There’s big mountains and big vistas in the Southern Alps of New Zealand.
And while we have great access to Department of Conservation areas, the chance to have access to some of the most mind-blowing and special landscapes that are working high country stations is too good to turn down.
It’s called The Camelbak Big Easy, but it really should be called The Big Hard.
Starting at 1500m elevation and gaining 1000m of elevation up and over Mt Pisa before a hair raising 2000m descent through Lake McKay Station to finish under the willows at Luggate (Wanaka’s truck-stop-cum-undiscovered-secret).
It only happens once a year, and odds on it’s not only NZ’s most scenic MTB course, but also the best and one hell of a best kept secret (until the word really gets out that is).
Two consecutive weekends, two consecutive crossings of the Pailolo Channel and 54 miles of racing from the islands of Maui to Molokai.
Two very different races, two very different conditions and one consistent result.
Self supported, aiming for the an outline in the distance these races are as much an exercise in skill and navigation as they are athletic prowess.
For those that are not from these shores, these channel crossings requiring a mix of navigation, surfing skills and fitness are where the real challenge lies.
As we formed the start line between the official boat and a buoy anchored in the water in the sheltered emerald waters of Honolua Bay on Maui’s western shores we could see the wind line forming in front of us.
Having been across this channel last weekend and had one of the best downwind runs in memory I was excited for another chance to surf my way from one island to another.
With two events crossing two weekends, many had opted to do the latter of the two. Those that had raced the previous weekend were the lucky ones, treated to an epic crossing and an equally epic welcoming party and hospitality on the other side.
With a big field and the Aussie invasion of Maui in full effect, the pace was on from the gun. It’s also where the fields split in these events – typically right from the gun as some choose to take a high line, others choosing to go more south to get into the bump sooner. One way or another, all roads lead to Rome and it’s crazy how after not seeing anyone for miles you all converge on the same place to finish.
If last weekend was a hero run, this week you had to work for it. The wind had a lot of north in it, the tidal variation was small and going against us which meant the water was really sticky.
The first 10 miles were great and then the hard stuff started. It was hot, it was sticky and the water was in a confused state. As the miles clicked over and we wrapped around the eastern side of Molokai the wind lined up, the swells stacked up and the bump started to run again. It was good but each time my watch beeped to say another mile had passed it was definitely running slower than the previous week.
Without doubt the hardest part of these races is the navigation. Picking your line and trying to pick the fastest line is the make or break when all other things are equal. Should you go a little further south, should you stay inside? It’s a hard question to answer when you have no idea if there are other people around as the swells are higher than a lot of houses so seeing a glimpse of anyone is nigh on impossible at times.
As the long rectangular roof of the wharf building at Kaunakakai Harbour came into view I hotted up my line to skip over the reef to the finish off the end of the pier. In so many sports you know if you won or not, but races like this, if you’ve been separated from your competition you really have no idea. If you can’t see anyone or haven’t seen anyone – you’re either a hero or a total flunk. As I crossed the line I was pleasantly surprised to be advised that my efforts had been enough to win, although I was fast debriefing on what I needed to do differently if I were to do it over again. As always it was less about the result and more about the outcomes to learn and gain from.
It’s not a lie that these events are somewhat of a logistical nightmare. Starting and finishing on different islands brings it’s own unique set of challenges. You need to have a boat ride back to the start for both you and your board, you’ll get dropped at the wharf which is about 20minutes from where you started, so you needed have thought through how you’re going to shuttle cars. Anything you want at the finish (which needs to be minimal) needs to be on a dry bag and paddled out to a boat before the start.
In many ways, this jigsaw puzzle of logistics and organisation is half the fun and twice the appeal. If it were easy everyone would do it right?
So there we have it. Two weekends, two crossings of the Pailolo Channel, two wins, but two very different races.
And if you’re wondering why there’s been two races from Maui to Molokai in two weeks, I’ll give you the short hand version. The organisers of the two events used to work together to produce one event. There was a falling out and one event is now run by Molokai and one event is now run from the Maui side. Regardless of who’s running what, the athletes and paddlers are the winners. The Pailolo Channel is possibly the best downwind channel crossing in the world period. And now there’s two races in two consecutive weekends. I’d say that’s a winner straight out of the gate.
You can read about this year’s Maui2Molokai event in the Maui News here and on SupRacer.com here
Two days, 37 miles of racing. It sounds a lot doesn’t it?
Add deep blue Hawaiian waters, warmth and 20 knots of trade winds blowing from behind.
Yes, it’s officially downwind season in Hawaii, the trade winds are blowing and one huge month of downwind racing kicked off with the M2Molokai Challenge this past weekend.
Two days of racing, one channel crossing and one of the all time classic downwind runs in Hawaii.
July normally sees one crossing of the Pailolo Channel that runs between the west side of Maui and the east side of Molokai. It’s known as the best downwind run in the Hawaiian chain and this month we get two cracks at this all time classic crossing.
Channel crossings are synonymous with all paddle sports in the Pacific. From Tahiti to Hawaii, people have been crossing oceans and channels harnessing the power of the trades and riding their swells to get from one place to another.
Navigation on these channel crossings is as big a part as downwind surfing skills, preparation and fitness. I’ve done this run once before and while it’s an epic run, due to the lay of the land it’s easy to get somewhat disoriented and easily end up off course.
Add in coming to grips with 18′ of board, self supporting yourself across (with no escort boat) and navigating your own line, it’s a true test of the downwind athlete.
The real story of the M2Molokai Challenge didn’t lie in the hosting of an all time epic channel crossing, but the chance to truly experience just what it means to spend a weekend on Molokai.
In what was likely one of the most memorable greetings in recent times, I crossed the finish line, paddled over to the wharf to be greeted by the young girls of the local canoe club jumping off the wharf and into the water to greet me. From that point, only one thing was appropriate – jumping off the dock hand in hand.
But the action was not contained to one day. M2Molokai was staged as a two day event to give people the opportunity to paddle their world famous Kamalo Bouy run, one of the most perfectly lined up downwind runs anywhere in the world and 10 miles of surfing down the eastern coast of Molokai.
Sure it’s a race, but weekends like this (and downwind season in general) are about so much more than the result. It’s about the sharing of experiences. It’s about getting back to the roots of why you do things and sharing it with others.
It brings together a bunch of people that may otherwise never meet, to experience places they may never visit. For many, it’s the culmination of months of preparation and the realisation of a long held dream. It’s a special bond and one that is shared by many.
With weekend 1 in the bag, we now look forward to the next three consecutive weekends of downwind racing with another crossing of the Pailolo Channel in the Maui 2 Molokai Race , the Poi Bowl (down Maui’s infamous Maliko Run) all culminating in Molokai 2 Oahu across the Kaiwi Channel between the island of Molokai and Oahu.
This month everyone has their own journey. Many people will have travelled from all over the world. Months of preparation, sacrifice and dedication have gone in prior to making it to Hawaii. It’s a month that will humble you to the core. It’s a month of respect for the elements, the ocean, all your competition and all the athletes who have embarked on this undertaking.
You can find all the photos, videos and happenings of the M2Molokai Challenge here
You can follow the day to day happenings downwind month on my Instagram
At the risk of sounding cliche, there’s something about hitting the mid point in the year.
Wind the clock back six months and I was in a state of confusion and frustration.
The only thing I committed to was to live by the mantra of ‘Do Epic Shit’.
It’s been six months of rolling with the punches, diving into the unknown, embracing challenge, finding solutions and hustling like no tomorrow.
I took the leap of faith to go it alone, to live to my own set of rules – a stoically entrenched set of values that I knew I couldn’t deviate from.
If I was to continue to put my heart and body on the line, I had to be ALL IN. I had to back myself as how could I expect anyone else to have confidence in me if I didn’t have confidence in myself.
As today marks my kiwi birthday, the 4th of July celebrations in the United States and poignantly sits just after the mid point in the year, it’s fitting to cast a look back to see how taking the leap of faith and throwing myself in the deep end has paid off.
It’s challenged my like you have no idea. I’ve destroyed a shoulder, broken some ribs and had to suck it up. Like a bugger for punishment I decided to race my bike and throw my self into multisport as well as racing on the water. At the same time I’ve been neck deep in building a house at home and managing that from afar.
There have been more than a few moments of holy shit and hesitation. That feeling of having a lump in your throat wondering if you’re making the right decision to do or not to do. It’s pushed me, it’s challenged me and I’ve found a few new boundaries in the process that I didn’t know I had.
As America celebrates it’s birthday of independence on July 4th, it also signifies my kiwi birthday falling on the other side of the date line.
Ever guilty of being focussed on the future at the expense of celebrating the small things along the way, here’s a few moments and memories to celebrate one fine day in America and reaching another year older. Here’s a few of the many moments that have made 2017 a year that I know I’ll never forget
Big days out in the hills running the dates with mates programme
3 Weeks Notice Before 2 Days of Hell around the mountains of Wanaka, NZ at Red Bull Defiance
Red Bull Defiance in Wanaka, NZ on January 21st, 2017
Red Bull Defiance in Wanaka, NZ on January 21st, 2017
Red Bull Defiance in Wanaka, NZ on January 22nd, 2017
Team Stand Up Chance, Annabel Anderson and Sam Thompson perform at Red Bull Defiance in Wanaka, New Zealand on January 21, 2017
Red Bull Defiance in the Wanaka, NZ on January 22, 2017
Red Bull Defiance in Wanaka, NZ on January 22nd, 2017
7x Consecutive NZ National SUP Titles – and a cyclone to boot
Did someone say #raceface? Any excuse to chew some dirt and throw some dust
Red Bull Defiance in Wanaka, NZ on January 21st, 2017
5x Consecutive Carolina Cup Victories
The year of events in extreme weather continued with the added bonus of a win at the Olukai on Maui
Last minute trips to paddle 30 miles around Bermuda and another win over the boys
The infamous Davenport Downwinder & a victory over the boys
A first trip to the Go Pro Mountain Games in Vail, Co. 11x events, 4 days, 2nd in the Ultimate Mountain Challenge and being sent to some very dark places on repeat to find some new depths that I didn’t know existed
A chance to celebrate everything that is Live Like Jay at the Jay Moriarty Memorial Race in Santa Cruz, Ca with the one and only Kim Moriarty
While the first half of 2017 may be in the bag, there’s a monster of a second half of 2017 to contend with.
The month of July sees me in Maui, HI taking on four consecutive weekends of downwind races including three channel crossings culminating in Molokai 2 Oahu on July 30.
Looking ahead to September I have finally (for the first time in 5 years) said yes to taking up my position on the NZ SUP team to compete in the ISA SUP & Prone World Champs in Denmark from September 1-10. After turning down my place on the team in previous years for various different reasons, this year I have said yes. Like the rest of my year, this is also a self funded trip. If anyone would like to support in any kind of way, please get in touch.
To everyone who has supported, helped and assisted so far – THANK YOU. It takes a VILLAGE and it’s a village I’m proud to have behind me.
I was quoted last week as saying “to win once is hard”, “to win consistently is just plain tough”.
Life is cyclical and throws many curve balls at us when we least expect them.
In Olympic sports, athletes peak mentally and physically in a four year cycle, allowing a period of recovery at the end of each cycle before gathering themselves towards the next olympiad.
When you compete in non-Olympic sports which don’t operate on a four cycle, we don’t have the same space to recover and recharge. Everything is condensed and the expectation of delivering year upon year is real and it’s tough.
This past week was my fifth trip to the island of Wrightsville Beach on the coast of North Carolina.
For the past 5 years every Easter has signalled the end of the kiwi summer and flying half way around the world on countless flights bound to kick off my international season at the Carolina Cup.
How this small outpost on the Atlantic Coast came to be home to the largest annual gathering of stand up paddling is testimony to a small group of passionate locals who decided to invite the world to their waters to test them on what is possibly the toughest and most technically demanding course of the year.
The end of April signals the start of Spring in the northern hemisphere, but if the north winds are blowing the winds are chilling and the waters still frigid. If the south winds have been prominent the weather is considerable more temperate.
In my five trips to North Carolina, I think I’ve now experienced every possible mood of weather and as such come prepared for anything and everything.
If it’s your first year at ‘the Cup’, you have next to know idea what to expect other than the stories you’ve been told, the footage you’ve seen and what you’ve read, but nothing really prepares you for that first experience.
Unless you’re a local who boats, surfs and paddles these waters year round it’s nigh on impossible to truly understand the course and the affects of the weather in this part of the world.
The wind is fickle, Masonborough Inlet is notorious, the currents are strong and well….let’s just say that you’re going to quickly love to hate the grind of Intra Coastal Waterways (ICWW).
In all five editions that I’ve done, each year has been different. The first two years went South first meaning that we had to punch out through an incoming inlet to get the open ocean, the past three years we’ve gone north and surfed our way through.
But if I’m to make a call on what year the conditions have been the hardest, it would likely be 2017.
Saturday morning greeted us with a howling southerly blowing up the beach. As is the case with this race, they will send you in the direction that the wind is blowing on the ocean side to maximise a downwind portion of the race. While this might seem fun, the stronger the wind blows, the stronger that wind is to bash into up the back waters of the ICWW.
It’s the type of course that the conditions dictate how your going to play out your race. Regardless of if you’re starting to finish, to starting with the aim of finishing at the pointy end, the conditions will dictate how the race will play out. And this year, as I suspected, that is exactly what happened.
Coming into a race, I don’t think I’ve ever been so relaxed. I’m not sure why, but for some reason I was overcome with a sense of calm.
I’d arrived a couple of days early to catch up with good friends, to share laughter and reminisce. I had little expectation other than to have funned to enjoy.
As the first major of the international season this event comes with a lot of external expectations for many from supporters, sponsors and an industry.
Having paid my way, I felt significantly lightened from some of the burden of expectations to deliver what has become an expected result in previous years.
Walking the beach early on Saturday morning, I could feel the wind building and the intensity of the weather increasing.
No one could ever call a year at Carolina Cup ‘normal’, but these conditions were definitely the most extreme that I’d experienced and I knew that this would play a significant factor into how the race played out.
As the outriggers and surf skis, prone paddlers and elite men tore downwind, I quickly changed my position on the start line sighting what I saw was a more direct route to the turning buoy sitting just past the breakers.
If there was a day that playing your game to the conditions would reign, this year was it.
The end of the outgoing tide made getting in through the inlet far slower than previous years and based on my calculations, I knew that we were going to get slammed head on against the incoming tide as we made our way up the ICWW.
20-25 knots on the nose against the tide for the best part of 7-8 miles is probably not your idea of weekend fun. Judging by the failing form of the draft trains of guys I made ground on and passed, they weren’t finding it much fun either (as girls we paddle a shorter board than the men).
There was the odd moment of reprieve from the wind as the course wound around the waterways, but never from the incoming tide.
If the first part of the ICWW broke people, the second half destroyed them. Making our way past the Sound side of the Blocade Runner Hotel and past the welcome cheers of everyone watching from bridges and docks the wind and currents intensified.
Being shown the footage of what it looked like from a drone, it looked like we were creeping against an escalator moving in the opposite direction.
Having towed talented young hitter Fiona Wylde past trains of men for over an hour with a couple of moments of reprieve, I knew that I wanted to keep the pace on as I didn’t have a time gap as to where the next girls were behind us.
Having bided my time, just past the crowds I decided it was time to go. Within moments I’d broken, blown past the men in front and put daylight on them.
But this is where this race gets interesting and likely acquired it’s name ‘The Graveyard’. This is a race which breaks people in ways which they least expect it. People cramp, they drop their gels, the run out of water. It will usually happen when you get into the later stages of this race. From that point on, it’s no longer a race, but a battle of survival to make it to the finish as many of the pre-race favourites in the men’s event will attest to.
Coming into the 2017 edition of Carolina Cup, I had little idea of where my form was. It’s been a pretty disrupted off season, particularly in the past couple of months. A couple of nasty stacks landing on my shoulder racing my mountain bike, some badly banged up ribs and the most horrific summer weather on record my pre-season preparation on the water was limited and life on a day to day basis was summed up as being ‘suck-it-up-buttercup’ painful. To be able to do what I wanted to when I wanted to was extremely satisfying.
I’m not lying when I say that my pursuits were without a paddle. It was a case of making the most of what I had on my doorstep and kicking some life goals in the process.
While the post event headlines have been about five-in-a-row, this past weekend signifies so much more.
I’ve been challenged in many ways the past few months, but I still turned up and still did what I knew I was capable of.
It’s been unconventional and far from ideal, but it’s dealing with the curve balls that keeps you on your toes while building tenacity and resilience. It’s not about delivering when the times are easy, it’s being able to get it done when currents of life get a bit turbulent.
What I do know is that I had a truck load of fun this past week and that the fun train will be in full force and rolling for the months to come.
Five consecutive wins at Carolina Cup is no accident and a lot of people have been a part of helping make this happen.
Number 5 is for you, thank you for your continued support.
To those that helped this weekend – thank you. Without your help, this would have been considerably harder
A few to mention:
Mahiku Activewear – I’ve worn my Black Mamba tights religiously at this event since 2014
Betty Designs – for always channelling one’s inner bad ass
Running Skirts – the most epic long sleeve crops to keep the sun off and chafing at bay
CamelBak – always ensuring I have fail safe hydration systems that stand up to the task
Brian Szymanski – creating boards that are more works of art than pieces of foam and fibre glass
ZRE – the paddles I’ve used since the very beginning
NSP – for making me welcome and part of your posse all weekend long, it was a lot of fun!
The Blocade Runner Hotel – incredible hospitality
Katie & Patty – it just wouldn’t be the Carolina Cup with out you two!
On It Pro – always ensuring that my boards make it to the line in ship shape and looking pristine
Chris from Carolina Paddleboard Co – thank you so much for your help with logistics
Spencer, SUP ATX – coordinating shipping and making sure everything arrived on time
Greg Panas – always there to capture the shot and shoot the shit on the problems of the world
The back half of summer is upon us which means one thing – surf racing!
Love it or hate it, it’s a mix of surf skills, athleticism and who has the fitness to pull off the sprint for the cans and the crazy wave manoeuvres when you’re legs at are their most fried.
It’s been a while since I got to bust it out around the cans but I love it.
There’s always something about the leveller of the ocean to keep it interesting and the importance of maintaining a ‘never-say-die’ attitude that is required no matter if you’re in front or trying to come from behind (not to mention entertaining).
I’d heard a whisper that something might be going down this month.
Sure enough, the leaks turned into a three week notice that Quiksilver and Jamie Mitchell were resurrecting his ‘Survivor’ race format, this time at Huntington Beach.
Having had my year somewhat turned upside down in May and June and all planning thrown out the window , I was sitting on the fence as to what I would do after Molokai 2 Oahu.
With a 50:50 decision hanging over me – it was either head home to make the most of the all time snow conditions or do a 180 and go back to the mainland US for the back half of the summer (and before you sarcastically mutter under your breath “shit life” – yep, it’s #firstworldproblems but you create your own path and it’s these times that I like to have a few skill and tricks up my sleeve in the athletic department to deploy regardless of the situation, season, country or environment).
So less than a week ago (most probably while sitting in the water waiting for a wave while watching another tropical sunset over the Pacific) I flipped the proverbial coin and bet on the shorter flight back to the West Coast and the golden sands of California.
Coming off a month of riding the downwind sleds in Hawaii to jumping back on a 12’6 race board has been just what the Dr ordered this week, but realistically I’m probably well under gunned in comparison to the Orange County crew who almost exclusively only hit beach sessions in training.
But as they say a change is as good as a holiday and man it’s been fun to jump back on a shorter board that accelerates, turns, surfs. I have a whole new level of appreciation to be back riding something that is nimble and quick (if only a downwind board had the attributes of what I have spent 6 years putting into my 12’6 boards!).
It’s been a good refresh to get back into the groove of the surf zone while getting the mind and body tuned back into the much sharper sessions that are on the menu for the next couple of months as we head into the business end of the season.
Tomorrow will be a great chance to see where everything is at regardless of the outcome (queue Huntington Shorey below for reference).
With a format that rewards those that finish at the front of each heat (multiple 1x mile heats in and out of the surf zone held over 45 minutes) there’s an incentive to get after it right from the gun.
Holding maximum efforts repeatedly for 45 mins with minimal recoveries will no doubt start to wear people down after the first couple of rounds and I am sure that endurance will play a critical factor at some point (likely sooner rather than later!).
And for those of you that are unawares, Huntington shore pound likes to eat boards and people for breakfast lunch and dinner. With a pretty much flat swell forecast for Huntington tomorrow, navigating the shore pound will be critical.
After Huntington it’s goodbye to Ca for a couple of weeks as I do a nippy turn around to fly out to Portland on Monday morning to hit Hood River for the Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge the following week with some other exciting adventures on the radar for the following week.
My bike kit and trail shoes are packed so regardless of if the wind turns up or not, you’ll find me making the most of the what the Gorge is famous for – REAL coffee, CRAFT beer, JUICY peaches, EPIC trails and Post Canyon!