Roughing the Channel

Molokai paddler takes first at Ka`iwi Channel race.

Dynamic racing duo, cousins Ekolu and Dave Kalama came in with the fastest overall time in the 2008 QuicksilverEdition Paddleboard Race. This is their third consecutive win in the SUP team division.

By Jennifer Smith

While some refer to crossing the Ka`iwi Channel as a “joy ride,” others see it as one of the greatest physical challenges they will ever endure. However, almost all of the competitors in last Sunday’s QuiksilverEdition Paddleboard Race agreed that crossing the finish line on Oahu is an achievement that merits bragging rights.

“It’s considered the unofficial world championship race,” said Ekolu Kalama, Professional Stand Up Paddleboarder (SUP). Kalama and fellow Friendly Isle native Mele McPherson made local residents proud by representing Molokai in the 32-mile race.

“The Ka`iwi Channel is one of the roughest bodies of water in the ocean … which is what brings it prestige,” said Ekolu, who won first place overall with teammate and cousin Dave Kalama. The multiple variables of wind, waves, and currents multiply the difficulty of the race.

However, the risk seems to only add to the thrill for many competitors. Now in its 12th year, the race from Molokai’s Kaluakoi Beach to Oahu’s Koko Head continues to attract well-known watermen, conditioned athletes, and this year even a few daring local TV and radio personalities.

Former competitor and Race Director Mike Takahashi saw the race evolve from a little over 30 participants in its first year, to well over 150 competitors this year.

“It’s good to see in these slow economic times that people have their priorities straight, and add in some fun and recreation,” Takahashi said. However, he said not just anyone can participate in the event, as the treacherous conditions can present a challenge to even a seasoned paddler.

Participants compete in a variety of classes including unlimited and stock paddleboards, solo and relay stand-up paddling.

Nose to the Board
Well-known waterman Jamie Mitchell (Australia) did not disappoint Sunday when he claimed his seventh consecutive win in the overall paddleboarding division. The 31-year-old has turned heads across the globe dominating competitions in big-wave riding, stand-up paddle surfing, and tow-in surfing.

“I consider him the Lance Armstrong of paddleboard racing,” Ekolu said of Mitchell. “No one will ever break his records.”

With Mitchell (Australia) almost guaranteed his win in the paddleboarding division on Sunday, Takahashi said the interesting race was in seeing who would steal second place. Jackson English (Singapore) thrilled crowds by beating out the close competition to take the runner-up spot.

In the women's division, Kanesa Duncan (Hawaii) upset last year’s winner, Shakira Westdorp (Australia), by taking first. “Both women are looking forward to a rematch next year,” Takahashi said.

Standout Stand Up Paddleboarding
Perhaps one of the biggest changes to the QuiksilverEdition Ka`iwi Channel Paddleboard Race has been the recent addition of the C4 Waterman Stand Up Paddleboarding division. SUPers cross on specialized paddleboards and utilize a single-ended paddle (similar to a canoe paddle) to propel themselves.

While SUPing began with the Waikiki Beach Boys nearly half a century ago, it was only recently that the sport became re-popularized.

Many credit Dave Kalama and infamous big wave rider Laird Hamilton for re-introducing SUPing to the surfing world. The friends began taking paddles out in 1995 to enjoy waves on small surf days.

“It’s not surprising at all” to see the rapid growth of the sport, Dave said, explaining that it was not a matter of if it would catch on, but when. Seeing the list of SUP participants nearly double since last year, three-time relay team champions and cousins Ekolu and Dave Kalama expect the number to continue to grow.

Ekolu, who just returned from a European tour with his sponsor Starboard, achieved his goal of beating Mitchell across the finish line. While the champion paddleboarder received a 30-minute head start from the SUPers, he didn’t have the advantage of being part of a relay team or using a paddle.

“It is a joy ride for us,” Ekolu said. “You are hooting and hollering and giggling – just having a great time,” Dave added.

A clear crowd favorite, the `ohana duo came ready to claim their third consecutive victory. While both admit they haven’t trained specifically for the event, they have strong natural abilities and they regularly frequent the ocean.

Admiring Mitchell’s skill and consistent wins, Ekolu said he would like to create a legacy similar to Jamie’s in the SUP division.

Celebrity SUPings
Breaking ground in the Ka`iwe Channel race, well-known media personalities stood up to show the fun and adrenaline-filled side of SUPing. Four, four-person teams comprised of two celebrity paddlers, and two experienced watermen entered the race.

“This gives us an excuse to be at the beach,” said Lanai Boy (I-94 FM). “I’m trying to have as much fun as I can.” Lanai, who trained about six months in advance for the event, was joined in the race by teammate and experienced waterman Brian Keaulana.

“I’ve always wanted to do the crossing,” said Dan Meisenzahl (KITV4 morning news). He had only SUPed maybe four or five times before the race, but said, “I hope this is the first of many” trips across the Channel. Dan was accompanied by watermen Russ Keaulana and Ikaika Kalama.

The well-known Keaulana brothers each escorted a celebrity team across the Channel.

Having trained with the new SUPers, Brian Keaulana said the experience “takes away their fear” of sharks, and of the elements.

The Surf Rescue Pioneer hoped for strong winds and big waves. “I’m happy it’s treacherous,” he said, explaining that such conditions can help the boarders to get across the Channel faster.

A Winning Attitude
“The race ran very smoothly,” Takahashi said. “It was an exciting, nice beautiful day in Honolulu,” he said in describing a crowded, but favorable welcome on Oahu.

“I am always impressed by the spirit of the competitors,” Takahashi said. Despite grueling water conditions that would make many want to jump into a support team boat, “everybody soldiers on … it brings me chicken skin every time.”


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.