17 May 2005
South African ski paddler Oscar Chalupsky cemented his claim as the world’s best ocean paddler on the weekend, downing Australian Olympic medallist Nathan Baggaley in a thrilling duel to win a record 11th Molokai Challenge, widely regarded as the unofficial world surf ski championship.
Chalupsky spearheaded the challenge of the five-strong South African Team Kia Maxe for the 53-kilometre open ocean crossing of the Molokai Channel against one of the strongest fields assembled in the 29-year history of the event.
The channel is also known as the Kaiwi Channel, but is more often called the Molokai Channel. It begins at Laaun Point on the Hawaiian island of Molokai and ends off Diamond Head on Oahu. It is considered one of the roughest ocean channels in the world.
Typically hot weather and big surf played a major role in the event, which saw a number of big names drop out of contention in the closing stages, including defending champion Herman Chalupsky and fellow Team Kia Maxe paddler Darryl Bartho.
The race started in dramatic fashion, with an early break by a big group of Australians, including double Olympic silver medallist Baggaley and nine-time Molokai winner Dean Gardiner.
“They took off like it was a 500 metres race,” Chalupsky said afterwards. “But they all went too far north. I was all on my own on what I thought was the straightest route to Oahu, and after a few minutes I couldn’t see anyone else.”
“After a short while Baggaley realised that they had made a mistake and came over to where I was paddling, together with another local paddler”, the Durbanite said. “Even my escort boat stayed with the Aussie bunch that was paddling to the north!”
Baggaley, however, was well in control of the race throughout, and every time Chalupsky caught up, the Athens Olympics star was able to sprint clear again.
However, the distance and stifling heat started to take its toll as the race neared the treacherous surf off Oahu, and the turning buoy, that sent the paddlers head on into the prevailing surf and swell.
This was where Chalupsky made his move, and was able to pass Baggaley and power clear to a two-minute win.
Behind Baggaley, the blistering pace of the race and the intense heat derailed two other top South African paddlers. Defending champ Herman Chalupsky blew in the closing stages, surrendering his third place to Dean Gardiner.
Darryl Bartho also fell back, blown by the pace and intense heat, to finish seventh.
Chalupsky’s race was not without incident, as he fell off his ski roughly an hour-and-a-half into the race. “I was turning around to get some more juice, when my paddle caught in the swell, and over I went,” the 42-year-old said. “My first swim in 13 Molokais! Fortunately it didn’t cost me too much time.”
Chalupsky was thrilled with the win, particularly as he had beaten the on-form Baggaley and helped to narrow the gap on the Australians’ overall lead in the history of the race.
“The Aussies have won it 14 times, and this takes the number of South African wins to 12, so we are closing in on them,” Chalupsky said.
“It is a brutally tough race. To win it takes a special type of preparation, tactics and experience. The field racing this year had plenty of experience and talent, which makes winning it really sweet.”
SUMMARY OF RESULTS
- Oscar Chalupsky (SA) 3:28:38
- Nathan Baggaley (Aus) 3:30:52
- Dean Gardiner (Aus) 3:31:45
- Herman Chalupsky (SA) 3:33:25
- Martin Kenny (Aus) 3:33:41
- Dean Mercer (Aus) 3:34:25
- Daryl Bartho (SA) 3:34:39
- Lewis Laughlan (Tahiti) 3:38:16
- Dave Kissane (Aus) 3:41:14
- Greg Barton (USA) 3:45:51
- (20th) Kenny Collins (SA) 4:01:52
- (72nd) Butch Murray (SA) 4:35:56
Source: Canoeing South Africa