My friend Stefan Ronchetti recently competed in his first Molokai to Oahu world paddleboard championship. As a landlocked competitor (one of two) and with no open ocean paddling experience, his sixteen total weeks of training was done at the mercy of Minnesota weather. He had to take advantage of every ice-free day our lakes and rivers provided, but even the windiest days on Lake Superior couldn’t produce a hint of the swells that the Ka'iwi Channel (Channel of Bones) put in his way on July 28, 2019.
I had the privilege of photographing Stefan from his support boat, captained by Mark Mohler. I sat alongside a mutual friend Mike Young, whose role was to swim out energy gels and water bottles to Stefan.
Stefan's board was hand-shaped by Joe Bark of Los Angeles, shipped to Oahu and ready to pick up the day after we arrived.
We arrived in Molokai the night before the race, bringing only what we would swim out to the support boat.
The support boats parked outside the starting line the night before the race.
There was likely to be a shortage of taxis on race day, so Stefan put out a Craigslist ad for a 5:00am ride to the starting line. John graciously accepted and when asked how much it would cost, he responded simply “Aloha is free, brother.”
While Mike and I swam out to meet Mark on his RHIB (Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat), Stefan attended the morning ceremony and prepared to start the race.
Later that morning, we all departed Molokai en route to Oahu.
Five or six hours later, we neared Koko Head on the island of Oahu.
As Stefan approached China Wall before the final stretch to the finish line in Maunalua Bay, we ran into a fluke engine malfunction that momentarily left us drifting. Mark quickly applied a DIY fix and we saw Stefan off to the bend where we peeled off and navigated the channel in to the bay.
Stefan successfully navigated the Ka'iwi Channel from Molokai to Oahu in 7 hours and 32 minutes. He is excited to make a second attempt next year.