Stand-Up Paddleboarding Hawaii: Longest Night

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A month ago we set out to paddle across all of the channels that connect the Hawaiian Islands. Over the past few weeks we crossed from one island to the next, paddling the channels on our stand-up paddleboards and exploring each island once wearrived. From the beginning, there was one channel that loomed over us: The 70-mile Ka’ie’iewaho channel that connects Oahu and Kauai. We managed to push it to the back of our minds, but we knew the day would come when we would have to set out to cross it and face whatever challenges it would present.

On April 30, after some last-minute plan changes, we set out for Kauai. We left Kaena Point on Oahu’s northwest side at 2:30 p.m. It was a hot, calm day with no wind. That changed quickly as we got away from the island. The East winds filled in, and the swells got bigger. The waves were the biggest we’d seen of all the channels we had crossed so far–giant monsters rolling toward us. And so we paddled, stopping only for a few minutes every two hours to change out our hydration packs and get a bite to eat. We paddled to the rhythm of the ocean and the beat of our music. And as the sun sank low into the sky, we kept paddling. We knew the channel was coming up, and although we hadthought about it often and wondered what it would be like, we had no idea what to expect.

The orange and red hues of sunset darkened, and soon we were enveloped in blackness. We attached glowsticks and strobe lights to our packs so the boats could see us, and for the next nine hours we paddled in the dark. It became a challenge to stay balanced. The waves took us by surprise, but we kept paddling. We stayed close to the boats, staring at the patch of light reflecting on the water. It was our safe zone. We stayed close to each other, too, laughing and apologizing when our boards bumped. When one of us would fall, the other would stop and wait. We were a team and we were going to get across the channel together. The hours passed slowly, yet we charged on. We expected the crossing to take 20 hours, but thanks to favorable winds and a strong current, we were able to keep a five knot pace. Seven hours in, we were half-way done. We did the math and realized, with pure joy, that we could finish just after sunrise. Itmotivated us to keep going.

At 5 a.m. we were six miles offshore. There was a current pushing against us, we were in pain and every stroke hurt but we could see the lights on land and knew we were close. The sky lightened, the sun slowly made its way out, and we could see how close we really were. We stared at our destination, imagining what it would feel like to arrive and how good it would be to stop and sit and know that we had made it.

The miles dwindled and soon we were only a couple hundred yards away. We smiled and allowed ourselves, finally, to say to each other: “We made it.” We paddled up to the buoy, clinked our paddles against it, and sat down–16 hours and three minutes after weleft Oahu, we arrived on Kauai. We did it, and it felt unbelievable. Neither of us are emotional people, but in that moment, we couldn’t help but cry. We got as close as our boards would allow and hugged.

As we prepared ourselves for this channel, we didn’t allow ourselves to think about failure–we believed we could make it, and that was all that mattered. There were people along the way who questioned our sanity, those who questioned our abilities, and those who simply asked why. Well, why not?

–Morgan Hoesterey and Jenny Kalmbach

Morgan Hoesterey and Jenny Kalmbach launched Destination 3 Degrees, a stand-up paddleboarding expedition, from the Big Island of Hawaii on April 7, 2010. It's an adventure that will take them through the Hawaiian islands, across three degrees of latitude, over 200 nautical miles, and acrossnine legendary open-ocean channels. Their goal is to raise awareness and funds for the Algalita Marine Research Foundation,which works to identify and understand the impact of plasticscontamination in our oceans and on marine life and the human food chain.

Photos by Chris Aguilar

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