It was more than battling the competition. It was about battling the weather and the water conditions as well.
For the paddlers who survived Saturday’s first two stages of the fourth Koa Nui championship — mostly flat and not-so-fun conditions — yesterday’s final 18-mile stage was a reward for sticking it out. It also was the perfect training run for next month’s Kaiwi Channel Solo OC1 World Championship, which uses the same finishing route from Koko Head to Duke Kahanamoku Beach.
"We were blessed to have the wind today," said two-time Koa Nui winner Kai Bartlett, who finished fourth overall and fourth in yesterday’s third leg. "After (Saturday’s) first two stages, you wondered about what the weather was going to be like.
"But I like competing against the top guys and all the top guys were out. It was good preparation for next month."
The weekend field was crowded with the big-name paddlers, including defending Molokai solo champion Danny Ching from California, last year’s Koa Nui runner-up Jimmy Austin, Karel Tresnak and Bartlett from Maui. Austin bested Ching in yesterday’s 18-miler, but Ching successfully defended his title with Austin second and U.S. national kayak team member Pat Dolan third.
On the women’s side, there was Bartlett’s wife, Lauren, who had won the three previous Koa Nui titles; Arlene Holzman and Donna Kahakui. The three finished 1-2-3 overall, with Bartlett remaining undefeated in the Koa Nui.
The three long-course stages included a timed sprint, a middle-distance (9-mile) race from Makai Pier to the Hawaii Kai Marina, and yesterday’s 18-miler from Makai Pier to Duke Kahanamoku Beach. There’s also a short-course division, with distances halved. Points are earned in each stage, adding up to the overall finish.
Some compared it to going from regatta racing (sprint) to long-distance racing within 36 hours, with a little bit of everything for everyone.
"Finally some good conditions," said Tresnak, who skipped Saturday’s events but finished fifth yesterday. "Every race this season has been pretty flat. This was good preparation for the (April 17 Molokai) race."
All were grateful for the wind, which made yesterday’s final leg a fast one.
"At one point (Saturday) I was thinking if there wasn’t any wind, maybe I would show up today," Lauren Bartlett said, adding a laugh. "It was hard with all the flat water and you wanted to save something for the last race.
"There was a great turnout, both men and women. It was a great run coming down the hill (from Koko Head) and I’m comfortable with it. The great thing about (solo) canoe paddling is you have to focus on yourself, your form and the ocean."
Some 100 paddlers competed in the two-day event.
"The weather has been so finicky," said organizer Manny Kulukulualani, who placed fifth overall. "We go, no matter what, but you’ll see less life in these people on the last day if there’s no winds. We got lucky today."