Men's winner Sean Monahan helped carry the surfski of woman's winner Sue Brown yesterday at the Kanaka I Kai Ka state paddling championships at the Sand Island Sailing Marina.

Monahan returns
to top form

By Brandon Lee
Special to the Star-Bulletin

With surfer's-paradise conditions yesterday for the Kanaka I Kai Ka state championship races, Hawaii's best paddlers took advantage of the high surf and tradewinds in the final series tune-up before the world championship next month.

In major-division competition, former paddleboard world champion Sean Monahan broke through for only his second career surfski victory, taking the men's surfski state title and finishing the 23-mile course first overall. Coincidentally, Sue Brown, Monahan's girlfriend, won the women's surfski division after not competing previously this year.

Former world champion Karel Tresnak Jr. won the men's one-person canoe state title --reestablishing the dominance that saw him win seven earlier races this year before a loss in the Oahu championship two weeks ago. Jane McKee won the women's one-person canoe division, after only moving to Hawaii from California in December.

"I'm really stoked," Monahan said. "(But) it's kind of weird. I'm surprised that both of us (he and Brown) won (at the same time)."

Added Brown: "It's ironic and surprising."

Both are 33 and live in Honolulu.

Monahan paddled past the finish line of the 23-mile race in 2:30.26.

Paddlers started the long-distance race at Makai Pier near Makapuu, and finished at Sand Island. A shorter 15-mile course was also available, with a start at Hawaii Kai and the same finish. Regardless of the starting point, however, all competitors had to challenge rough seas and a receding tide, with tradewind surf breaking along Oahu's eastern shore and an 8- to 12-foot swell pounding the southern shore.

The most successful competitors were able to negotiate the sizable breakers for long rides, while others suffered battered and broken equipment due to the conditions. Besides surfskis and one-person canoes, some raced in two-person canoes, while two individuals elected to use paddleboards.

Monahan credited "epic conditions" in finishing with a time of 2 hours, 30 minutes and 26 seconds, having previously placed as high as second in a series surfski race this year. Michael Beyer finished second (2:33:06) and Aaron Creps third (2:36:23). Steve Kelly, winner of six surfski races this year, could not recover from a wipeout in the surf and finished more than a minute behind Creps, in fourth.

"This was the first race (this season), really, with good surf for the entire course," Monahan said. "I think that helped me out a little bit -- a good day surfing."

Tresnak, long recognized as one of the best canoe surfers in the world, finished in 2:33:47, third overall for the long course. After a season off last year, the 22-year-old Kailua resident is once again showing he is the man to beat at next month's Molokai-to-Oahu world championship, a race he won three consecutive times before last season.

"It definitely was to the surfer's advantage (yesterday)," said Tresnak, still able to recover and win even after flipping his canoe twice. "I was able to play catch-up."

"(But the world championship) is the main one. That's what I'm shooting for," he added.

Mike Judd (2:35:04) finished more than a minute behind Tresnak for second in the men's one-person canoe, while Maui Kjeldsen took third (2:36:39).

"That was one of the best races (in terms of conditions) we've had in a while," Judd said. "It was like snowboarding the ocean."

McKee, 45, finished the course in 3:30:13, and said she really enjoys battling Hawaii's rough and unpredictable conditions. The reason she moved away from the predominantly flat water of California to Kailua was to challenge herself to become a better paddler -- and she has now won four series races this year.

Brown's winning time of 3:04:18 in the women's surfski was nearly two minutes faster than second-place Maggie Twigg-Smith's 3:06:08, even though she contemplated quitting during the race because she had taken a more outside line than the other competitors and thought she didn't have a shot at winning. Mary Smolenski finished third (3:07:51).

"I had no idea I won when I came in," Brown said. "I guess it tells you to never turn in, never give up."

Other division winners included Mike Silva (1:40:20), who used a one-person canoe to finish first overall on the short course, and Jennifer Thompson (1:57:52), who used a surfski to cross the short course fastest among the women. Anthony Cambra III (2:22:53) was the top paddleboard finisher. The team of Pat Von and Greg Edwards (2:50:58) finished as the top long-course canoe duo.

The world championship race is set for May 18.

Kanaka I Kai Ka Web site

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