Ten-time champ Jamie Mitchell steps aside opening men’s traditional paddleboard division. World-class surfers Rob Machado and Joel Parkinson test their wave riding skills in Ka’iwi Channel for first time. Growing women’s field to see strong competition. 

The 16th annual Molokai-2-Oahu Paddleboard World Championships (M2O), presented by Kona Longboard Island Lager are set to host nearly 300 men and women, representing the world’s top traditional (prone) and stand up paddleboarders (SUP) who will cross the infamous Ka’iwi Channel in a test of endurance and wave riding skills. On Sunday, July 29, 2012, athletes will cover 32 miles of open ocean between the Hawaiian Islands of Molokai and Oahu. They will battle strong currents and surf for hundreds of yards atop waves that can reach more than 12 feet.

After establishing a seemingly insurmountable record of ten consecutive victories at M2O in 2011, Australian Jamie Mitchell will not race this year. His departure guarantees a new champion in the men’s traditional paddleboard division. To finish, let alone win this division is considered the crowning achievement by both men and women in this prestigious race who rely solely on the power of their arms to propel their boards across the Channel of Bones.

The top men in the traditional division will not only be jockeying for the title, they also will chase a course record of 4 hours, 40 minutes, 31 seconds, Mitchell’s final stamp of dominance applied to his tenth win in this famed race. However, accomplishing this feat will be made more difficult as all athletes in the channel will need to race against an invisible competitor that will pull at their boards beginning at approximately 12:30 p.m. A northerly drifting “dropping tide” is expected to work against the athletes as they navigate to Maunalua Bay on Oahu’s south side. 

“Last year, conditions were ideal and many paddlers set event and personal records,” said M2O Race Director Mike Takahashi. “This year, the dropping tide will add a considerable amount of navigational uncertainty.”

Paddlers will enjoy moderate trade winds with favorable direction on race day.

Australia’s long string of success in the traditional paddleboard division is still in good standing with 33-year-old Brad Gaul. This will be his third solo M2O race, having finished a close second to Mitchell in 2011. Gaul, a lifeguard in Warriewood, New South Wales will be challenged by fellow Aussie Jackson English and Oahu’s Brian Rocheleau. 

English, 37, slipped across the finish line in 2011 less than six minutes behind Gaul to claim third place on an all-Aussie podium. Rocheleau, 36, has the talent to finally break the Australian tenure, but Tim Foran, 34, from Dudley, New South Wales will not make it easy. 

Yet another Australian board paddling specialist, Daniel Shade, 29, from Picketts Valley, New South Wales also could be a contender in his first solo attempt.

Among the male dominated top-20 prone finishers in 2011, there is one name that stands out – Ms. Jordan Mercer. At 17, Mercer became the youngest overall athlete, male or female, to win the M2O. In her first attempt at crossing the Ka’iwi Channel, the young Australian from Castaways Beach, Queensland left a handful of men in her wake as she set a new course record of 5:22:31 to finish 16th overall. She returns this year to defend her title.

Kanesa Duncan-Seraphin, 36, from the island of Kauai is back for her 12th consecutive race. The eight-time champion is credited for establishing the foundation for women’s participation in the sport. This year, M2O will realize the largest women’s field in event history.

Although the humble race ambassador did not win in 2011 and lost her course record, it should be noted Duncan-Seraphin set the previous record of 5:53:49 in 2004 on a typically slower stock board compared to the sleek unlimited boards the fastest paddlers use today.

A pair of 26-year-old Americans will push the women’s field. Hawaii transplant Leane Darling, who now lives on Oahu, recently finished second to Duncan-Seraphin at the 17-mile Cline Mann race on Oahu. Both women share competitive swimming backgrounds. Duncan-Seraphin swam for Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Darling qualified for the 2008 Olympic trials.
Another teenage Australian, Bronte Hartland, 18, will give chase in her first attempt at paddling the channel.

The top male SUP paddlers are back this year led by 17-year-old Connor Baxter. Last year, the Maui native set a course record en route to his first M2O championship (4:26:10). Since then, Baxter has been consistently claiming top finishes, most notably in the Maui Triple Crown of Paddling.

Scott Gamble’s second-place finish (4:30:10) to Baxter last year was the result of several missteps during water bottle exchanges with his team boat in the closing miles. Should the 36-year-old Oahu resident improve this year, the 2011 result could likely be reversed.

Race fans will want to keep their eyes on 19-year-old Kai Lenny from Maui. After dominating the world SUP surfing championship for the past two years, Lenny will compete this year on a stock SUP board. Even racing on a stock board, he is likely to finish top five overall and has a good chance of beating his counterparts who will all ride unlimited boards. Lenny first completed the M2O at the age of 13 with his father. 

Andrew Logeco, the two-time men’s SUP stock champion (2010-11), won’t make Lenny’s crossing easy. The 27-year-old from Oahu has experience on his side and the top stock SUP finish times – 5:13:45 set in 2011 is his fastest.

Also from Maui, Brazilian born Livio Menalau is back after finishing third just three minutes behind Gamble (4:33:13) in 2011. 

The SUP champion in 2010 and famous big wave surfer Dave Kalama returns. He was one of seven men to post top-ten record setting times last year on his way to a fourth place finish (4:46:52). 

The women’s SUP race will be focused on three names: Andrea Moller, Talia Gangini and Jenny Kalambach.

Moller, 32, who was born in Brazil and now lives on Maui is again the odds-on favorite as she returns to defend her 2011 title. With her win, she also set the current course record of 5:26:51. In addition to her talents on an SUP board, the full-time mom and emergency medical technician is credited as being the first woman to surf the big wave break known as Jaws. 

At the age of 19, Gangini holds the second fastest time on record (5:30:57) set in 2011 when she finished second to Moller by four minutes. Given her focus on training this year, the Maui native will be a formidable competitor. 

Kalambach, 29, the women’s 2009 champion from the Big Island, will push the pace on Moller and Gangini. Last year, she finished fourth in a time of 5:46:11.

The toughest way to cross the channel is on a stock board, measuring up to 12 feet for prone paddlers or 12 feet, 6 inches for SUP. The following are a collection of outstanding solo athletes who will compete in the stock traditional paddleboard category:

Jack Bark, 18, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA, 1st place stock team category, M2O 2011
Zeb Walsh, 29, Victoria, AUS, 4th place stock, M2O 2011, Patagonia athlete
Fletcher Davies, 17, Newport Beach, AUS, 3rd place stock team category, M2O 2011
Kaniela Lyman-Mersereau, 26, Honolulu, HI, 2nd place stock, Cline Mann race 2011
Kai Hall, 36, Haleiwa, HI, 3rd place stock, Cline Mann race 2011
The popularity of paddleboarding and the challenge of the channel are also attracting world-class athletes from outside the paddling elite. One of surfing’s most respected athletes Rob Machado will take his wave riding skills to the start line on Molokai in the team SUP category with M2O veteran and long-time friend Brian Szymanski.

Top ranked professional surfer and current ASP world tour world title contender Joel “Parko” Parkinson is partnering with his trainer and fellow Australian Wes Berg in the two-man stock paddleboard category.

Follow live race updates on Facebook and Twitter, #M2O. Molokai2Oahu.com is the official race website. 

Duke’s Waikiki continues its long-time support of the event by hosting athlete packet pick-up on Thursday, July 26. The awards ceremony is held at the famous Outrigger Canoe Club. The race starts on Sunday, July 29 at 7:30 a.m. from the west shores of Molokai, finishing on the beaches of Oahu at Muanalua Bay.

M2O thanks its partners: Kona Longboard Island Lager, Hawaii Tourism Authority, Maui Jim, GoPro, Dukes, Garmin, Teva, Patagonia, Rogue SUP, Waterman’s Applied Science,StandUp Paddle Magazine, Sambazon, Ocean Legends Dive Shop, Hobie Bags, Hotel Renew and Aqua Resorts.

About the Molokai-2-Oahu Paddleboard World Championships, presented by Kona Longboard Island Lager

Founded in 1997, the Molokai-2-Oahu Paddleboard World Championships, presented by Kona Longboard Island Lager, are set to celebrate the 16th anniversary on Sunday, July 29, 2012. The annual race has grown from a grassroots challenge for the legendary lifeguards and watermen of Oahu to the premiere event for the sport of paddleboarding. More than 250 of the world’s most accomplished watermen (men and women) from 15 countries will attempt the challenging 32-mile open-ocean crossing of the Ka’iwi (kah-EE-vee) Channel from Kaluakoi Beach on the north shore of Molokai to Maunalua Bay on the south shore of Oahu. The fastest athletes complete the crossing in just less than five hours, facing powerful currents as they surf atop swells that can reach heights of more than 12 feet and carry athletes for hundreds of meters. The race features two divisions, prone paddleboard and stand up paddleboard (SUP) with athletes competing as solo paddlers or in teams of two and three. Paddleboards are classified into unlimited (no size limit and with the movable rudder system) or stock categories (12 feet or under for prone paddlers and 14 foot or under for SUP with fixed fin).