Sean Rice om vinsten i Molokai

Sean Rice: what it takes to win the exklusive Molokai Challenge

On the last weekend of May, the toughest race on the surfski calendar and the one that all paddlers covet, was won by Molokai Group athlete and 2013-2014 World Champion paddler Sean Rice. Victory in this race had eluded him for years but with thorough preparation, research and training, 2017 became Sean’s time. Here he opens up about his thoughts and feelings on winning the most difficult of them all, the Maui Jim Molokai Challenge in Hawaii.

On Crossing the Channel of Bones
I felt an overwhelming sense of relief winning the Molokai. I had put so much into preparing for this race. I have won just about every title in the sport including the World Championships but the Molokai has always eluded me for various reasons. There are just so many variables on the day that it really takes every ounce of conditioning, timing and skill to be first across the “Channel of Bones” as the Molokai Channel is also known. This year everything fell into place and it will be a result I will always remember.

On Preparation
In the lead up to the event, I find that training is the ”simple” part. A strict and rigorous build up starting four months before the event ensures I can actually race across the 52km channel and not just survive it. That aside it takes years of experience and countless hours in very wild ocean conditions to become skilled enough to be comfortable in the open ocean and to be able to surf the swells to your advantage. I have done many trips to Hawaii in preparation for this race. The channel has a mind of its own and is constantly changing due to swell, current and of course wind.

On Rivals
Having all the best paddlers in the world at the start line makes it a race and I really love to race! There is a great sense of camaraderie before the start of Molokai, more than many other races I do. While on the start line you could cut the tension with a knife, there are also many ”good lucks” thrown around between the top contenders. We all know we are about to race each other but actually we are all about to race the channel. It’s a unique experience.

On Strategy
I went over to Hawaii early to get on the water as much as possible to prepare. The Pacific Ocean is raw and powerful around these islands, so getting the “feel” is crucial. Along with that I made time to speak with all the locals I knew to figure out the best line across with the predicted tides, wind and swell. Then comes the logistics of organising an aeroplane ride across to the start, nutrition, escort boats, crew and the list goes on!

On Nerves
I was more nervous than normal with a week to go. This is a horrible feeling but I know myself well enough to know this was a very good sign. Nerves only appear when you know something could happen or if something really means a lot to you. I must have known that this could be my year even though I was trying to keep myself from getting ahead of the game. With two days to go the nerves just disappeared and I felt calm all the way though to the final hour of the race when oddly enough I was overtaken by nerves again – I suddenly knew that this was it. I kept telling myself, don’t make any mistakes now.

”I was out front and alone… but I had to trust my judgement.”
On Trusting your Strategy
The race starts on Molokai island. Looking straight across into the ocean the island of Oahu can often be difficult to see. Expecting a 3.5 to 4 hour race I promised myself to not take a single stroke in anger for at least the first two hours. This was to conserve energy however it is very difficult to do when the other competitors start getting ahead. I had to stick to my guns. As soon as I had two hours on the clock I went very hard and north for 5km. This put me into the lead but far away from the rest of the pack who had gone on a more southerly line. I was out front and alone. Not a great feeling, but I had to trust my judgement of going alone. My escort boat and crew were fantastic. Guiding me through a tricky maze of currents which are affected by sea bed shelves that rise from the deep, causing a change in the ocean waves. Some of the under water opticals have some interesting names, including “spitting caves”  and ”drop offs” where the ocean bed goes from shallow waters to a drop off of over 1000ft. Everything needs to be accounted for.I didn’t face any real drama during the race, due to solid planning and a race plan which my team and I stuck to. This is the only way to win.

On Approaching the Finish Line
My immediate concern was making it through China Walls, the sheer cliff of rock that decsends into the ocean causing the waves to crash uncontrollably, and the big surf in the final 3 km. After that my only concern was getting out of the boat as soon as possible. I was absolutely spent. Just about every muscle was spamming with cramp.

On Winning
The feeling of happiness and relief of finally taking the win was something special. I had many friends there who are always a huge support. It takes time to get through the various television interviews and camera people but as soon as that’s done it’s hand shakes with the guys you raced so hard against and smiles all round.

I set two stand out goals for my busy racing season this year. Win the Molokai Challenge and win the World Championships. Anything else is just a bonus. I am now half way to this goal and as motivated as ever before!

I have been asked a few times if this win is bigger than my World Championship win. Nothing will beat the underdog feeling of winning the Worlds, but this victory was special in its own way. It takes a huge sacrifice of time, resources and funds to get to this event with a chance to win. It’s always worth it, but actually winning puts the icing on the cake. I knew what had to be done, but for it to execute perfectly is extremely rewarding!

On Facing the World Championship in November
I’m revving to go – I’m back in the boat as soon as these blisters heal!

Sean Rice is the winner of the 2017 Maui Jim Molokai Challenge and the 2013 ICF SurfSki World Champion. The world championship event changed this young South African’s life in many ways and Sean has a fabulous success story that starts from humble Cape Town beginnings. The ICF Title is awarded every two years and Sean finished 4th in 2015. This ignited a fire in Sean and a gut wrenching desire to win the title again in Hong Kong this November. Sean is based in London but as with all of our athletes he is a citizen of the world, travelling the globe to compete and deliver Surfski clinics. www.yourpaddlelife.com
Nick Moloney, CEO and founder of Molokai Group Limited says that when he first met Sean, his ambitions were clear: ”When I asked him what his visions were for 2017, his immediate response was to win the Molokai title and regain the World Championship crown. In the business of sport, it’s a pleasure seeing athletes achieve their dreams. Whilst surf skiing is not yet on the mainstream radar for corporate sponsorship, it should be. It’s a thrilling sport with elite level athletes and it’s building a solid groundswell of supporters around the world. We are looking forward to supporting Sean as he faces the World Championship later this year.”

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