Chalupsky tops field for Molokai worlds
Oscar Chalupsky not only has won the Molokai World Championship 11 times before, his company is now the title sponsor of the 31-year-old event as well.
Molokai World Championship
» Starts at 9 a.m. at Molokai's Kaluakoi Hotel, ends about 12:30 p.m. at Kaimana Beach
Granted, he will be serving two masters as organizer and competitor, but the South African, who's part-owner of Epic Kayaks, will be disappointed if he doesn't make it an even-dozen titles come tomorrow.
About 120 other competitors will do their best to stop him in this open-ocean surfski and solo-canoe (OC-1) paddling event.
Leave it to 11-time champion Oscar Chalupsky to find a way to take even more ownership of the race he's dominated for more than two decades.
He already has the most wins in the surfski division of the Molokai World Championships. Now his company -- Epic Kayaks, for which he's a partner -- is the race's title sponsor for the first time as it gets set to run the 31st edition of this race.
The Molokai World Championships is a 37-mile race from Molokai to Oahu across the treacherous Kaiwi Channel that is considered the world championship of open-ocean surfski and solo-canoe (OC-1) paddling.
"We've made this race grow leaps and bounds this year. It's that old story of putting your money where your mouth is," the 44-year-old from Durban, South Africa, said. He notes, among other things, the increased international competition for tomorrow's race largely driven by a $25,000 total purse that puts the race among the top prizes in the world.
"It's always hard to be an organizer and a competitor," Chalupsky conceded, "but (competing), I know it's the only way the sport's gonna grow. I did this race for the first time 24 years ago, and I think it's the right thing -- it's good to have a paddler who's also involved in the organizing."
About 120 competitors have officially entered the race so far, spread between the surfski and solo-canoe disciplines and across various divisions. Besides paddlers from South Africa, Hawaii and the U.S. mainland, others participating hail from about a dozen nations, including Canada, Brazil, Australia, France and Tahiti.
With a start at Kaluakoi Hotel on Molokai, the racecourse has been extended about 5 miles this year, finishing at Kaimana Beach in Waikiki, instead of Hawaii Kai.
Chalupsky last won the open surfski division of the race two years ago, but had to settle for a narrow runner-up result (3 hours, 22 minutes, 42.1 seconds to 3:22:14.7) last year to fellow countryman Clint Pretorius, who, at 22, is only half Chalupsky's age.
This year the pair trained together along with two other top South African contenders -- Hank McGregor and Bevan Manson -- in preparation, and the elder statesman Chalupsky has been the one dominating the sessions.
Mark Sandvold, who finished sixth overall last year, and Stu Gaesnner are expected to be the top surfski contenders from Hawaii.
"I want this title as much as I ever did," Chalupsky said. "I've got 11 (victories), but I'd like to have 12, which is a far more even number. And then, at 12, I'll push on. I've trained hard, come here with a purpose, like I always do. I'd like to keep on going 'til I think I can't win."
Besides Pretorius, other defending champions include Karel Tresnak Jr. (open men's OC-1), Maggie Twigg-Smith (open women's surfski) and Dane Ward (open women's OC-1), who are all from Hawaii.
Tresnak has won the men's OC-1 at the Molokai World Championships a record six times, and established the previous course's best time just last year (3:42:24.7). Tresnak seemingly cruised to victories through most of the local circuit earlier this season and most recently won the world championship relay race across the same Kaiwi Channel with partner Andy Penny about two weeks ago.
"The race is completely different this year, with the change in the course," Tresnak, 26, said. "A lot of us were pretty skeptical when we first heard about it, but I think now we're pumped. That last part (additional 5 miles) can be pretty nice to do, as long as it's not flat and there's no headwind. But if that happens, it can be a whole new marathon-type challenge. It's looking variable (winds) right now, but you never know until you get out there what swells are still running and what else is going on."
For the open women's OC-1, both Lauren Bartlett (Maui) and Lisa Curry-Kenny (Australia) will participate after skipping the race last year. Bartlett is a record three-time former winner, as well the holder of the previous course's best time (4:28:00), while Curry-Kenny won the last time she raced in 2005.