Posted Aug 23, 2012 in Blog

When you sign up to do Molokai 2 Oahu it is more than just filling out a registration form, paying the money and your ready to go… it’s a complete journey to get there. You have just signed up for the most prestigious paddleboard and standup paddling event in the world.  It’s a bit like signing up for a secret society or a fraternity but you don’t realize that until you are trying to coordinate the logistical headache you just started for yourself.  There is an unspoken sort of initiation that goes along with the whole process.  You can ask questions about planning for Molokai but nobody seems super willing to give up too much information easily.  You have to earn it and pay your dues.

I signed up last year to do M2O and had to pull out two days before the race because of an injury.  It was a heartbreaking decision.  The only positive that came out of it was that I had already gone through all the planning phases the year before.   It made this years planning a little easier. This race takes planning, training and money. As I found out…and knew that I would… there are things that you will never think about planning for until you are there or have done the race before.

Training for Molokai takes dedication.  Luckily for me I enjoy the training and like to have something to train for. Living in Oregon and training for Molokai takes maybe a little more dedication and determination than living other places.  I spend days upon days training in a river in Portland where it might be 38 degrees out, pouring down rain, the water is freezing, the river is muddy and the current is ripping with huge trees and debris raging down the river and your alone every time you go.  Sound fun?  It’s not usually until you are done, but there is a part of me that enjoys it or I definitely wouldn’t be doing it. People ask if me I am scared when I am out in the open ocean doing crossings… if you saw where I train in during the winter you wouldn’t worry about me.

When summer hits and it is time for down winding in the Gorge the training gets a lot more fun.  I would train for Molokai just to have the excuse that I need to go do a downwinder for Molokai.  There aren’t many places that have a true great downwind run but we do in the Gorge.

As I headed off to compete at Molokai this year I was amazingly calm about the whole adventure.  I didn’t have any doubts that I was ready to do this.  I wasn’t scared about paddling across the Channel.  The only thing I was unsure about was all of the little unknowns.  Was there something I was forgetting or wasn’t prepared for? I had my whole family involved in the adventure and I wanted everyone to have fun and for nothing to go wrong.

The Molokai Channel is called the Ka’iwi (Kah-EE-vee) channel and Ka’iwi translated is the Hawaiian word for “bone.”  That is why people call it the “Channel of Bones”.  It has also claimed many of lives.  The course that we paddle is 32 miles and the ocean plunges to a depth of 2,300 feet deep.  The channel has the reputation of being one of the most treacherous bodies of water.  The Molokai Channel is where the famous Hawaiian big-wave rider and waterman Eddie Aikau died. He was in a sailing canoe and strong winds and 30-foot swells disabled the canoe.  Eddie left the ship on his rescue paddleboard to seek help.  His body and board were never found.

Today, the Ka’iwi Channel is host to official races for outrigger canoe, surf skis and the Molokai-2-Oahu Paddleboard and standup world championships.  Each human powered race across the Channel of Bones is regarded worldwide as a crowning achievement of the sport.  I am honored to be included in that list.

I met my escort boat driver for the first time at Dukes in Waikiki.  The official packet pick up was staged there.  I asked my driver before the meeting how I was going to recognize him.  “Have you ever seen Karate Kid?”, he asked.  “Look for Mr. Miyagi.”  I spotted him in a second.  He looked just like him.  I gave him half of the money for the boat escort and my paddles.  I watched him walk off with my paddles and his other fishing and escort boat buddies, with a rum and coke in hand. I prayed that my paddles would be on the boat when he arrived to Molokai.  Or… I would really be up @#*$ creek without a paddle.

The plane ride from Oahu to Molokai was filled with paddlers… the whole plane in fact… with paddlers from all over the world.  It was fun to talk to everyone about what we were about to do. Most of them had done M2O.  There was a buzz of excitement in the puddle jumper.  I think it was our energy that kept the little plane in the air.

We arrived to the condos where we were all staying and where the race would be leaving from the next morning.  I called my kids who were waiting for us on Oahu with my mom.  I explained the place that we were staying at like an episode of Scooby Doo.  They have booked a vacation and show up to a resort that is run down and empty and find them selves once again involved in a mystery.  It felt that way.  We were all on this deserted island and the only way back was to paddle 32 miles across the “Channel of Bones.”

The escort boats were starting to arrive in the bay and now the mystery was to try and recognize my boat.  We had never seen our boat before and were trying to figure out which boat it might be from the description.  I needed my paddle and hopefully it was on the boat.  My boat didn’t come into the bay that night which was going to add a little stress in the morning. I talked to my driver on the phone and so I knew he was on Molokai but the morning was going to be an early one and stressful getting ready to go.

We had a race meeting that evening and all the paddlers were now assembled in a circle and you could feel the pre-race jitters and excitement in the air.  They had a Hawaiian plate dinner for us to fuel up on.  It is your only choice unless you bring your own food to prepare when you get there.  After dinner it was time to go back to the unit and be prepared to be on the beach early in the morning.  The Olympics were on TV, which helped add to the competitive vibe already surrounding us.

Race morning feels like a big rush.  You have to be all ready to go early and get your stuff on your boat.  You have to swim or paddle your stuff out to your boat.  Then you have to be back on the beach for the Hawaiian blessing.  After the blessing it is time to head to the start line if you are a solo paddler…which I was.

Here we go… the start of the race and I really don’t have any idea of what to expect out there.  I am off.  It was a sprint off the line just like any other race even though we would be going 32 miles.  The boats aren’t allowed to come near you until 30 minutes into the race.  When the boats swoop in it is a chaotic scene of boats crossing in front of you and the water is a mess of boat wakes mixed with the ocean swells. It also means that whoever you were following might not be in your line of sight anymore after the boats have zig zagged their way through.  I found it important to know your own line and decide to stick to with it. It is easy to start following people in front of you and unless your boat keeps you on track you might be off the line you were planning on.

The ocean was big.  The swells were averaging 6-9 feet.  It was good conditions but I was finding it hard to connect the swells like I can in the Gorge or on a Maliko run.  I never felt uncomfortable or scared.  I actually felt very calm the whole race.  I just really had no clue if I was going where I was supposed to be going.  As it turned out, I had drifted too far North.  I wasted about 45 minutes at the end along the China Wall with an outgoing current.  It was now about just trying to stay on the board and make it around the corner to the finish.  There weren’t any glides happening for me at this point.  I also had no idea what to expect when I turned the corner.  I am now negotiating surf breaks and head on wind.  I worked my way through trying to avoid being taken out by the breaking waves. It would have been nice to catch one and get a long ride but I also heard boards get broken at this point and fins knocked off.  I didn’t want to deal with that after 32 miles.  I decided to play it safe.   It felt so good to reach the finish line.

Molokai 2 Oahu was everything that I thought it would be and ten times more.  Sometimes when you hear so much hype about something and then do it and you wonder what the big deal is? M2O lives up to its prestige and mystery.  It is a bucket list item for a lot of paddlers and I am so happy to have checked it off mine.  I will be back to Molokai next year.  I can’t wait to use what I learned this year to my advantage and have a chance to correct the little things that I did wrong.  I can’t wait to have another opportunity to conquer the “Channel of Bones.”



August 23, 2012 4:59 pm

AWEsome stuff Karen.

Johnny Kessel
August 24, 2012 5:11 am

Great job Karen..It was fun out there 🙂

August 24, 2012 6:09 am


August 25, 2012 2:03 am

Well done, Karen! Very inspiring!

August 25, 2012 1:29 pm

Great post and good information. Congrats Karen!

Suzie Cooney
July 17, 2014 4:38 am

Kare, you’ve been my biggest inspiration. I remember when you were here training and getting pumped for this. I’m headed over this year and although doing a relay; nothing like what you did, I’m ready and confident we’ll finish. Not sure when or how fast or slow but we’ll get there. The logistics have been interesting for sure. I’ll have you close in my thoughts and wish you were here this year!! Suzie

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November 4, 2016 7:33 pm

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