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.
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.
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.
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!
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.