Connor Baxter: tough as a rock

Connor Baxter has conquered the 16th annual Molokai-2-Oahu Paddleboard World Championships. Three hundred men and womenchallenged the grueling 32-mile crossing of the Ka’iwi Channel, also known as the Channel of Bones.

The waterman from Maui defended his 2011 title in a time of 4 hours, 13 minutes, 26 seconds. This was a repeat vicory for Baxter who exchanged the lead many times with M2O veteran Dave Kalama who is 30 years his senior.

Baxter’s finish time beats his former course record by more than 13 minutes set last year. "This year I had Dave (Kalama) right next to me, so it felt like a sprint," said Baxter. "It was back and forth the whole time."

Three hundred men and women completed the grueling 32-mile crossing of the Ka’iwi Channel, also known as the Channel of Bones.

Less than eight minutes behind Baxter was Kai Lenny, 19, from Paia, Hawaii who powered his stock board to third place overall in the men’s SUP division. His time of 4:22:14 also won Lenny the top spot and the new course record in the stock SUP category.

Brad Gaul, 33, is now the first new champion in a decade at the world champsionships after ten-time champion Jamie Mitchell stepped away from men’s prone paddling at M2O. Gaul, who finished in 4:43:54, said he dreamed of this moment for a longtime and recognized M2O as the Super Bowl of paddling.

In the women’s unlimited SUP division, Maui native Talia Gangini, 19, took down the 2011 champion Andrea Moller’s course record by more than 30 minutes, finishing in 4:55:02.

In a reversal of fortune, this was Gangini’s first win at the famed race after finishing second to Moller, 32, in 2011. Today was Gangini’s second solo crossing over the Ka’iwi Channel.

On the women’s side, 18-year-old Jordan Mercer defended her 2011 title in a time of 5:34:53, holding up two fingers as she glided across the finish.

The rough conditions on the channel prevented record times for the prone paddlers this year, but with eight-time champion Kanesa Duncan-Seraphin bearing down on her, Mercer was more concerned with securing a win rather than bettering the current course record she set in 2011.

Professional surfers Rob Machado, Joel Parkinson and Jamie Sterling who participated in two and three-man team relay got their first taste of riding waves in the middle of the churning channel.