There’s one constant when crossing the Kaiwi Channel. Expect the unexpected.
Paddlers never know if the wind will die, if it will pick up. If swells will be rollers or, especially in mid-channel, if it will become a roller coaster in between Molokai and Oahu.
And marine life? Plenty. Sharks, turtles, dolphins and malolo … just to name a few creatures that racers might encounter over the 32 miles from Kaluakoi and Hawaii Kai.
The Molokai World Surfski Championships, sponsored for the first time by the Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation, has seen it all during its previous 34 runnings. But few would have expected yesterday’s outcome, not with the incredibly high level of experience the international field of 65 skis brought to the water.
Defending champion Clint Robinson, a five-time Olympian, blew away the competition, crossing the finish line off Hawaii Kai Towne Center in 3 hours, 31 minutes and 58 seconds. The Australian was nearly 11 minutes ahead of runner-up Thomas Schilperoort of South Africa, who finished his race debut in 3:42:20.
Perennial contender Martin Kenny of Australia was third in 3:43:59, while Zsolt Szadovski was the first Hawaii resident across the line, 18th overall in 4:02:25.
Maui’s Lauren Spalding Bartlett, overcoming an illness earlier in the week, successfully defended her women’s title, placing 34th overall in 4:23:53. Oahu’s Nicole Wilcox Pedersen was second in 4:36:35.
"It was pretty mellow out there," said Robinson, taking about 8 minutes longer than last year. "I tried to keep it pretty simple, take the rhumb line straight to Portlock Point.
"This body of water is so unpredictable, and it’s one of the longest races around the world that we do (on the world surfski circuit). I’ve been in a lot of good races — the Olympic finals are always special — but this is definitely my favorite ocean race."
The 38-year-old Robinson opened a gap early off the starting line at Kepuhi Beach, breaking away about 30 minutes in and taking advantage of about 45 minutes of bumps. Schilperoort said he took a different line "because I didn’t want (Robinson) in my head, the 23-year-old said. "I was focused on my own race.
"I didn’t know what to expect my first time. I found a rhythm and stayed with it. For my first time, I’m pretty happy."
Schilperoort said he grew up hearing of the race and its rich tradition of successful South Africans. His countryman, Oscar Chalupsky, won his first of a record 11 titles in 1983.
"I grew up hearing the stories of this race and always wanted to do it," Schilperoort said. "I definitely want to come back."
Bartlett wasn’t sure she’d be back yesterday. She said she had strep throat and a high fever during the week.
"It was really hard, probably my hardest race this year," Bartlett said, finishing 23 minutes off last year’s time. "I considered not doing it, but I’m stoked I did. At the end of the day, it’s always good to come across the channel."
It was her third crossing in five weeks. She repeated as women’s champion in the Kaiwi Channel Solo OC1 World Championship on April 17 and teamed with Andrea Moller to win the women’s division of the Kaiwi Channel OC1 Relay on May 1.
Danny Ching of California cruised to victory at the Rainbow Sandals Gerry Lopez Battle of the Paddle yesterday, beating his winning time last year by nearly 5 minutes.
Ching covered the 9 miles from Hawaii Kai to Duke Kahanamoku beach in 1 hour, 20 minutes and 27 seconds on his "unlimited" 17-foot stand up paddleboard with a rudder steering system. Georges Cronsteadt of Tahiti finished second in 1:21:50 and Maui’s Connor Baxter was third in 1:21:58.
Jenny Kalmbach of Kailua-Kona took the women’s race in 1:37:53 to beat Rachel Bruntsch of California by 17 seconds.
The Battle of the Paddle now moves to Dana Point, Calif., for an event in September.