From the Field: Standup Paddleboarders Prepare to Cross Hawaii’s Open-Ocean Channels

Next week, Morgan Hoesterey (pictured above) and Jenny Kalmbach, both accomplished standup paddleboarders, will begin a three-week attempt to cross Hawaii's nine legendary open-ocean channels as never before. Their expedition is called Destination 3°, for the three degrees of latitude (19° to 22°) that encompass the entire archipelago. Let us put this feat into perspective: The Alenuihaha Channel, sandwiched between two volcanoes, is one of the
roughest stretches of water in the world and can have 20-foot swells. Or 65-mile Ka’ie’iewaho Channel may take 24 hours to cross, so they plan to paddle by a full moon. Also avid freedivers and surfers, these ladies' efforts are in the name of cleaning up plastics and other debris from the ocean with Algalita Marine Research Foundation. We caught up with Hoesterey, a California native who now resides in Honolulu, to clue us in on this quest. We'll hear from Kalmbach mid-expedition.—Mary Anne Potts

Can you tantalize us with a description of these nine open-ocean channels? Why are they legendary?
These channels are legendary because they are so unpredictable. The
Alenuihaha Channel, located between Hawaii and Maui, is one of the
roughest stretches of water in the world because of the two huge
volcanoes on either side that funnel wind through the channel. This is
the channel that we are the most intimidated by because of the erratic
conditions. One moment, the water is calm and safe and moments later,
you’re faced with 20-foot ocean swells.

The Kaiwi Channel, or Molokai Channel, separates the islands of Molokai and Oahu. I have standup paddled across this particular channel twice now, and Jenny has paddled this channel as well. Close to Molokai, the ocean is relatively calm, and as you get further from land, the open ocean swells become bigger and bigger. There are waves coming at you from any and every direction. There is wind pushing you around, currents pulling you, and a lot of times it is difficult to figure out the best way to navigate through all of these factors. That is also the part that is fun though. You learn to read the water, to predict what the ocean is going to do, and you try to find the best path through waves and currents.

I’m really looking forward to the Pailolo Channel. We will have the wind pushing us forward the whole way. It is like surfing for 20 miles straight! In contrast, the Ka’ie’iewaho Channel is over 65 miles, and could take us up to 24 hours to cross it.

What will a typical day be like on this expedition?

When paddling, we will wake up very early to check the winds and the weather. If the conditions are right, we eat breakfast, load up the boat and start paddling. On a non- paddling day, we are hoping to freedive, surf, hike, and do things that we don’t get to do on an everyday basis. The non-paddling days are really a big part of the whole adventure, and that is why we set aside so much time for this trip, so that we can enjoy the ride along the way.

How do you manage 15 to 20 hours a day in the water? Do you have a support boat?
I am not sure that either one of us really knows how the 15-20 hour water days will go. I personally have never paddled for that long all at once, but we are both really stubborn when it comes to quitting. I know that neither one of us will want to stop even when it gets really hard. We have had conversations about how it may hurt, and we will get grumpy, but unless an arm falls off or something, we won’t stop paddling.

How do you occupy your mind during such long stretches of physical endurance?
iPods are the world’s greatest invention for keeping your mind off things out on the water. Part of my training is trying out different songs and different tempos that will either calm me down or amp me up while I am paddling. Music helps keep you calm, helps put things in perspective, and keeps you company. There is a saying when you are on a boat “one hand for you, and one hand for the boat,” it is similar for me with the iPods, “one ear for me, and one ear for the ocean.” It’s nice to have the music, but I think it is important to be able to listen to the water as well to keep up with what is going on around you.

The channel crossings that I have done in the past actually go by pretty quickly. Once it is over, you are kind of thinking to yourself “what just happened?” I tend to zone everything out and deal with the conditions in front of me. I remember the eventful parts, but the rest of the crossing just kind of blends itself together.

What are the advantages to doing this together, besides companionship, of course.

Jenny and I are doing this together, so backing out is not an option. We are so lucky to be able to do this and even luckier to be able to do this together. It’s nice to have someone else to motivate you when the going gets tough, but it’s also great to have a friend to paddle with.

Are sharks much of a concern? What about big waves?
Sharks are not really a concern. I always tell people that I love sharks; I think that they are beautiful and perfect. I go out in the ocean looking for them, and most of the time I rarely get to see them. Sharks are looked at so negatively, when in reality they are shy most of the time. You would be surprised at how little you see wildlife while you are doing the crossings.

Waves can be kind of intimidating, but the open-ocean waves are not like the ones that you see at the beach. They roll and they break, but not with quite as much force as the ones along the beach. The secret to waves in open ocean is not to look back. Nothing good comes from looking behind you, because most of the time you don’t like what you see. It’s always better to just look forward.

How did you train for this expedition?
I was really fortunate to be able to train under the guidance of Scott Adams of Surf Stronger. He has been helping me with strength training and I am on a special endurance schedule. We started a few months back, and I have been doing one long paddle (4-5 hours) each week, several moderate length paddles, along with interval training, swimming, rowing and strength training. I am also really lucky to have really supportive friends that have not only motivated me to train throughout this whole thing, but have been there as training partners so that I don’t have to go on 2 hour paddles alone.

Why did you pick marine conservation as your cause?

The Algalita Marine Research Foundation was an obvious choice for me. I learned about them back in 2005 and really believed in what they do. I spend a lot of time in the ocean, whether it is paddling, surfing, or freediving, and I ALWAYS see marine debris. It affects the reef and the animals. It is a huge problem. I really want people to understand that even if you don’t live right on the water, we all have an impact on the ocean and if we all try, we can make a difference. Maybe one person will learn about the problem and tell another person, and then it can go from there. I am very proud to be associated with Algalita and really feel strongly about protecting the ocean that I love so much.

Photographs courtesy of Destination 3°