News Ticker

The Molokai 2 Oahu race through the eyes of Karen Wrenn

Molokai to Oahu 'channel of bones'

When you sign up to do the  Molokai 2 Oahu race it is more than just filling out a registration form, paying the entrance fee and jumping on a plane… it’s one third pilgrimage, one third adventure and one third death match. Because after you’ve signed up it hits you that you’ve just entered the most prestigious paddleboard and standup paddling event in the world. But all that wonder and mystique goes out the window as soon as you start trying to coordinate the logistical nightmare commonly referred to as the M2O.

Molokai to Oahu 'channel of bones'

There is an unspoken sort of initiation that goes along with the whole process, like a secret society or a fraternity. You can call friends, email colleagues, look at maps, plan strategies, ask questions, but as soon as people hear ‘Molokai 2 Oahu’,  lips become tight, emails go unanswered, strategy sessions are postponed, questions are answered with questions…nobody seems willing to give  up too much information. And who can blame them? They’re simply treating you the way they were treated, making you earn it and pay your dues. And after going through it, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My name is Karen Wrenn, after living on Maui for seven years and falling in love with anything that happens on water, I moved back to the Pacific Northwest. I became a mother to three kids, a dog, two lizards and a fish. I’ve been married for 10 years. I am sponsored by Naish, Kaenon, Kialoa, Futures Fins, Camel-Bak, and Vitamin A. And I just might be out of my mind, because I entered the Molokai 2 Oahu race. (I wouldn’t con-sider entering Molokai 2 Oahu as being out of my mind, So maybe I say… Some people might think I am out of my mind?

This race takes plan-ning, training and most of all, a sense of adventure. As I found out… and knew that I would… there are things that you will never think about pre-paring for until you hear the starter’s horn. I wish I would have talked to my boat Cap-tain about the route I wanted to take so we all had the same plan in mind. For me, doing the M2O wasn’t just about making it be-cause I didn’t doubt that I would make it. I wanted to be competitive and have a fast time.

Molokai to Oahu 'channel of bones'

Training for Molokai takes one major thing, Dedication (with a capital ‘D’). Luckily, I enjoy train-ing and having something to train for. Living in Oregon and prepar-ing for the Molokai race takes a little more dedication and deter-mination than living other places. I spend solitary days peddling on the Willamette River in Portland, where it might be 38 degrees (3.3 C), pouring down rain, the water is freezing, muddy and full of cur-rents that are ripping with huge trees and debris raging down the river. I know this is twisted, but there is a part of me that actually enjoys it. It’s funny, people ask if me I get scared when I am out in the open ocean… but if you saw the winter conditions that I train in, you wouldn’t worry about me.

As I headed off to compete at Molokai this year I was surprisingly calm about the whole adventure. I didn’t have any doubts that I was ready for the challenge. I wasn’t scared about paddling across the Channel. I wasn’t concerned about the tricky currents. I wasn’t freaked out sharing the ocean with sharks.

The only thing I was unsure of were all of the little unknowns. Was there something I was forgetting or wasn’t prepared for? I had my whole family involved in the adventure and I wanted everyone to have fun and most importantly, for nothing to go wrong.

Molokai to Oahu 'channel of bones'

The Molokai Channel is called the Ka’iwi (Kah-EE-vee) channel and Ka’iwi translated is the Hawaiian word for ‘bone’. That is why people call it the ‘Channel of Bones’. That, and the fact that it has also claimed many lives. The race course is 32-miles long and the ocean plunges to 2,300 feet deep. The waters between Molokai and Oahu have the reputation of being one of the most treacherous channels in the world. This channel is where legendary Hawaiian big-wave rider and all-around waterman Eddie Aikau perished. Nothing to be taken lightly.

Today, the Ka’iwi Channel is host to official races for outrigger canoes, surf skis and the Molokai 2 Oahu Paddleboard and Standup World Championships. Each human powered race across the Channel of Bones is regarded worldwide as a crowning achievement of the sport. I am honored to be included in that list.

I met Glen Tanabe, my escort boat driver, for the first time at Dukes in Waikiki. Before the meeting I asked my driver how I was going to recognize Glen. “Have you ever seen Karate Kid?”, he asked. “Look for Mr. Miyagi.” I spotted him in a second. He looked exactly like him. Wax on, wax off.

Molokai to Oahu 'channel of bones'

He seemed eager in that laid back Hawaiian way where everything is just the opposite of eager. I handed him my paddles, and with a rum-n-coke in one hand and my paddles in his other, I watched him walk to Kalakaua Avenue, the busiest tourist street in Waikiki and I prayed that my paddles would be on the boat when he arrived in Molokai. Otherwise, I would really be up shit creek without a paddle.

The plane ride from Oahu to Molokai was filled with paddlers… the whole plane in fact… paddlers from all over the world; Oregon, California, Hawaii, Australia, Canada, Singapore, England and Japan. Most of them had done M2O before, so it was exhilarating to talk to everyone about the crossing. The buzz of excitement and our nervous/anxious energy felt like it was keeping our little puddle jumper in the air.

As we landed, the escort boats were already showing up. I called my boat captain so he knew that I had arrived on Molokai. That’s when he told me he wouldn’t be ar-riving until the next morning, which was going to add a little stress con-sidering I had never seen the boat before. Trying to figure out which one it might be in a sea full of every kind of rag tag floating thing was going to be like finding a needle in a haystack. The only clue to find-ing the needle in the haystack was looking for a dive flag. I figured in a sea of fishing boats that there might be a lot of dive flags but the boat captain didn’t seem worried.

Molokai to Oahu 'channel of bones'

Race morning feels like a big rush.
Wake up…
get dressed…
brush your teeth…
make some coffee…
forget to drink it…
eat an energy bar…
fill up your CamelBak…
pack up…
check under the bed…
check under the bed again…
check out of the condo…
make your way to the beach…
get your board…
find Mr. Miyagi…
paddle your gear to the boat…
paddle back to shore…
participate in the Hawaiian blessing…
figure out when you start…
find your friends…
and finally, find the starting line.

This all feels like it happens in 30 seconds. If you’ve ever seen the movie Snatch, picture the intro, you’ll know exactly how it feels.

Molokai to Oahu 'channel of bones'

Here we go… the start of the race… I really don’t have any idea what to expect out there. For example, I didn’t even know which direction we were headed from the starting line or where I should be start-ing to line up. The horn blows, and I’m off. Even though we would be going 32 miles we all sprinted off the line… SPRINTED, no one ever takes the start lightly.

The boats aren’t allowed to come near you until 30 min-utes into the race. When they finally do swoop in it is a cha-otic scene… zig zagging boats, boards, paddlers, boat wakes, wind, seagulls, and ocean swells, making it difficult to stay on your line. I found it im-portant to know my line and STICK WITH IT. But the line became my biggest problem because I didn’t really know it and hadn’t made a solid plan with my crew.

The seas were big, averaging 6-9 feet (2-2.75 meters) . Good conditions, but I was finding it hard to connect the swells like I can in The Gorge or on a Maliko run. I never felt uncomfortable or scared. I just really had no clue if I was go-ing where I was supposed to.

Even though you have a boat with you, the swells are so big that the boat is not close enough to have a conversation. But, I assumed my crew would let me know when I was off course and correct me. I figured since they weren’t yelling me that I was doing fine. I guess they had another idea.

Molokai to Oahu 'channel of bones'

Just as I was starting to feel vulnerable with thoughts of sharks, sea sickness, boredom and fatigue, I spotted some other paddlers ahead, and started catching up to them. It felt good to be ‘racing’ someone, and even better when I passed them. But I was disappointed as I realized these paddlers were not the people that I considered my competition. By following these paddlers I had headed further off course.

As it turned out, I had drifted too far North, wasting about 45 minutes along Oahu’s China Wall with an outgoing current, just what the race director had warned us of. This is when I knew my chances of having a top finish were over.

Forget winning, I had to focus on being happy that I was close to completing my first M2O and that I was doing something very few people would even accomplish.

My new goal was to finish strong, finish proud and finish with a smile on my face. I was nervous at what lay past the China Wall. Rumours had it that the finish was the most difficult part of the race.

I negotiated my way around the corner trying to avoid being taken out by the breaking waves. It would be great to catch a wave and take a long ride in but I had heard about boards getting broken and fins knocked off here. I didn’t want to deal with that after paddling 32 miles, so I decided to play it safe and work my way into the channel.

Molokai to Oahu 'channel of bones'

I heard my name being called on the loud speaker as I approached the finish line. I felt a sense of relief that it was over and I was proud that I had accomplished such a great feat. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a little misty-eyed. But I sucked up my emotions and chose not to be discouraged about my experience. This is a remarkable feat and I needed to take pride in that.

Looking back on Molokai 2 Oahu I know it was everything that I thought it would be and ten times more. So many times I feel like people don’t understand why I choose to do things like this race. They don’t understand what I’m setting out to do. But, in this circle of athletes who have done this race there is no need to explain your motivation. You have joined a unique club. Individuals who share the same passion, spirit and love for the ocean and the sport. It’s a true test of your training, dedication and sense of adventure. I now understood why people don’t tall you how to prepare for the M2O and what to expect. You have to experience it for yourself.

Sometimes when you hear so much hype about something and then do it and you wonder what the big deal is? NOT SO with the M2O, it lives up to its prestige and mystery. It is in many paddlers bucket list and I am so happy to have checked it off mine. I will be back to Molokai next year, using what I learned this year and having a chance to correct the little things that went wrong. I can’t wait to have another opportunity to conquer the ‘Channel of Bones’.

Molokai to Oahu 'channel of bones'

About thepaddlerezine (654 Articles)
Editor of The Paddler magazine and Publisher of Stand Up Paddle Mag UK.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: