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Just over a century since Hawaiian icon Duke Kahanamoku brought surfing to Australia, arguably kick-starting a love affair with the sea that continues to this day, ocean athletes of all persuasions from Down Under continue to achieve success in one of sport’s toughest challenges.

A strong contingent of Australian surf lifesavers including a number from NSW completed the gruelling Molokai Paddleboard World Championships in the homeland of the Duke in the early hours of Monday morning.

Now in its 21st year, the endurance based event of 52 painful kilometres on a paddleboard across the notorious ‘channel of bones’ is rightly regarded as one of the most demanding races on the planet.

To finish the course is to take mind and body right to the edge as you push yourself further than you ever thought possible against strong currents, searing temperatures, and equally strong opponents.

It is a true test in the purest sense, and it is perhaps this that drives so many to compete as they strive to add their names to the list of champions who have completed the race to Oahu.

Favourable winds but a refracting trade swell triggered challenging conditions as the athletes approached the middle of the channel.

Matt Bevilacqua stormed home to win the men’s prone paddleboard in a blistering time of 5 hours and 5 minutes his 4th overall title, while Manly Lifesaving Club (MLSC) athlete and current NSW and national board champion Stewart McLachlan brought home his third consecutive win in the men's 12 foot stock division with a time of 5.33.

His Manly teammate and state and national board silver medalist Harrison Stone wasn't far behind either. Stone placed third in the same division with a time of 5.49. MLSC Competition Manager Glenn Stone was wrapped with his crew's results again this year and said that it was their dedication to training, especially over the winter that had paid off.

"MLSC is so proud of Stewart and Harrisons results this season." Said Stone. "The results are a reflection of one of the best craft programs in the country under the guidance of coaches Mitch Roberts; Cam Coghlan; Nick Dawe and to the attitude and commitment of these 2 individuals."

Matt Bevilacqua Molokai 2018
Men's overall  4 x winner Matt Bevilacqua, Photo by Molokai2Oahu / Jianca Lazarus

Harriet Brown (QLD) brought in a consecutive win of her own in the women's division. Despite not beating her previous time, Brown took on the tough conditions in the final stage of the course with every ounce of strength to defend her title. “At times it felt like we were going slower than if the channel was flat." Said Brown. "Youʻd catch a runner and hit another bump, which made you feel like you weren't catching anything.”

Brown paddled in ahead of NSW pair, Lizzie Welborn (North Bondi) and Maddie Spencer (Newport) who put dug in against the strenuous currents. 

“The women’s race was the highlight this year,” Said Molokai veteran and Newport Surf Sports Academy coach Nick Carroll. “There were so many strong paddlers out there and there was a real battle for supremacy in the middle of the channel, especially between Lizzie and Maddie.

“On the home stretch it became obvious it was Harriet’s race. She knows how to bulldoze through those situations.” Said Carroll, clearly proud of his team representing Newport and Australia.

But it was in the team division where NSW really shone recording a number of amazing performances.

The Newport duo of Hugh McAlpine and Isaac Smith won the prone paddleboard overall teams division in a time of 5 hours, 47 minutes which was an outstanding result for the men who were making their Molokai Challenge debut.

"It was really good for the first two hours but the tide was supposed to go south but kept pushing north which made it really hard to stay on course,” said Isaac Smith.

“This was our first time competing here so we decided to do it as a team to check it out. I’ll definitely be back next year trying the solo division.”

"It was seriously ten times harder than I thought. When I jumped on the boat at the transition I had my head in my hands,” added Hugh McAlpine.

"The air is the same temperature as the water so there’s no respite from the heat. We were going hell for leather to keep our speed."

The pair did claim a prized scalp as they downed two-time world surfing champion John John Florence and his partner over the distance who surged late to finish second.

Splitting the two on the podium was the event’s youngest competitors from Swansea Belmont SLSC.

Nick Stoddart (15) and brothers Saxon (15) and Ethan Coates (17) impressed everyone to finish first in their division with an incredible time of 6 hours and 2 minutes.

“There was water moving everywhere and it was really hard to find a good line with the wave runners,” said 15-year-old Stoddart. “It was really tricky out there but we had good preparation and support from our family and coaches at from our surf club.”

 A proud Swansea Belmont Club President Graham Burge said the result that that teens achieved was a just reward for their hard work.

“We’re very proud to hear of the results this morning and it is very well deserved.

“Nick, Saxon and Ethan have been training incredibly hard over the winter and it’s fantastic to see that pay dividends in the race.

“These three boys are not just great competitors but impressive young men and conducted themselves very professionally while representing their club and country in Hawaii,”  Mr Burge said.

Capping off the morning for NSW, former Queenscliff SLSC member and social influencer Alex Hayes and his Newport ironman teammate Fletcher Davies, not only managed to raise almost $10,000 for Batyr mental health program, they also performed strongly in the water finishing 3rd overall in their division and just 30 seconds behind John John Florence in his home conditions.

The athletes involved today will be back training hard as the new surf sport season looms over the horizon, but for now at least they can savour the experience of completing the Molokai Challenge and with stories and memories to last a lifetime.

For full results of the 2018 Molokai Challenge please click here.

*If you have news, information or results about a Surf Lifesaving NSW member please send it to us for publication:

Monday 30 July 2018

Stewart McLachlan
Manly Lifesaving Club's Stewart McLachlan hits the home stretch into Oahu, Photo by Molokai2Oahu / Jianca Lazarus

Maddie Spencer Molokai 2018
Maddie Spencer form Newport SLSC on the homestretch, Photo by Molokai2Oahu / Jianca Lazarus