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America's Cup winner takes on the Molokai 2 Oahu Paddleboard race

by Jimmy Spithill on 8 Aug 2014
- Jimmy Spithill - M20 Race - Hawaii James Spithill
At the end of July, twice America's Cup winning skipper, Jimmy Spithill, competed in the 32 mile Molokai 2 Oahu Paddleboard World Championship.

The M2O is one of the most prestigious SUP events in the world. It is raced across the Ka’iwi Channel between the Hawaiian islands of Molokai and Oahu.

The event attracts a paddlers from around the world including Oracle Team USA skipper, Jimmy Spithill (AUS).

Here's Jimmy Spithill's his impression of the race:

M2O 32 mile Race Report: Ok, here it is! Had a great two days preparation in Oahu. Big thanks to the Aussie crew residing in Oahu, especially Travis Grant, Danny Sheard and Brad Gaul. Doing a couple of runs along the China Wall approaching the finish was great. I remember one paddling with Travis Grant, Brad Gaul and Jordan Mercer…all M2O Champions.

Man did I feel like the odd one out!!! Like most things you can’t shortcut experience and what I learnt those days was invaluable. I was really lucky to have Scott Trudon, from Maui, as my navigator for the race, and if it wasn't for leg surgery would have been completing his 16 crossing in a row. Getting to hangout with he and his fiancée Ashley was great and instantly we became great mates. We've both got a sense of humor and enjoyed plenty of laughs.

Can’t wait to race head to head with him next year-but not sure how I will replace him! Brendt Chang my support driver and his son were awesome again. Brendt is a fisherman out there everyday, they are one of the professions that spend more time on the water than us-always reliable and gives you confidence having him there.


A big thank you to John Smalley from #Bluesmiths who sponsored me with technical gear. Being comfortable in an environment like that is really important and there’s no doubt in my mind a big part of improving from last year was because of the Bluesmiths gear John provided me with. Also Talia and Garmin for a great GPS watch allowing me to know where I am and how many miles to go! As always, #RedBull , #Zozi and #Naish.

The morning starts with breakfast at 5am then a prayer and blessing on the beach with all the competitors, The Prone division starts at 7:30am, the SUP division then goes at 8am. I’m not a religious guy, but when the local Hawaiian and all the competitors are standing there arm in arm hearing him talk about the history and all the people that have paddled the channel followed by a blessing, it definitely gives you some energy and everyone draws from it.

I was borrowing Scott’s board and he had everything ready to go. The Tradewinds were starting to build nicely and once the prone started all the SUP competitors lined the start and we were off. The start reminds me of an Ocean Race in sailing. Plenty of action and mayhem, support boats trying to find their riders, then in an hour you’re on your own riding the big swells grinding away. The Molokai channel, known as the channel of bones, is one of the most challenging pieces of water out there, very rough, windy, sometimes the seaway is very confused, especially as you approach Oahu, but also one of the most beautiful stretches of water you will ever see. Filled with marine life, and the color of it- words don’t do justice describing it.

I had a great run, conditions were great, but challenging, heaps of great rides-and swims! As we got about 10 miles from Oahu the tide turned and instantly you go from gliding to feeling 'sticky', and it takes a lot more effort to try and get onto the swells, also you start to get the refraction as you come into the cliffs, not to mention your body is feeling it! Towards the end I caught up to a lot of the Prone paddlers, and was next to Super Freak Jordan Mercer for a while. This was great as she had a heap of Aussies, including Danny Sheard in support boats, who came over and gave me plenty of encouragement, as well as Jordan giving me a boost.


The training with Travis and Danny proved its worth as I was able to pass a couple of paddlers getting a wave along the wall. The finish is usually tough-you paddle 30 miles in a rough channel to turn the corner for the last 2 miles and then go straight into the wind for a final ass kicking. I had a couple of guys around me, so I put my head down and went as hard as I could, with a heap of Aussie’s on support boats yelling at me.

The last hour of the race I was cramping pretty bad in my chest, arms and abdominal, but like most challenges, you work through the hard times and then it’s all worth the pain once you cross that line. When you do, you are welcomed by race officials, a big crowd cheering and the competitors in front of you are there to great you. It’s an amazing feeling, that wouldn't be there were it not for all the hard work you go through. I completed the race in 5 hours in 14th place out of 50-stoked as a big improvement from last year.

The top guys are amazing athletes. Australia seems to have a real stranglehold on the prone division, with Jamie Mitchell winning a record 10 times! Then Brad Gaul picked it up for consecutive wins (this year he paddled with surfing legend Tom Carroll in SUP team), Matt Poole won this year as did Jordan Mercer for no 4 in a row. The Hawaiians and Aussies are battling it out in the SUP, my mate Travis Grant won last year and this year he went head to head with good mate Kai Lenny, Dave Kalama, Conor Baxter and Scott Gamble. Travis and Conor pulled away for the last half of the race changing lead, and Conor was able to break away to win by a couple of minutes and both set a new race record.


A lot of people and media asked me the same question: Why put yourself through the pain and do the race? My answer: Why not! The America’s Cup is my life, think about it every day, so much that it’s an obsession, but sometimes you need to get away. The Beauty of a race like this is the energy and camaraderie between the competitors, which at times can be lost in other sports. Everyone here is really competitive but all really supportive of one another and each have a big amount of respect for one another for what they are about to take on.

For all the training, hard work, tough times you go through during the channel, the adrenaline when you complete it, and hanging around all the competitors after the race having a beer and sharing a few laughs-it’s addictive and reminds me of why I do sport.

Sure I’m competitive and hate losing, but it’s refreshing to get outside of the AC and my comfort zone and be re-energized. Funny enough when you’re grinding away over the 32 miles, and then speaking with all the competitors after-it stimulates ideas you apply to running the Team and also ideas for the boats and the future of the AC. Sometimes you need to get away in another world to stay open minded.

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