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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 20, 2006

For Chalupsky, 43, it hasn't gotten old

By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer

Oscar Chalupsky of South Africa won his first Moloka'i Challenge in 1983 and his 11th last year.


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What: 32-mile race across the Kaiwi Channel for solo surfskis and one-person canoes

Where: Start at Kaluako'i Beach, Moloka'i; finish at Kona Brewing Co. in Koko Marina, O'ahu

When: Tomorrow, 8 a.m. start; first finishers expected around 11:30 a.m.

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There are some paddlers in tomorrow's Kona Brewing Co. Moloka'i Challenge World Championships who were not yet born in 1983.

That was the year South Africa's Oscar Chalupsky won his first Moloka'i Challenge.

Chalupsky now has a record 11 Moloka'i Challenge titles, and amazingly, is still considered the paddler to beat tomorrow in the men's surfski division.

"The race isn't getting old, I'm the one getting old," said Chalupsky, 43. "But I still enjoy it, and as long as it's fun for me, I'm going to keep trying until I don't think I can win."

The Moloka'i Challenge is a 32-mile race across the Kaiwi Channel for solo surfskis and one-person canoes. It is considered the world championship of long-distance solo ocean paddling.

"This race is what Augusta and The Masters is to golf," Chalupsky said. "It may not be the only big one in the world, but it is the one every paddler wants to win."

Chalupsky won his 11th championship last year.

"When you're older, you're wiser, obviously," he said. "I think, for me, it's more mental. Physically, I'm still strong, but I'm not the same as I was when I was younger. But I've been doing this race so long, I feel like that's my advantage."

Chalupsky's success rate is also impressive. He has entered the Moloka'i Challenge 13 times — winning it 11 times, placing second once, and third once.

He was not allowed to participate in the Moloka'i Challenge for five years in the early 1990s because there was an international ban on athletes from South Africa because of that country's apartheid policies. He also missed several other races because of work and family commitments.

"I think I could be going for 20 (championships) if I made it for some of those other races," Chalupsky said.

Part of Chalupsky's success can be traced to his business. He helps design and sell surfskis for Epic Kayaks.

His latest model is called V-10 because he created it after his 10th Moloka'i Challenge victory in 2003.

Over the past year, Chalupsky said he has been honing the V-10 model at a factory in China. He said the V-10 he will use tomorrow weighs 22 pounds — around eight pounds lighter than the winning surfski he used last year. "It's lighter and stronger," he said.

Because he spent so much time working in China, Chalupsky said he also trained there.

"I did a lot of paddling in the river," he said. "I was traveling a lot between China and South Africa so I had to fit in my training where ever I could."

One of the leading candidates to take Chalupsky's title is another veteran, Dean Gardiner of Australia.

Gardiner, 41, is second to Chalupsky with nine Moloka'i Challenge championships.

"There are a lot of paddlers in this race who are way better than Oscar and myself in a flat-water race," Gardiner said. "But this race has the special aura. It takes something more. It's not just about paddling."

Other leading contenders include Clint Robinson of Australia, Lewis Laughlin of Tahiti, and Clint Pretorius of South Africa.

In the women's surfski division, there will be a new champion because two-time defending champ Jasmin Cohen of Australia is not entered this year.

In the men's one-person canoe division, leading contenders include defending champion Kai Bartlett of Maui, and five-time former champion Karel Tresnak Jr. of Kailua.

The women's one-person canoe division will also have a new champion because last year's winner, Lisa Curry-Kenny of Australia, and three-time former champion Lauren Bartlett of Maui are not entered.

Reach Dayton Morinaga at dmorinaga@honoluluadvertiser.com.