Kai Lenny and SUP legend, Dave Kalama
MAUI, Hawaii - Want to know what it's like on an escort boater at the M2M2014 Race? Liz Smith gives us a rare and insightful look into her experience this year, being onboard with Kai Lenny's family during one of the most prestigious SUP races in the world. What she found was that Kai is more than just a freakishly talented athlete with a good head on his shoulders.
Story by Liz Smith, courtesy of Maui Made.
I survived 27 miles of choppy seas, gusty tradewinds and mid-day tropical sun! It was physically taxing and mentally tiring, and I wasn’t even racing! I was a support person aboard one of the escort boats.
Let me explain. We have a boat. Its day job is a fishing vessel, but it moonlights with a much more exciting profession – escorting big wave surfers to Jaws during the winter months, and long-distance paddlers for channel crossings in the summer. Normally I am “at home with the kids” or “working”, but when an opportunity came up to crew on the boat, escorting several time World Champion and neighbor Kai Lenny on the M2M2014 (Maui to Molokai Stand Up Paddle Race), on a day when the grandparents (MAHALO) could watch the kids, I jumped at the chance.
Kai gets a hug from his dad.
Now, I’ve been neighbors with Kai and the Lennys for years, and even lived next door to the family when the boys were little bitty kids, but I wasn’t sure what to expect from a kid guy (man?) that has traveled the world, is a champion in many water sports, and has recently been spotted around the island with celebrities ranging from the cast of Pretty Little Liars to rockers from Third Eye Blind. What I discovered Kai is friendly, humble, and the only thing deeper than his amazing work ethic and dedication is his love for his family.
What wouldn’t surprise anyone who has followed Kai’s amazing story is that his most loyal fans, his parents, were on board, but the amount of mutual love and respect that I was able to witness close up (it’s a pretty small boat, especially on the trip home) was just palpable, and as a mom of two young kids, inspiring.
The original intent of this trip was to be able to report back about the behind-the-scenes aspects of the race, and the duties of the escort boat, but the emotional journey that I took, picturing my own son, now three, spreading his wings and going on his own adventures, and hopefully being able to experience just a part of it with him, was just so much more exciting!
I will say – the repairs at Mala Ramp were definitely appreciated, Honolua Bay is just gorgeous, the start of the race is very exciting, and – if you are going to be an escort boat – being with one of the top finishers is the way to go!
I have actually never been to Molokai before, so to journey almost the whole southern length of the island and step just a few feet (enough to find a bathroom!) at Kaunakakai Harbor was a great adventure, and I would love to venture back to the island some day!
The race between the top four finishers, Connor Baxter, Kai Lenny, Dave Kalama and Travis Grant, was quite intense, it was almost like two separate races – the top four and then everyone else! At one point in the middle of the Pailolo Channel, we could see the top four, all pretty close, and literally no one behind us. Not even the escort boats.
As our sweet boat, actually named Sweet Alexandra, is accustomed, especially when at Jaws, there was a photographer on board. This time was a new twist, a new, locally based drone-photography company, EPiC Aerial Productions joined the crew. Justin and Nana, who started EPiC earlier this year, dreaming of one day filming Kai paddling the open ocean, and in a typical, yet magical Maui moment, they just so happened upon Kai’s backyard one day, and the rest is history.
The boat captain, Matt (my husband) is an amazing multi-tasker and thrives on adrenaline, always performing best under pressure. While this might not be quite as anxiety-ridden as driving a boat next to 60-foot breaking waves, while the photographer is demanding you ‘get closer!’ and the boat is loaded down with thousands of dollars of not only surfing gear, but camera equipment, escorting a paddle race has numerous challenges.
You need to stay near your paddler, but not too close. You need to monitor the race course and recommend a track (unless there’s a coach and navigator on board). You need to watch out for other paddlers, boats, debris, etc in the water. You need to make sure everyone on board is staying safe, with arms, legs and heads inside the boat. (this is amazingly difficult, we witnessed another boat with a passenger fall off, and I just read a report of someone falling into the same boat when boarding after the race). You need to make sure there is ample cold Coors Light to reward of-age racers at the finish line. (ok, the crew is responsible for this- but someone needs to pack the cooler and ice).
Back to the multi-tasking captain – as if all this isn’t enough, add in a photographer, looking to get the perfect shot. Then, to add another level, the photographer is flying a drone, which needs to be launched from and landed on the boat – which is bobbing and swaying in the rough ocean – oh, and the drone is NOT WATER PROOF!
Start of the race
I once asked my husband, as we were driving up the hill in the middle of the night in yet another tsunami evacation, with one sleeping kids and one almost 9 months along in my belly, “Isn’t your adrenaline pumping?” His reply “Not unless I’m in mortal danger.” All in all, Justin and Nana of EPiC Aerial were able to successfully launch and land the drone THREE times! I can’t wait to see the footage. I hope to add it to the post in the future, but make sure to follow Maui Made on Facebook for notifications.
Justin and Nana wisely chose to ride the Molokai Ferry back to Maui, as Sweet Alexandra was loaded down with two very long SUPS, Kai and his parents, Jerry Bess, Captain Matt and yours truly, for a bumpy ride, all huddled inside the snug and dry cabin, all the way back to Mala. Everyone returned with enthusiasm for the next Hawaiian adventure – Molokai to Oahu, which takes Captain Matt three days all told.