RM Paddle: Molokai to Oahu's Founder Mike Takahashi

Part 1: Molokai to Oahu, The Roots of Race

The Big Two

There have been two races that have earned the darkest ink on a paddler’s race calendar since the late 90’s - Molokai-to-Oahu and the Catalina Classic.  With roots dating back to the early days of the California Waterman/Surf Culture, the Catalina Classic was the race that inspired the genre.  But with the advent of the Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) and a destination race for the elite ocean athletes from all over the world, Molokai stands tall on its own accord.  RaceMill.com had a chance to sit down with the race directors from both races and get their perspectives on endurance paddleboard racing and where it is today and where it’s going?

Part 1 - Mike Takahashi, founder of the Molokai to Oahu Paddle Race

RM: How long have you been part of the sport of paddleboarding?

MT:  I started paddleboarding in the early eighties with Edmund Pestana.  I met Edmund at Masters swimming where I was training to stay in shape for Hawaii's winter surf.

RM: What was the motivation to bring a 32 mile race to Hawaii?

MT:  If I recall correctly Dawson Jones, one of Hawaii's best paddleboarders at the time, did the Catalina Race in 1996.  He came back and said why couldn't we do such a race here in the Molokai Channel, since the distances were similar.  At the time Garrett MacNamara, Dawson, and I were all training together as part of our big wave regimen, so we got together and started the race in 1997.

RM: What is the force behind the scenes that keeps the race alive today?  Volunteers, sponsors, the athletes?

MT:  The race has always been about the athletes.  I think a lot of credit should be given to the original core group who started doing this race in 1997, they created the spirit and energy that made this race special.  That being said, without a doubt, Shannon Delaney is the one keeping this race together.  When Quiksilver pulled out as the event sponsor 4 years ago, the race would have ended.  Shannon has really hustled to keep the race going and improving every year.  Of course we have great sponsors like Kona Brewing, GoPro, Maui Jim, Surftech, Dukes Restaurant, Watermans Applied Science, Future Fins, Patagonia, Garmin, and Kona Red, but, it is Shannon and her volunteer crew that really keeps the race going.

RM: Mike, how have you stayed in it for as long as you have?

MT:  I stay with the race because I want people to experience one of the ultimate test of physical and mental endurance.  The joy of finishing is something that some people need to experience.

RM: There’s no doubt the sport has grown over the years; in your eyes, where does it stand today?

MT:  Unfortunately the race has grown so much that for safety reasons we had to turn away over 60 very qualified individuals and teams this year.  Our two biggest fears are injury in the mayhem of getting to the start line (through all the escort boats) and having so many paddlers that the escort boats cannot locate their paddler.  

RM: Do you thing the sport will continue to grow?

MT:  I think both traditional paddleboarding and SUP will keep growing.  It seems like the pool of athletes keeps getting larger, and the training regimens keep getting better.

RM: It seems that there are a lot more racers really getting focused and treating the sport almost at the level of a professional; do you ever see it reaching the status of Professional Cycling or Triathlon?

MT:  Some of the Australian paddleboarders and some of the SUP racers are already sponsored athletes that can make their living doing something they love.  Winning this event can be a real career booster.  But I don't see it approaching the level of cycling or triathlon because it is not organized enough.

RM: Do you see the next Jamie Mitchell rising to the top out of today’s crop of young paddlers?

MT:  I don't think we will ever see a 10 time winner like Jamie, though we may see someone like Brad Gaul break Jamie's record.  In the SUP it will be Connor Baxter and Kai Lenny dominating for quite a while.

RM: The race has evolved over the last 10 years from a paddleboard only event to a race that includes team, SUP, and celebrity entries.  What do you think the race will be like in the next 10 years?

MT:  Hopefully it will not change much more.  There may be a time when we have to run the paddleboard and SUP separately to accommodate more people.

RM: Is there room for more endurance races like the these?

MT:  Endurance races are extremely expensive to put on safely.  The only way we can have more is for sponsors to step in and sponsor smaller events, that will feed into bigger events.

RM: Any last comments or shout outs?

MT: Thanks to all the paddlers past and present.  You are the ones that made the race.  Aloha and Mahalo!

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