molokai surfski race

I am now fully committed to the Molokai Surfski Race

When I turned twenty my bucket list focus was to master  freefall formation skydiving, at thirty I committed to finishing an Ironman triathlon, and now with my fortieth birthday looming this summer,  I’m fully committed to racing the Molokai Surfski Race also known also known as the SurfskiWorld Championships.  This race crosses the Ka’iwi Channel also referred to as “The Channel of Bones” .   The “Channel of Bones” nickname comes from the fact that the Molokai Channel is notoriously one of the roughest stretches of water in the world.   Thousands of miles of open ocean comes funneling into the channel to produce a large swell. Add in the trade winds and the cliffs of Oahu, and paddling a toothpick boat for 32 miles will undoubtedly test your mettle.   I never expected the combination of skills gained from skydiving and Ironman would come together,  but I now realize Molokai will require both the endurance abilities of an Ironman combined with the ability to remain calm, cool, and collected when scared out of your mind, which is a survival skill you quickly learn in skydiving.

A Bit Unexpected

The thought of tackling the Molokia surfski race originally started floating onto my radar late last year.   At the time,  I was pretty certain it would be 2015 as my focus for 2014 was competing for the first time in the US Surfski Championships in San Francisco.    Unfortunately in January I found out that the date for the US Surfski Champs was pushed out a couple weeks and was now conflicting with the TC Waterman.  Missing the TC Waterman is not an option for me, so  I was pretty bummed to be forced to nix the US Champs.  My wife Kim was the first to suggest that I just go for it and plan for Molokai in 2014.   My first thoughts were “that’s crazy I’ll never be ready”  but as the winter of 2014 continued the beat down,  the thought of downwind paddling for a week  in Hawaii become more and more appealing.

Fully Committed

I am now fully committed to the Molokai surfski race with airfare booked, a boat rented, and an escort captain all lined up (all paddlers are required to have a dedicated chase boat to escort them across the channel).    Everything is falling into place, except of course access to open water for training.   At this rate, it doesn’t look like that is going to happen on Lake Michigan until probably mid to late April.

Training Strategy

As many of you know from prior blogs, even before committing to Molokai, my focus for this off season has been to build a tremendous endurance base along with a paddling technique that optimizes efficiency.   I had a terrible bonking experience at the end of the race season last summer and I want to ensure I never have that experience again.  My strategy for building endurance has centered on two key fundamentals:  heart rate training and diet.   For the heart rate training I’ve been following Phil Maffetone’s formula and approach to training right at my aerobic threshold (140 HR).    For diet,  I’ve focused on a significant reduction of carbohydrates to accelerate the shift of my metabolism and energy systems to burn a much higher percentage of fat.

Based on my marathon ski racing experience the changes I’ve made have certainly paid off with regard to building endurance capabilities.   I am feeling pretty good that I was able to stay strong for four hours and twenty minutes in my last ski race,  all on zero carbohydrates for the day.    For the Molokai Surfski Race  I need to be ready to put in an effort anywhere between four and six hours.   While the ski races have been tough due to the bitter cold, stepping off the side of the trail and calling “no mas” is always an option.   In the center of channel and 15 miles from shore, there is no easy out.   I haven’t finalized my nutrition/hydration strategy yet for the crossing, but I will definitely be prepared with adequate fluids, electrolytes, and glucose to use if needed.

With regard to technique efficiency,  I’ve spent this entire off season attempting to master the “Big O”  style of paddling.   I am convinced this is the most efficient way to paddle for long distances.   Most of the credit for Oscar’s victories at the Molokai Surfski Race are attributed to his unmatched big water,  down wind mastery, but I believe his efficient technique plays a big role as well in allowing him to stay strong for 32 miles.

Not a Good Year for Spring Training

Unfortunately, this may be the worst spring ever when it comes to being able to log open water training in Michigan.  Thankfully last fall I acquired the Kayak Pro ERG  and have been logging around 4 hours a week.   I have dreaded adding long 2-3 hour paddles and have preferred to get my long endurance through skiing,  but I now realize that 2-3 hours session on the ERG will be required over the next two months.   I also have a trip to Charleston planned for the last week in April and plan to cram in as many long paddles as I possibly can.

Preparing for the big water

The one thing the ERG will certainly never prepare me for is dealing with the open water conditions that the Molokai Surfski RAce is so famous for.    I’ve come a long way understanding and becoming efficient at downwind paddling on wind chop in protected waters, but large swell, wind waves, and rebound chop are an entirely different animal.  My hope is that by arriving a week before the race,  I’ll be able to log several sessions with the world class paddlers who will all be converging in Oahu before the race.  I’m really looking forward to this opportunity to soak up as much knowledge as I possibly can.   Additionally,  I have checked my ego,  and plan to paddle a 2nd Generation Epic V10 Sport rather than an a high performance ski.   I’m quite certain that with my limited big wave ocean experience the V10 Sport will ensure a much faster time and more relaxed experience.

An absolutely worthy Bucket List experience

There is no doubt that regardless of what mother nature throws at us on May 18th,  the 32 mile crossing of the Ka’iwi  channel will go down as one of the biggest physical accomplishments in my life.  In addition to the race itself, spending a week rubbing elbows with the best in the world is an absolutely priceless experience and will provide me with an immense knowledge base to share with the Midwest surfski community.  One thing I am certain of is that the overall experience will be exactly what I need going into my 4th decade.

Here is a great video showing what Molokai is all about

Another great piece on the 2013 Molokai Surfski Race