Hawaii- Two days before the 28th annual Kona Molokai Surf Ski World Championship, Team Kia Maxe anxiously awaits the one-way flight to the island of Molokai before paddling back across the treacherous Kawai Channel in what is expected to be ideal downwind conditions.
The event gets under way this Sunday (08h00 Hawaii Time, 20h00 South African time)
The 52 kilometre crossing from the islands of Molokai to Oahu is one of the most technically demanding ocean paddles in the world, with huge swells that build up against the rocky headlands, strong currents and tactically critical runs and swells.
Ten Time Champ Oscar Chalupsky, who heads up the five strong South African Kia Maxe team includes his brother, the defending world Champ, Herman, who won the event last year’s event from Aussie Dave Kissane, Darryl Bartho, Butch Murray and Kenny Collins.
The Chalupsky brothers will be looking to each other for tactical support during the race, as they tussle with one of the strongest fields ever assembled in the 29 year history of the event.
Team Australia, featuring nine-time Molokai Champ Dean Gardiner and two-time Olympic Silver medalist Nathan Baggaley will offer the stiffest opposition to the Springbok duo.
In the storied history of the 55 km crossing only five men have won the race and three are back. The wild card in the field and one of the hottest paddlers in the world is 29-year-old Nathan Baggaley, a former two-time World Champ at K1 500 meters who has focused his considerable talents on the marathon distance after the Games in Athens.
Baggaley and Herman Chalupsky have a score to settle. At the World Cup in Perth in December 2004, he and Chalupsky raced virtually side-by-side over the two-day event. Chalupsky, 40, won the first 16 km race in a sprint finish – a surprise given the flat conditions – and the following day, Baggaley passed Chalupsky 3 km from the finish for the fiercely-contested win.
Sunday’s race (South African time 20h00) will offer these two decorated paddlers a chance to settle the score as older brother Oscar, 42, shots for his record 11th title against the Aussie downwind star Dean Gardiner.
Both Dean Gardiner and Nathan Baggaley will be on the startline in their single skis, along with fancied ski stars such as Clint Robinson, Dave Kissane, Lewis Laughlan, Greg Barton Martin Kenny and Joe Glickman
The race poses plenty of challenges for the paddlers that tackle the 32 mile crossing either in skis or outriggers. The heavy swells and unpredictable surf often play a major role in the deciding the outcome of the race.
Experience tends to count as much as fitness and conditioning and the seasoned ocean paddlers have a distinct advantage over less experienced racers.
The event bills itself as the ski paddling World Championships, and attracts surf ski specialists from around the world. The field is closely shadowed by flotilla of safety boats to ensure that all the entrants make to the finish without incident.