By Aaron Garcia, Special to the Independent
During the last week of July, Laguna Beach lifeguard John Taschner was on-duty and making rescues at Wood’s Cove. The first weekend of August, Taschner traveled to Hawaii to compete in the Paddleboard World Championship against national champions from over 40 nations in the world’s most prestigious and demanding paddleboard race.
The 31-Mile Molokai Channel between the islands of Molokai and Oahu is known by Hawaiians as Ka’iwi, or Channel of Bones. The 2,300-foot deep channel is one of the world’s most treacherous bodies of water, with constant ocean swells known to destroy entire ancient canoe fleets and claiming the lives of modern-day fisherman and watermen. Legendary big-wave rider Eddie Aikau tragically lost his life paddling the channel in 30-foot swells several years ago.
“It’s a strange feeling starting Molokai with no visible land mass in sight…just endless deep water that looks almost black,” Taschner said. Between swells, the athletes and escort boats disappeared in two-story troughs bottoming the peaking ocean swells.
Halfway across the 31-mile channel, and three hours into the race, Taschner was neck-in-neck with 2017 World Surf League Men’s Champion John John Florence. Taschner and Florence competed on identical 12-foot bark paddleboards in the prone paddleboard class. Taschner and Florence were joined mid-channel by World SUP Champion Kai Lenny, who started after Taschner and Florence in a staggered start, with Lenny using a new type of standup “foil” paddleboard equipped with hydrofoil technology. Lenny pulled ahead of Taschner and Florence to finish first in this year’s Molokai World Championship.
“Molokai is gnarly…a blessing and a curse that draws you back for more,” Taschner said. “I hope to compete again next year.”
Race escort boat crew Kevin Smith witnessed the convergence of Taschner, Florence, and Lenny at mid-channel, commenting the three were “digging deep, displaying great wave knowledge, smartly quartering swells rather than paddle a direct line, resulting in increased over-water speed.”
“These are guys who revere and know the power of the ocean,” Smith said.
Paddleboard racing has been a part of the lifeguard culture for generations, with Molokai and the Catalina Island race dating back over 50 years. Molokai race director Shannon Delaney said the Molokai Paddleboard World Championship “honors the spirit and accomplishments of voyagers with the most challenging prone/stand-up paddle race in the world.”
A few days after the 31-mile Molokai race, Taschner was back in Laguna working Wood’s Cove.