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Chris Benchetler getting it good. photo - Peter Morning
Team Clif Bar Blog
Dec 19, 2011
Brent Allen Tackles Molokai to Oahu Challenge

The annual Molokai2Oahu Race is regarded as the world championship of stand up paddleboard racing - 32 miles of open ocean water starting at the north end of the Island of Molokai and finishing on the South Shore of Oahu.  The Molokai Channel is considered one of the roughest ocean channels in the world, with high winds, huge swells, and the occasional 30-foot wave.  The locals know it as the Ka’iwi Channel, which translates to “channel of bones,” as this deep and treacherous stretch of water has been claiming lives for centuries and continues to do so today.


Earlier this year, Team Clif Bar athlete Brent Allen decided to put his extensive surf and SUP experience to work as he and two friends signed on as a relay team to compete in this epic race.  He was cool enough to send us a recap.  If you’ve ever considered embarking on a stand up paddle adventure on the high seas, you might want to check it out!  Here’s what Brent had to say…


“Although I’ve been competing in all sorts of endurance sports over the last fifteen years, this is the first time I’ve been part of a relay team.  Certainly this was the first event where I have been required to carry anti-shark devices and repellent, along with a Coast Guard-approved personal location device, at all times.   Logistically, this was one of the more complicated events in which I have ever competed, but I had confidence that my teammates, Corey, a Hawai’i native, and Les, brought a solid blend of attitude, ocean experience and intelligence that was sure to bring us success.  And in all honesty, we really looked at M2O more as a pure adventure rather than a specific competition. 


There is a ton of thought that goes into equipment.  Based on expected conditions and the physical attributes of our three paddlers, we chose to use the 14 ft. Surftech Bark paddleboard.  Hunger and thirst are always issues, especially in the hot and exposed channel, and we ate a lot of CLIF and Shot products along the way, naturally.  Another consideration is how best to deal with seasickness.  This had never been as issue for me, but I had never spent eight solid hours on a 14 ft. board or in a 22 ft. boat in a gnarly channel before either.  We ended up using a behind-the-ear patch, which worked well, but also had the side-effect of dry mouth, making it tough to tell if you were thirsty from dehydration or from the medication.  Dealing with seasickness was a must, however, since there are no shortcuts back to land and a bad bout would mean the end of our race.


On race day winds were blowing hard across the channel and the swell was around 10 feet.  I started paddling first while my teammates swam our gear out to one of our escort boats.  Things are a bit hectic at first, with a few hundred paddlers and 170 escort boats churning up the water as teams jockey for position. Like most experienced teams, once things started to spread out, we settled on each person paddling for about thirty minutes.  Although this system makes logistics a bit challenging over eight hours, it keeps the paddlers as rested and hydrated as possible.  Given the water conditions and obstacles, you need to be 100% focused when you are on the board, so we kept to this schedule for almost the entire race.  Having Corey as part of our team was critical, as he had paddled the channel before and knew the reef locations and what to expect, including the miserable headwinds and weird currents.  Open-water SUP is much less about paddling and much more about positioning and surfing ocean swell.  Paddling in an abstract ocean environment is a skill earned over many years, and is certainly not recommended for beginners.  If you dream of completing a solo open-water stand up paddle race, I would highly recommend doing it first as a relay so you can establish a practical inventory of equipment and potential obstacles.

This event definitely tested what any good athlete must inherently have –the ability to stay mentally focused on the task at hand for big blocks of time.  No matter how long we had been paddling, Oahu always looked closer than it actually was.  Our team paddled non-stop for 7 hours and 39 minutes – easily finishing before the 8 hour cutoff time.  But, no matter how exhausted we were along the way, we were constantly in awe of the Molokai Channel, often paddling alongside dolphins or watching flying fish cruising over the surface of the water.  It’s a truly magical location.  In the end, I was not that concerned with our speed or worried about finishing within the cutoff window, as I was stoked that we had actually crossed the channel and would have been good with it either way.  It was simply a GREAT adventure! 


Brent Allen

Posted by: 
George Thoma
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