[ PADDLEBOARDING ]
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Jamie Mitchell raised his fists in victory after finishing the Quicksilveredition Molokai to Oahu Paddleboard Race.
tops at crossing Kaiwi
The Aussie passes Brian Rocheleau
in the paddleboarding championship's
closest finish ever
Hawaii's Brian Rocheleau made the seventh annual Quiksilveredition Molokai to Oahu Paddleboard Race the closest ever. But in the end, defending champion Jamie Mitchell, while not smoking the field, earned his second straight victory cigar.
Rocheleau led for most of the 32 miles across the Kaiwi Channel yesterday, in the event considered the world championship of long-distance paddleboard racing. The sport basically involves arm paddling streamlined surfboards designed to ride open-ocean swells.
However, over the last third of the race, the Australian Mitchell chased him down, passed him and then held on to a slim lead of about 100 yards to cross first in 5 hours, 42 minutes and 15 seconds. His time was less than two minutes better than Rocheleau (5:44:06), making it the tightest finish in race history.
"It's probably the hardest I've ever had to dig -- to get past Brian," Mitchell, 26, said. "Brian pushed me so hard today, it was insane. ... It was an incredible race. ... I (even) took one look back just to make sure he wasn't going to beeline it past me right at the finish line."
Said Rocheleau: "I knew (Mitchell) was working to get me. So I tried to pick it up a little, see if he could respond to attacks. ... I tried to put the hurt on him, but it didn't work -- he's too fast."
With the victory, Mitchell became only the second man to win more than one Unlimited division solo title (open class, boards averaging 16 feet in length) and score two victories in a row (Hawaii's Sean Monahan won in 1999 and 2000). He picked up $1,500 for yesterday's win.
What's more, Mitchell not only collected his second straight world championship but continued an undefeated streak in major races over the last year and a half -- further solidifying his current status as the top athlete in paddleboarding.
Even with what Mitchell called "gnarly" conditions -- including virtually no channel swells and wind -- the Burleigh Heads, Queensland, lifeguard was able to shave nearly 2 1/2 minutes off his winning time from last year (5:44:40).
"I really wanted to get two (wins) in a row," he said. "You just have to push your body to where you don't think you can go, and that's what I've done. (But) it was a lot harder (this year). Coming across the (finish) line, I almost passed out."
Rocheleau, a 27-year-old lifeguard from Hawaii Kai, had plenty to be proud of in his own performance: In only his second solo crossing -- he finished fifth last year -- he beat everyone save the defending champ and picked up $1,000 for second place.
CAROL CUNNINGHAM / CUNNINGHAM PHOTOS
Jamie Mitchell, foreground and Brian Rocheleau were neck and neck 4 miles from the finish.
The race started at 7:30 a.m. off of Kalua Koi Hotel and finished at Maunalua Bay, Hawaii Kai. Sticking to a southerly line to Oahu while Mitchell and two other Aussie contenders, Jackson English and Mick DiBetta, veered much more north, Rocheleau gained a lead that sent the other three scrambling after him.
Mitchell left his countrymen behind as he closed on Rocheleau. They then battled virtually even around Oahu's southeastern point, but Mitchell finally built a small lead on Rocheleau near Portlock Point -- an advantage he never surrendered.
Still, "I'm real happy," Rocheleau said. "It's nice to come out and beat some of these (Australians), because they're usually kicking our butts."
English, 27, wound up crossing in 5:50:11, and finished third for the second straight year. At 5:54:52, the 40-year-old DiBetta -- who established the overall race record of 5:22:48 in the first Quiksilveredition in 1997 and also serves as Mitchell's coach -- finished fourth for the second consecutive time. All of this year's top four improved on their times from 2002.
"It's rewarding to get third (again), but on the other hand I'd like to win," English said. "I think about winning this race every day, so (maybe) next year."
An international field of about 100 paddleboarders competed yesterday. Among the notable winners from other divisions, Australian national champion Hayley Bateup bettered the women's record by more than 20 minutes in her first Quiksilveredition attempt. She narrowly defeated two-time defending champ and previous record holder Kanesa Duncan, a graduate student at the University of Hawaii, 6:47:30 to 6:49:04. Both paddled on stockboards (identical boards measuring 12 feet).
"It's the hardest thing I've ever done, but I'll be back again next year," Bateup said.
California's Shaun Jappe, at 18 the youngest competitor in the event, won the men's stockboard division at 6:31:35. He finished runner-up last year when he became the youngest ever to complete a solo crossing of the channel. Ryan Addison and Nathan Meyer won the team competition in 6:02:32.