There’s a reason the 32-mile marathon from Molokai to Oahu is considered the world championship of paddleboarding. It’s the superlative of races—the biggest swells, the least predictable seas, the fiercest competition. And yet 33-year-old Australian Jamie Mitchell is unbeatable here. But then, Mitchell is unbeatable almost everywhere. He’s hardly lost a race since 2002. The Queenslander is also—in his own, low-key way—representing a sport in the throes of a breakout moment. If you happened to be near a significant body of water this year (lakes and rivers included) chances are you saw some folks standing atop very large surfboards, paddle in hand. Mitchell’s been dominating and advocating SUP (stand up paddleboarding) for more than a decade, and runs a SUP school in his hometown. His real deal, though, is managing to navigate those windy, finicky waters off Molokai while kneeling—it’s faster than standing—on his 18-foot board, crossing the channel in not quite five hours. Here’s how Mitchell has managed it nine years in a row.
—By Ryan Bradley
IN MY OWN WORDS
By Jamie Mitchell
The race is at the end of July. I start training at the end of March. I get up at 5 a.m. every day and swim, and on Saturday, go for a long paddle. After about a month into it, it’s usually more than 50 kilometers.
Taking It as It Comes
You can put ten guys in the race with the same physical ability and they end up at much different points. I’d say at least 30 or 40 percent of Molokai is mental—dealing with pain and setbacks and the sea. The tides and what the wind is going to do are a huge part of the race, and I used to really worry about them. But now I’ve learned to take it as it comes.
Sleeping In Is Giving In
The hardest thing is getting sleep the night before. The race starts at 7:30 a.m. I get up about 4:30, get a big meal, get sun cream on, and then...then I pretty much can’t wait to get in.
Flying Fish, Stinging Jellies
The beauty of this race is that there’s so much that can instantly change. You can hit a bad patch of water and feel like you’re going nowhere. The wind shifts, you have to change course a little bit. You get hit by flying fish, you see sharks, you can get stung by Portuguese man-of-wars.
I just concentrate on what I’m supposed to be doing, which is really simple: I’m just catching the swells and the wind and focusing on each little bump for five hours straight. If I can just focus on five feet in front of me, I’m good.
- Nat Geo Expeditions