Here is the race recap of Starboard team rider, Connor Baxter’s winning paddle at the Molokai-Oahu Paddleboard race. Let’s hear it straight from the winner of the Stand-Up Unl M 1 – 29 age group division.
When I first started the race all that went through my mind was – this was going to be a long, grueling day. My strategy was to follow Ekolu as long as I could. Which incidentally ended up not being very long. He took off immediately and left all of us behind. So now, my goal was to stay with the pack. About 10-15 minutes into the race, all the boats started looking for their “paddler” and boats started going every which way. They were going in front of me, behind, on the side – and their wakes created so much turbulence it was hard to stay on the board. Luckily I didn’t fall, but a lot of other people were falling left and right from the boat wakes, which allowed me to pass them and move to the front.
In the beginning it was easy, because there were good trade winds and swells that were easy for me to catch. For the next 45 minutes I thought what great conditions for a crossing. Before the race there was talk of variable winds – so having the trades was a blessing. But then the conditions worsened. The wind got lighter and lighter and there were less glides and a lot more paddling. This lasted for another 4 hours – and I thought they were the worse conditions.
Boy – was I was terribly wrong. I had no idea what was waiting ahead.
I talked a lot to myself out there – mostly nonsense. But, it kept my mind occupied. While I was talking nonsense, it made the time go by quicker. When I would stop and looked around I would notice that I had paddled a long distance as the island of Oahu looked closer – and looking back Molokai was getting smaller. So, I would start talking to myself again – daydreaming about all sorts of stuff. This definitely passed the time quicker.
Having the boat close by with my mom and dad was a definite asset. My dad would dive into the water when I needed some nourishment and hand me a pack of hammer gel or hammer perpetuem. I also had 2 Dakine water back packs – so I always had one filled and on my back to keep me hydrated. My parents were my encouragement – their cheering me on kept me going.
When we got close to Oahu I remember thinking “I made it”. I yelled to the boat – “how much farther?”. The reply – only 8 more miles – only a Maliko Gulch run. I was tired and hearing this was not comforting, but I knew it was doable.
So, I am paddling – and paddling – and paddling. And, talking, talking, talking to myself. I look up – and I am in the same spot. Oahu did not look any closer. This went on for about 30 minutes. This was the most frustrating part of the race. This is the time when I started breaking down from fatigue, sunburn, exhaustion and my mind was taking over, playing tricks on me, telling me to give up. This is when I had to take back control. This is when you have to take over your mind and remind yourself – don’t give up – keep going – you can do it.
I took back over – and then I told myself I wanted to get out of the water – finish the race and be done. I suddenly got it back together.
Finally I noticed I was making progress and getting closer to the harbor and the finish line. Before the last mile into the harbor my dad gave me another hammer gel – but this time it was the espresso with caffeine – this gave me a boost of energy just when I needed it.
When I rounded the point I could see the finish – and now I thought again – I made it!! But as I started paddling it got windier and windier – but this time directly into my face. Exhausted, all I was thinking was – try and catch a wave so you can rest for a few seconds. When I finally caught this great wave inside – I realized with a 14’ point to point race board it wasn’t very easy – it was less work paddling – but a lot of work to stay on the board. But – I made it.
Coming into the finish, I could hear the announcer saying my name and the crowd started to cheer – which made me paddle even faster. When I crossed the finish and got to the beach I didn’t realize what I had accomplished. It took me at least a day to realize – I really did paddle the Ka’iwi Channel. I made it.
This was the most grueling 6 hours and 56 minutes of my life. And, now one of the greatest accomplishments of my life as well.
I want to thank my mom and dad, my sister Ashley, all my friends that supported me, and my sponsors – Starboard, Nike, Dakine, Menehune Electric, MPG and SIC.
And a BIG Mahalo to all the people that put the event on – Mike Takahashi, Rainbow Sandals – Sparkey, Barrett, Gerry, Honolua Surf – Randy, C4 Waterman – Brad and Maui Jim Sunglasses.