EPIC KAYAKS WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Lauren Bartlett won the women's division of the Epic Kayaks Molokai World Championships yesterday at Maunalua Bay.
Handley honors paddlers with visit
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For veteran watermen, the call of the sea never falls on deaf ears. Kalai Handley hears it every day, but it always seems to be loudest come Kaiwi Channel race day.
Yesterday marked the 30th anniversary of Handley winning the 32-mile surfski race from Molokai to Oahu. Yes, it was only a six-man field back in 1978 -- compared to a record 133 entries yesterday -- but still ... Handley is the last from Hawaii to win this event.
The 54-year-old Handley was at the Maunalua Bay finish line yesterday, watching and thinking. Maybe next year?
"I would like to try it again, you never know," Handley said. "I was seriously thinking about it this year. But I had two shoulder surgeries and probably need another. Still, the kids are grown and I could jump into it. I don't feel old at all. It would be painful but it would be fun."
Handley marveled at how the sport has changed, especially the equipment. He estimated his surfski weighed about 30 pounds more than the sleek 38-pound ski paddled by yesterday's winner Lewis Laughlin of Tahiti.
Laughlin finished in 3 hours, 40 minutes and 26 seconds to successfully defend his title in the Epic Kayaks World Championships.
The top four finishers were within 2 minutes of each other.
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Their thoughts varied when waking yesterday morning.
Lewis Laughlin told himself, "I may have won last year, but it is another year."
Lauren Spalding Bartlett wasn't sure if she really wanted to do her third Ka'iwi Channel race in four weeks, particularly with the new surfski she received just last Sunday.
"I must have decided to race, then not to race, 50 times the last few days," she said.
And nine-time winner Dean Gardner didn't make his decision to compete in the 32-mile event until flying from Honolulu yesterday morning and looking down at the channel conditions.
"I had my doubts," the course record-holder from Australia said. "If it had been glassy and no whitecaps, I would have thought about not going."
All three paddlers went, and went hard.
Laughlin successfully defended his title, crossing the Maunalua Bay finish line in a 3 hours, 40 minutes and 26 seconds. The 37-year-old Tahitian held off late charges from South African Hank McGregor (3:41:05), the repeat runner-up; Tim Jacobs of Australia (3:41:44); and Gardiner (3:42:11).
That Laughlin could repeat under vastly different conditions -- last year was hot and flat with strong headwinds -- may have silenced critics who didn't think the Tahitian would do well with channel swells.
"I don't hear what people say," said Laughlin, who needed 5:20:06 to win last year. "I can't put too much in my head otherwise I get confused.
"Today, I just went with the flow, no big plans. The course suited me very well. It's always nice to win, especially this one. It's the biggest (as the world championship)."
Yesterday the field was also the largest. There were a record 133 entries with 119 finishers, most on surf skis, although some OC-1s were entered, led by Danny Ching's 4:17:16 time.
Oscar Chalupsky, with a record 11 wins here, was seventh (3:49:11).
It apparently doesn't matter which watercraft Bartlett uses. On April 27, the Maui resident won the women's division of the OC-1 solo championship in record time and, on May 4, teamed with Cherisse Keli'i Agorastos for a record-setting solo relay finish.
"My goal was just to finish," said Bartlett, 35th overall yesterday. "I decided to go this morning when I saw it wasn't really big and the wind kind of came up.
"I haven't spent much time on this type of boat, trained Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, then rested. The secret in this kind of race is to pace yourself, catch a wave then relax and ride. Around hour 3 it starts to hurt but Kai (husband Bartlett in the escort boat) kept me on a good line and, when I needed it, he was yelling, "You got to go NOW.' I'm ecstatic with my finish."
The 43-year-old Gardner was equally pleased with what he believes is his final appearance in this event.
"I like this race but I don't get to train for it as much as I'd like," said Gardner, whose record 3:21:26 came in 1997. "It's been a big part of my life (19 crossings) but I'm pretty sure it's my last here."
The first Hawaii finisher was Stu Gaessner (4:07:30, 17th overall).
"It was complete different than last year," he said after finishing the event for a 12th time. "The middle of the channel was fun, having rides of 1,500 yards long. I'm surprised with my time, being a weekend warrior."
Not since Kalai Handley won in 1978 has a Hawaii paddler finished first in what has become a huge international event. Gaessner believes a local paddler will do it again soon.
"We have a few young guys coming up, a lot of our talent is on the mainland with the national (canoe/kayak) team," he said. "You'll see those guys in the future."