Editor’s Note: I had the good fortune of meeting Jenn Biestman on a training run with Jeremy Riggs right before this year’s Olukai race in April. I had no idea she had only been paddling a short time. Her account of the Maui to Molokai crossing, and her determination is exactly the kind of story and stoke we here at The Mullet just love. LS
On Saturday, July 16, I participated in the 27 mile Maui2Molokai Standup Paddle Race. I started paddling less than two years ago when I saw a YouTube video on downwind paddling off the coast of Maui. In fact, if you were to ask me what my “hobbies” were over two years ago, I’d tell you happy hour and shopping…shallow indeed. Never being an ocean athlete or surfer, I still thought downwind paddling looked like the most bad-ass thing ever; so I had to see what this was all about. Even after my first light downwinder in Kihei in November 2014, I had never thought I would even attempt the world renowned Maliko Run on the north shore (let alone Maui to Molokai). But then I thought, “why not?”
I don’t ever like to do anything half-assed, so I decided that if I wanted to do the Maliko Run and participate in the 2015 Olukai race; I had to enlist the help of the pros—the best of the best to coach me, as I had no idea what the hell I was doing–all I knew how to do was shop and sell insurance! I’m very fortunate to have worked with the best and most supportive teachers in the paddling world over the past 15 months, specifically: Suzie Cooney, Jen Fuller, Jeremy Riggs, and Dave Kalama. I also have several other ocean and paddling mentors in the community that have helped me along my journey that I’m so grateful for.
The 10 mile Maliko Run was so much fun, completing the 27 mile M2M crossing was a long-shot goal that I decided I wanted to train for 7 months ago. I’ve trained hard, been frustrated, had fun, and learned more than I ever have from this experience. The race always seemed like it was so far in the distant future, and race day quietly snuck up on me. A week before the race, my excitement turned to anxiety. Boat logistics, board ding repair, uncertain weather forecasts, hydration and fueling strategy, my fitness—The most I’d ever paddled in one day was only 20 miles…how was I supposed to do 27?! I didn’t know what my body would do or need after three plus hours of paddling, and I was extremely nervous of the unknown.
The race day conditions weren’t exactly ideal: light/moderate winds, that weren’t in the ideal direction for an epic channel crossing. At the starting line, my anxiety and fears eased because there was no going back. I started to be nicer to myself and take the pressure off my performance—I just wanted to finish. That was my only goal. Although I wish I was surfing more at about mile 12, I still felt good—body felt decent, good energy level, and only fell a couple times on my very tippy new board that I was still getting used to. At about mile 15, I was still waiting for the “fun” part to begin—the epic downwind part straight to the finish line that past M2M crossers rave about as the “world’s best downwind run.” That part never really manifested unfortunately. But at about mile 18-22, I was cruising and catching/connecting some nice glides. Looking at my Garmin, I thought, “Holy crap! I’ll totally finish in under five hours!” I was really stoked with my progress. Then with about five miles to go, the wind shut off completely—like the man upstairs was playing a cruel joke on me. I was losing steam quick. Just a mile ago, I thought I had less than an hour to go—which was just enough motivation to keep my body going. After about 20 minutes of no wind, I hit a wall: physically, mentally, and emotionally. Everything hurt, especially my knees, legs, and back. “Only 3.5 more miles to go, Jenn!” yelled Mike Holmes, my amazing boat captain. 3.5 miles doesn’t sound that bad, but when you’ve already gone 24 miles; it’s an eternity in flat water conditions.
At this point, I had a total meltdown. I could hardly even paddle, couldn’t even see straight, and the expletives were flowing. I was emotionally and physically frustrated like no other time in my life. I was at my limit. The red buoy that marked the finish into the harbor was in sight, but it seemed like a desert mirage—I’d keep paddling and that damn red buoy felt like it wasn’t getting any closer. I didn’t want to quit, but I was worried my body literally wouldn’t let me go any farther. But somehow, someway, I was able to find the very little strength I had left to finish the race. The race took me an embarrassingly long time to complete at 5:50, and those last five miles marked the hardest I’ve ever pushed my mind and body.
Completing the M2M race has been one of my biggest accomplishments thus far and has taught me that anyone can do anything. As cliché as that sounds, it’s true. Fear of the unknown and fear about what we cannot control is our worst enemy. So just do it. Dive in. Take that leap; your net will find you.