By Diane Ako
The desire to cross the ocean between two islands is rooted in the history of ancient Polynesian explorers. The thrill of adventure and the anticipation of a great challenge experienced by paddlers generations ago make up the common thread that runs through today’s athletes who compete in the Moloka’i-2-O’ahu Paddleboard World Championships (M2O).
On Sunday, July 27, hundreds of paddlers from around the world will gather on the shores of Moloka’i with their sights set on the island of O’ahu, ready to take on the Ka’iwi Channel. It's a 32-mile journey that involves a new category, stand- up paddle boarding - the world’s fastest growing water sport- in addition to the traditional paddle board division.
A sum of the key competitors:
Stand Up Paddleboard Division
Travis Grant is back to defend his hard fought victory last year in the unlimited stand-up paddleboard (SUP) division. The 31-year-old Australian surprised race fans who were focused on a battle between the sport’s top American paddlers, Kai Lenny and Connor Baxter. Grant slipped across the finish line in a time of 4 hours, 50 minute, 12 seconds. This year he leads what will again be the most hotly contested race at M2O, driven by famous Maui downwind experts.
After what seemed to be retirement from the solo SUP race, legendary big wave surfer Dave Kalama is back. Kalama is in outstanding race condition and is looking to reclaim his title from 2010 (4:54:15) before turning 50 this year.
Scott Gamble, 37, from O’ahu returns after finishing second last year (5:00:53). This will be the sixth solo SUP crossing for the talented race veteran.
Kody Kerbox, 20, from Maui is making his debut in the unlimited category and could be a contender after a strong second-place finish last year in the stock category (5:26:21) and a respectable finish at the Maui-2-Molokai race.
The women’s SUP division will depart the start line without its current champion, Australian Terrene Black. Leading the charge this year are Hawaii’s Andrea Moller, Jenny Kalmbach and Talia Gangini-Decoite.
At 34, the Brazilian born Moller is in position to capture her third championship. Kalmbach, 30, won in 2009 and nearly added to that victory last year, but was edged out by Black to finish second in 5:45:22. Under favorable conditions, Gangini-Decoite, 21, set the course record in her 2012 victory (4:55:12).
German surfing pro Sonni Hoenscheid, 33, returns after finishing third last year in a time of 5:52:07.
The stock SUP race will likely come down to a battle between the 2013 winner Travis Baptiste, 17, from Maui, and the former stock record holder from O’ahu, 28-year-old Andew Logreco.
Traditional (Prone) Division
Jordan Mercer already holds the women’s course record (5:22:31), which she set in 2011 during her attempt at the age of 17. This accomplishment makes her the youngest champion in the prone division to win in their first outing.
Now, at the age of 20, Australia’s Mercer could set the record for the most consecutive wins of any woman at M2O.
After repeat victories at M2O in 2012 and ‘13, Australian paddler Brad Gaul seemed unbeatable. Yet, in 2014 he has decided to step aside to paddle in a two-man team with legendary Australian surfer and friend Tom Carroll.
Australia’s Matt Poole, 26, is the odds-on favorite. Poole furnished one of the best results for a new paddler at M2O last year, finishing third in his second solo attempt (5:11:09).
Kanesa Duncan-Seraphin will log her 416th mile in competition at M2O. She is a trailblazer in women’s paddleboarding, having claimed eight world championship titles at M2O. After taking a year off from competition to become a new mother, the winningest woman in race history returns to complete her 13th crossing.
In the stock category, the men’s race will once again take shape around the head-to-head battle between Los Angeles paddler Jack Bark, 20, and Australian Zeb Walsh, 31. The two are evenly matched. Bark won in 2012 (5:28:16) with Walsh just a minute behind. Last year, Walsh came out on top, winning in a time of 5:46:13 with Bark trailing by six minutes.
Enter 18-year-old Australian Lachie Lansdown and the men’s stock prone race could get even more interesting. M2O race founder Mike Takahashi said Lansdown has a strong paddling style that reminds him of 10-time champion Jamie Mitchell. This will be Lansdown’s first solo attempt.
The women’s stock prone race will be led by Coronado, California lifeguard Carter Graves. At 21, Graves won the 2013 Catalina Classic. This is Graves’ first attempt at M2O.
Graves will be joined by Mavericks big wave surfer Savannah Shaughnessy, 25, who will test the strength that propels her into one of the world’s heaviest waves against one of the world’s most unpredictable channels.
Going for 20
Matt Sack is humble for a guy who made his career as a North Shore lifeguard, saving people caught in powerful surf. He is equally humble about the record he has established over the past 18 years. At 43, the traditional stock paddleboarder has finished M2O every year since the race’s inception.
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