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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, July 30, 2001

Australian dominates Moloka'i-to-O'ahu race

By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer

Even without breaking any records, Aaron Bitmead raised the standard of the Quiksilver Silver Edition Moloka'i to O'ahu Paddleboard Race to a new level yesterday.

Australians Aaron Bitmead, right, and Chad Griffith could smile after finishing 1-2 in the grueling event.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

Bitmead, a 24-year-old lifeguard from Australia, didn't just win the event that is considered the world championship of long-distance paddleboarding. He dominated.

Bitmead completed the 32-mile course from the Kaluakoi Hotel on Moloka'i to Maunalua Bay in 5 hours, 29 minutes, 1 second. A slight course miscalculation and a "sloppy" current off O'ahu were perhaps the only factors that kept him 6 minutes, 13 seconds away from the record.

Still, it was the second-fastest winning time in the five-year history of the event. More impressive, Bitmead finished more than 10 minutes ahead of runner-up and fellow Australian Chad Griffith (5:39:12).

"I was just pushing myself," said Bitmead, who placed fourth last year. "After a while, I knew I was in the lead, so I was mostly concerned that somebody else wouldn't sneak up on me."

Not one of the other 71 entries came close.

Sean Monahan, the 1999 and 2000 champ, was a distant third in 5:56:27. The Kane'ohe firefighter was also the first finisher from Hawai'i. Australian Mick Dibetta, who set the course record in 1997 and is Bitmead's coach, was fourth in 5:58:22. Jimmy Austin of the Outrigger Canoe Club was fifth in 6:01:14, and at 21, the youngest solo competitor in the field.

Aaron Bitmead of Australia is in fine form off Koko Head as he nears the finish line of the 32-mile race that is considered the world championship of long-distance paddleboarding.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

Kanesa Duncan, a graduate student at the University of Hawai'i, was the only female to paddle solo yesterday. In her first try at the prestigious race, she set a women's record with a time of 7:36:06, which was more than 20 minutes better than the previous mark. She also became just the fourth female to complete the race solo.

Ernie deSilva of Kaua'i was the first to cross on a stock paddleboard (12 feet long) at 6:42:00.

"I thought I was in contention for second place for a while," Monahan said. "But I was never in contention for first. (Bitmead) was unbelievable."

Bitmead said he was lured into a fast pace from the start by Pearl City's Aaron Napoleon. They broke away from the rest of the pack and were on record-pace for the first two hours across the Kaiwi Channel.

"The conditions were pretty good at the start, so I just kept going with it," said Napoleon, an experienced waterman who was entering the race for the first time.

With eight miles remaining, Napoleon said he "ran out of gas" and decided to withdraw. It probably didn't help his cause that he entered a fishing tournament on Saturday and got to Moloka'i via his fishing boat at 3 a.m. yesterday morning, less than five hours before the start of the race.

Winner Aaron Bitmead credited his new board, which was longer yet lighter than the one he used last year. "It felt unreal," Bitmead said of the board, which was designed for the rough conditions of the Kaiwi Channel.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

"I got about two hours of sleep," he said. "I thought I would be OK, but my whole body was cramping up a little more than halfway (across the channel). That's the way it goes. At least I caught a lot of fish (on Saturday)."

The grueling pace and tricky conditions took their toll on several other paddlers. Local contenders Guy Pere and Dawson Jones also withdrew midway through the race.

That left Bitmead to paddle alone, and even without any competitors in sight, he never relented. His only mishap came late in the race, when he approached O'ahu too far to the north, near Hanauma Bay.

"I had to really work to come back," he said. "The wind was in my face all of a sudden and the water was sloppy. I was a little conscious of the fact that somebody might sneak in from the south."

However, because Bitmead and Napoleon were racing on such a fast line, many paddlers followed and also ended up slightly north of Maunalua Bay.

"I knew (Bitmead) was in front, I could just never catch him," said Griffith, who was competing in the race for the first time. "I was just trying to make sure I stayed in second."

Bitmead was quick to credit a new paddleboard, which was longer yet lighter than the one he used last year. The 17-foot board, called "Classic Waterman," was designed in Australia by Dick Van Straalen specifically for the rough conditions of the Kaiwi Channel.

First-time entry Chad Griffith of Australia was pleased to finish second among the 72 competitors.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

"I had it for about a month, but we didn't have too much swell in Australia so I didn't really practice on it until I got here," he said. "But it felt unreal."

In the team division, Mike Fox of Honolulu combined with Australian Jamie Mitchell to cross in 5:47:04. Brothers Brian and Marc Rocheleau of Honolulu were first in the team stock paddleboard division in 5:56:49.

The team division started 30 minutes after the solo paddlers. "It was kind of fun," Fox said. "We had something to work for. Whoever we saw in front of us, we made it a goal to try and pass them."

• • •

Final results

Unlimited Board

Overall: 1, Aaron Bitmead (Australia), 5:29:01. 2, Chad Griffith (Australia), 5:39:12. 3, Sean Monahan (Hawai'i), 5:56:27. 4, Mick Dibetta (Australia), 5:58:22. 5, Jimmy Austin (Hawai'i), 6:01:14. 29-younger: 1, Jimmy Austin (Hawai'i), 6:01:14. 2, Jackson English (Australia), 6:50:33. 3, Ioka Masato (Japan), 8:02:18. 30-39 years: 1, Mick Dibetta (Australia), 5:58:22. 2, Sean Richardson (California), 6:59:38. 40-49 years: 1, Tony Hotchkiss (California), 6:40:15. 2, Matt Barnett (Hawai'i), 6:48:23. 3, Clark Abbey (Hawai'i), 8:22:57. 50-older: 1, Buddy Sheppard (Hawai'i), 8:31:27. Team: 1, M. Fox (Hawai'i)/J. Mitchell (Australia), 5:47:04. 2, S. Lincoln/M. Schulein (California), 7:21:53. 3, J. Hamilton/K. Munemitsu (California), 8:01:27.

Stock Board

39-younger: 1, Matt Sack (Hawai'i), 6:46:06. 2, David Turnbull (Australia), 7:34:34. 3, Gary Fortune (California), 8:07:23. 40-older: 1, Ernie deSilva (Hawai'i), 6:42:00. 2, Gregory Quinn (Hawai'i), 7:02:35. 3, Kamuela Aea (Hawai'i), 7:08:27. Women: 1, Kanesa Duncan (California), 7:36:06. Team, women: 1, C. Iwanami (Japan)/K. Wright (Hawai'i), 8:42:12. Team, mixed: 1, Tasha/Kimo Kauihou (Hawai'i), 7:33:14. Team, 59-younger combined: 1, Brian/Marc Rocheleau, (Hawai'i), 5:56:49. 2, T. Shipman/K. Vaughan (Hawai'i), 6:47:25. 3, B. Akeo/S. Mench (Hawai'i), 6:55:04. Team, 60-70 combined: 1, T. Bradley/C. Miller (Hawai'i), 6:01:42. 2, D. Lock/B. Taylor (Hawai'i), 6:33:27. 3, D. Daly/D. Kalama (Hawai'i), 6:43:11. Team, 80-older combined: 1, P. Curry (California)/B. Kerbox (Hawai'i), 6:21:03. 2, Nick/Tom Carroll (Australia), 6:58:31.