The One That Got Away --- Cory Hill

Molokai 2016

As I hopped on the boat only 1.5km shy of the finish line with a broken rudder I turned to Dean “The Captain” Gardiner and said “has anybody done something similar to this whilst leading”. “Never… That is easily the biggest f*@k up in the history of Molokai… by far”. Well I guess that is something.

Island Life

I love the place. I love the vibe. It is the one place in the world that I have travelled to and believed I could actually live there. I flew in and The Captain was waiting for me with a coffee. Within an hour of hopping off the plane, I was in the water paddling to the Outrigger Club on a brand new carbon Fenn S. Amazing.

I only had one day on Oahu before heading over to Molokai. It was the first time I had spent any time on Molokai except driving the road to the start line. We checked out the main drag, drank some coffee and I spent the next couple of hours asking The Captain about the history of the race. He even told me about the time he ran aground on a reef and still won… ironic.

The Morning and Start

It is always a weird feeling waking up on Molokai race morning. I woke up to Dean saying “I have made the right decision” because he had pulled out of the race the day before. I sat down overlooking the water and there was not a breath of wind. I could see a boat in the distance absolutely fanging it with no bouncing at all. We were in for a very long day.

Time goes fast when you get to the start line. Stickers on, drink up and fill your juice, oh yeah and make sure your favorite playlist is on. That was a new addition this years race. Some tunes to keep me focused for the entirety. Before you know it the starter horn has gone and Hank has taken the first kilometre lead. I took the second one. Then there was a double. The next 10km was spent sitting nicely on its V wash. Perfect.

The Race

The race really started shortly after this. The pack split up at the 20km mark. Hank took off with Sean right there with him. I was behind Sean but only just hanging on. Jasper and Clint were right there too. After struggling on their wash for long enough I took another line. In my head I thought “they can have that, no way am I holding that pace for another 30km”. It was actually how I pictured the race the day before. Hang on as long as I can before these two beasts outpaddle me in the flat. They truly are phenomenal at the grind. Strong heads and even stronger paddlers. Then the strangest thing happened. My speed increased on my Garmin. Weird. I was in line with Hank and Sean for the next 10km but on a slightly more south line. It seemed to be working. My own water and paddling my own race. It is the first time I have been able to match them in the flat on my own. Confidence was up.

Another 10km went by and Dean yelled out to me from the boat “it is just you and Hank, Sean is back 200m to the north. Cant see Jasper or Clint anymore”. Perfect. At this stage I was feeling quite good considering we had paddled 40ish km. So not good at all really. The best thing was the wind had eventually started to affect the water. The last thing I would have wanted was a sprint finish with these two in the last two km so I decided to make it hurt a bit early and try to break away. My Garmin was showing faster times and I was getting right into it.

Every 5 minutes or so Dean would yell at me giving me updates. The last update I had before heading around China Wall was “400-500m lead”. What could go wrong with less than 2km to go?

The Reef

I hit it… Next

Nah, as I sit here I don’t even know how to begin. Bizarre. I was thinking to myself “milk this swell as far as you can and the race is over”. Funny that. I was right, but in the total opposite way to how I had imagined. My race was over. The wave walled up into the channel a bit so I hung close to the wall. In hindsight, I would just about do anything but this. Paddle to the channel maybe? But in the heat of the moment and coming in to defend my Molokai title, I kept going. There was a reef that showed itself about 10 metres in front of me. I waited for the swell behind me to catch me and my plan was to drift straight over the top unharmed. The whole ski made it over untouched. The rudder however, did not. It hit and it hit hard. I didn’t think there was a problem (no problemo) until I did one full circle to the left with my right foot peddle to the ground. Hmmmm. I jumped in the water to see the damage. The rudder was now only half a rudder and it was bent into the fiberglass. I tried to straighten it so I could at least steer with stronger strokes to one side. No dice. Dean jumped in the water with a pair of plyers to try fix the problem. At this point I saw Hank fly past. All over. Then Sean. Dean looked at me and said “sorry mate, want to give it a go like that? Just don’t touch the pedals”. I jumped on and did one more circle before pulling the pin.

I really hate the fact that I didn’t finish the race. Not only that I did not win, that wasn’t overly my concern, but that I did not finish at all. That sucked. I remember looking at this race as a kid and saying “imagine if you paddled 50km and slewed on a wave or snapped your ski or…. Hit a reef”. No more imagination here. Just a distant memory of what was.

Reflecting back

I was really happy with the race itself and the battle Hank and myself had the last half was really fun. It is one of the best battles I have had in my career where we both tested each other. With every action, there was a reaction. I would make a move, he was there, he would push up and I would go with. Made the last 90 minutes go really fast… well the last 90 minutes of racing. Full credits go to all the boys up the front. Hank, Sean, Jasper, Clint and Joey. All were flying the whole race. Ill be back next year, no matter the conditions.

Mentally, I think I took the drama quite well. I know that I am in the sport because I love paddling, the water, travelling, meeting mates and having a beer afterwards. I did all of that over the week I had in Hawaii so it was still quite a successful one. I really surprised myself in those conditions also. I know now that I can match it and lead in the flatter conditions and that to me is something huge. I know my weaknesses and I think I needed a day like that one to prove to myself that I can match it with the best in the world at what they do.

As much as I am not in this sport for winning, I am also in it to be the best I can possibly be. At the moment that is looking like I may be near the front in all conditions and that is my plan. I would like to thank everybody that has helped me and my mates who have kept me grounded when I do win and lift me back up (albeit only slightly) when I screw up. Thank you.