July 27, 2014 Molokai 2 Oahu Championship Paddleboard Race
photos by Simone Reddingius ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 2014
See photo gallery below.
The Ka’iwi (kah-EE-vee) Channel is one of the Eight Seas in Hawaii with it’s deepest depth of 2300 feet. It is known for it’s rough seas and abundant sea life, including many large sharks.
One would never guess that my biggest fear is of drowning. Who would think that an ocean going person such as myself would admit this fact? The open ocean waters of the Molokai to Oahu channel, affectionately called, the Channel of Bones; was starting to get big, rolling and pitching the boat from side to side.
Stephen Ross, my dear friend and relay partner started the race and was looking solid. His strokes looked strong with a good rhythm, as all of the boat wakes had made for a choppy and interesting first mile. Boy was I glad he started.
It was my turn to paddle and as I inched closer to the side of the boat for our first transition with my confident coach and good friend Jeremy Riggs at my side, I looked up at our team leader and strong boat captain Mike Holmes, and asked, “now?” He said, “Yes, Suzie now.” Gulp.
Little did he know that my adrenaline was racing through my veins and up to my head so that I thought my Garmin would explode. The troughs were deep and the large wind swells were rolling underneath the boat. Without thinking another thought, I closed my eyes and off I jumped. I felt like I was in a time warp for a few seconds. I was so excited I actually forgot to turn on my Garmin until about the three miles in!
We had practiced our transitions with Jeremy the day before and decided that the left side of the board was the way to switch and then off to the right to exit. It proved to be a good plan. He unclipped his leash and our words were “got it”, to confirm and assure that the fresh paddler was ready to take over. We noticed some teams did not use a leash and we thought it best for our first time.
Getting up to my feet I had a rule to count to three to reconnect my brain to my body. This helped to tame the wild, surging rush of jitters, nerves and everything else you can think of that would break you down and tire you out.
Now standing, and I didn’t even look up. I just started to hammer hard and didn’t even know where my boat was, I was just going. I knew at that moment that if I didn’t find my breath I’d be totally spent the whole race. I thought I’d better take a big chill pill and just relax.
Jeremy Riggs commented:
Before the switch, Jeremy Riggs had some calm and words that really helped. Like, “just relax, don’t paddle so hard and look for all the small bumps right now and don’t worry about the big ones.” Great advice.
Still on my first leg, I could feel my traps rise up with excitement and self induced stress. This was not a good thing. I forced a few deep breaths to slow down, look up and check out the massive spread of boats and paddlers near by. Wow, what a sight.
I have never seen water this royal blue. To my right I saw a sea bird of sorts scanning and soaring along the breaking wave crests, chasing and zigzagging in the direction of flying fish. Of course my first thought was you know what. This alone was the most humbling thought of many I had that day.
Since this was our first Molokai 2 Oahu race, my goals were simply to finish with a smile, make sure my crew had a good time and to learn as much as possible. This was the telling moment if all the planning and training would now pay off.
Stephen later expressed, “What stands out in my mind was the enormity of the challenge, but it was funny how I chose to deal with it. My usual statement is ” what could possibly go wrong”, normally nothing, as long as you do everything to prepare for it. I trained hard, I paddled for hours, I did many downwinders, I thought I did it all, but I found out that nothing you do can fully prepare you for that channel, it always holds the trump card. “
The entire team mattered, every single one of us. This was not only my personal goal as everyone on that boat supporting us was also experiencing his or her own personal victories.
We were very aware to keep our transitions timed at about 20-25+ minutes. I had no idea that my partner Stephen was suffering so much with dizziness and seasickness. He was such a good actor and kept paddling and catching some really nice glides. I can’t imagine what that would feel like or if I could even go on like that.
Part of preparing for an event like this is making sure one does not get afflicted with seasickness or motion sickness. It’s hard enough paddling in rough water, but it’s the being on a boat that can get you.
There are many things you do from ginger chews to Bonine to transderm patches, drinking tons of gingerale and making sure you keep your eyes on the horizon. I was so surprised that I managed okay as I’m very prone to getting sick. And once you do, well it’s not pretty.
My stoic partner Stephen writes, “ I never anticipated getting affected by the motion, and when I did it was like one side of my foundation was pulled out from under me, I was shattered, I felt I had let you down, the team down, and myself as well.”
As the day and miles clicked along, the cheerleaders on the boat, Cathy and Tommy were making us laugh and kept our seriousness on the lighter side so we could remember that this was “fun”.
Jeremy was really good about looking out for bumps that would take nice shape in front of us to be sure we’d maximize each glide. Simone was steady on her feet with her big lens ready to snap and frame each glide and each emotion.
Mike Holmes, our hero of the day and boat captain, also former champion channel paddler would show us our rhumb line in purple on his GPS device that kept our course true. He would give us pointers as where we need to start paddling towards in certain sections as we made our way.
This year’s current was a bit of a south swell, which worked in everyone’s favor compared to last year’s where everything lined up almost backwards. We didn’t go too North or too South, somewhere in-between seemed to work.
The downwind sections were similar to Maliko here on Maui and were more at the beginning of the race and towards the middle miles. It wasn’t as big as I had hoped nor as windy, but nonetheless a rush I can’t describe. All the miles of training and the big scary winter days of many years really paid off.
My focus was only the left and right side of the nose of my board from 9 to 12 and 1 to 3, that’s where I need to get the small bumps and keep my blade moving. Then as I caught a glide I was scanning to the right and then the left for the next one. It was now just me and this massive body of ocean. I felt like a speck of sand in the Sahara Desert. I have read the feeling of isolation can play with your mind, but I used it to my advantage.
I must share with you the visual I had to help myself think clearly if any moments of self-doubt crept in. One of my wonderful training clients, Bill Thompson presented me with a picture before I left, after his many years of living in China. He said, “Here, you’re probably going to need this.”
Now I am not one that is super religious or hippie dippy, but this photo really struck the core of my being. It is a photograph of Guan Yin, Kwan Yin, Kuan Yin, or Quan Yin. She is all the same, the sea-faring, water loving Buddhist goddess of compassion and mercy, the protector of water people all across China, Vietnam, Thailand. I thought how cool. My board is the dragon and I am the calm, strong goddess that will conquer and honor this piece of water and it will do me no harm.
Fortunately I never had any doubt that I could do this. I felt the strongest I’ve ever felt in my life. Strong and powerful. What I worried about most in the months prior to the race was if on race day I would have an episode and experience the horrific symptoms of my ciguatera poisoning?
In recent years I discovered that it is triggered by extreme exercise and sun. It was a gift that I was symptom free. I was so very happy that it let me be for this special day. I am having quite the episode now while I type this just as I expected, but I’m so very thankful it was not with me that day.
And with that, every stroke from left to right I kept saying to myself over and over again, “I am grateful, I am grateful, I am grateful.” I also thought how much of an honor it was to be accepted into this prestigious race of all races, that I was given a chance to prove to myself that I am indeed an athlete.
We were soon approaching the East point of Oahu, Koko Head Crater which created the famous and beautiful Hanauma Bay. I could really feel the wind shut down and the water became very difficult to paddle. The water was pushing back off the island. I needed my mantra more than ever of my visual of riding the dragon. I was starting to wonder how long this would last. I have only heard about this part from many friends who would describe it as pretty miserable. It was.
It reminded me a little bit of how the water would behave underneath the Golden Gate Bridge when I used to windsurf there. We called them potato patches because the currents would be coming at you in four directions and grab your board or boat and shake you like a tree and keep you there.
At times I would take my finger and “hush” the boat so I could concentrate and focus on every stroke so I could keep any momentum at all moving forward. My strokes were shorter and faster to help keep me upright. I don’t think I ever looked up one time until it was my time to switch
As I was pulled back up onto the boat, I felt like I was overheating with no wind to keep me cool. My amazing boat support and boyfriend Tommy took an ice-cold bottle of water and dumped it on my head. That really helped. I noticed my low back was starting to get sore from all the intense focusing and my ankles had taken a toll with all of the isometric stabilizing of each tiny muscle that got burned out to keep me standing. All my balance training also paid off huge!
I stretched my low back and ankles and wondered how in the world could someone do this solo? Off Stephen went along the amazing China Wall. Each stroke was short and steady and he amazingly did so well while feeling so sick.
I would soon prepare for the final stretch to the finish. There was a very small south swell running and since I didn’t know the reef or the wall that well, we thought I should take a conservative approach, which put me more into the head and side wind.
I was ready and had remembered the many early mornings paddling in the harbor into the wind and timing myself against the side wind. It wasn’t all that bad except it felt like at times, someone was moving the finish buoy away from me!
I saw the tents on the lawn at the finish as I paddled through the deep-water channel feeling a bit lonely at this moment. Stephen gave me the honor and my crew and captain were heading along the side of the wall where Kamaki Worthington waited on his ski to transport everyone back to land.
I wasn’t sure who I would see but thought how cool it was to actually paddle to Oahu. I felt good coming in and I was sure to have a smile on face as it was my goal. I first met the lifeguard on the ski who outside the final buoy asked my race number. At that moment I felt “official.”
As the water became more shallow and clear it was just another 75 yards or so to go. “I’ve got this, me and my dragon board” I thought to myself. I passed the final buoy and there was Angel King of Angel King Productions with a huge smile and big lens. She also helped me with my board. How nice.
Then low and behold, Jenny Kalmbach came up and gave me a big hug and when I asked her (not knowing that she got 2nd in the solo ) how she did, she smiled and said, “yeah, I’m pretty happy with my paddle.” Geez. humble pro and humble pie. Wow.
I received our medals around my neck with a kiss from the kind event volunteer wishing Stephen had been there with me. But he was. Done and feeling great!
We all joke that the hardest part of our adventure was hailing a cab back to Waikiki!
Cathy Gillis, Stephen’s wife and head cheerleader was actually responsible for making this happen. I asked her too to share a snippet of her thoughts:
“I was struck by how much Stephens and your goal of paddling M2o was set by personal passion for the sport,,talent, respect for the ocean and not by the expectations of others. Teamwork from two individuals working independently toward one goal in unison….a beautiful thing! Mahalo”
Tommy writes: “I remember first hearing of the M2O race years ago when a crazy one armed pirate I know did it on a prone board. Crazy I thought, but having done endurance events before, I understood the allure of the race. But honestly, the idea of standing and paddling on a board that resembles an ear of corn (now branded the “cob”) seemed to me like a torturous affair. But I guess we’re all bent in some ways. Overall, the day was an awesome experience for me. I really enjoyed seeing all of the athletes and sensing their energy. Incredible levels of fitness. Suzie’s and Stephen’s level of commitment, focus and drive was only matched by their calm execution of stroke after stroke. They performed great as a team and seemed a constant as they distanced themselves from Molokai towards Oahu. Jeremy said it simply, “it’s fun to do something not knowing if you can do it”. It absolutely is and it’s the draw of M2O. Big congrats to Suzie and Steven for finishing their goal despite a bite of motion sickness and relentless heckling from the on-board peanut gallery.”
Stephen’s final thoughts as we all reflect back on our team adventure:
“That is what a team is for, to work together, build on the strengths of each member and Excell towards the goal. I was honored that you agreed to paddle with me, and I know I could have done better, I have thought about the event, and what I would do differently, and you know I don’t think I would do anything differently, other than using a more potent motion sickness potion.
I love the ocean, it has always been good to me, it has spanked me a couple of times for lack of respect, but we always seem to work it out, this time she spanked me, but I will be back for more, I am hooked, addicted if you will, I can’t wait for next year.”
Stephen, the honor was mine.
From beginning to end we can’t get over how fortunate we are that we finished safely without incident considering some of the stories that trickle in. We had the best support of friends and shared much “togetherness” that brought us all closer together with lots of laughs and good food prepared by Tommy.
The people that we met on Molokai were very friendly and we especially loved the food and nice folks at the Paddler’s Inn. I will miss Wally, my new dance partner.
Thank you everyone who followed us on the cool GPS DOT Vision tracking system and for those who sent loving emails and texts. It really helped more than you know.
A special salute goes out to Clare Seegar Mawae who resides on Molokai for welcoming us with her bright smile and for managing many important details to make our arrival and our time on Molokai extra special.
To our Prince of the channel, Mike Holmes our boat captain, former crossing champion, whose kind smile and intuitive and seaworthy ways of navigation kept us true and safe.
People have asked how we got so lucky to have Jeremy Riggs, former crossing champ himself; on our boat as our coach? Well, he tried to enter and because the race sold out in 3 hours, he simply was late! When he discovered just a couple weeks before that there was an opening he had already committed to us and didn’t want to miss that experience. Thank you SO much Jeremy! Next year we’ll be cheering you on!
To our coolest member of the team, pro surfer and photographer Simone Reddingius, who hung tough especially when a couple surprise swells emptied onto the back of the boat! You were a real trooper Monie. Your photos rock!
To the organizers of the event, Mike and Shannon, Ian and Chris all should take a bow. And for the special Angel, Angel King who snapped my photo and was the first smile and person I met at the finish, thank you many times over.
To my sponsors: Naish, RAWElements USA, Pocketfuel Naturals, Kaenon Polarized Eyewear, RUNA Drink, BLUESMITHS and Indo Board Balance Trainer, Mahalo.
To Tommy my boyfriend, who is my rock on land and sea, love you!
Our lives have changed forever and a part of us are still in that channel. Not only did our respect for the ocean evolve and grow but so did our life skills knowing that navigating any kind of rough sea or sticky patch, just put your head down, be thankful and go.
Here are a few more photos: