Solo crown 'up for grabs'
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
A decade of dominance will paddle into a transition year at Sunday's Steinlager Kaiwi Channel Solo OC1 World Championship race.
The 32-mile race from Kaluako'i, Moloka'i, to Koko Marina, O'ahu, is considered the world championship for one-person canoes.
For the first time since 1998, the champion will not be named Karel Tresnak Jr. or Kai Bartlett.
"It really throws it up for grabs because you don't know what's going to happen," said race director Manny Kulukulualani, who is also considered one of the top contenders. "When ever Kai and Karel were here, you knew those were the guys to beat."
Tresnak and Bartlett have combined to win the last 11 OC-1 world titles, with Tresnak owning a record seven. Neither is entered in this year's race.
With that, a new champion will emerge Sunday.
Jimmy Austin of Honolulu is considered the top seed from Hawai'i, and Danny Ching of Redondo Beach is considered the top seed from California.
Ching placed second to Bartlett at last year's world championship race; Austin placed third.
"Jimmy (Austin) has been putting a pretty big lead on everybody this year," Kulukulualani said. "He's in really good shape. I think even if Kai and Karel were here, you would have to put Jimmy up there with them."
Austin, 30, won the Hawai'i state championship race two weeks ago.
"You always want the best guys there," Austin said. "So it's unfortunate that Kai and Karel aren't racing this year, but you just go with what you got. There's still going to be a lot of really fast guys out there, and it's Moloka'i — anything can happen, anybody can win it."
Austin has been training virtually all year in preparation for Sunday's race. Two months ago, he did a practice run from Moloka'i to O'ahu.
"I did my homework, put it that way," he said.
He added that his third-place finish last year gave him the motivation — and confidence — to improve.
"Last year was only my second time doing the solo," he said. "I don't think anybody was counting on me to get third, not even myself."
Last year, conditions were unfavorable and the crossing of the Kaiwi Channel was a brutal endeavor. This year, winds are expected to be favorable.
"It could be the best conditions we've had in a long time," Kulukulualani said. "The tide plays a factor and it's not going to be the best tide, but everything else should be there to make it fun."
Mike Mills-Thom and Mike Murray are considered the top contenders from Australia.
Around 100 paddlers are expected to compete. Most are from Hawai'i, but there are entries from California, Australia, Japan and Brazil.
Maui's Lauren Bartlett, who owns a record six women's OC-1 world championships, is considered the favorite in the women's field.
Other potential contenders in the women's field include Jane McKee, Arlene Holzman and Andrea Moller.