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The Wriggler Makes It 4 At Molokai

5 August 2019

Stewart McLachlan wins at Molokai
Team McLachlan cause Pandamonium after Stew's record breaking win

Stewart McLachlan has won his fourth title at the Molokai 2 Oahu Paddleboard World Championships cracking the 5-hour barrier to complete the gruelling paddle in 4 hours 43 minutes. The Molokai 2 Oahu Paddleboard World Championships started in 1997 and is an open-ocean endurance paddleboard race. Athletes compete in both the prone and stand-up divisions, Stewart was in the prone category racing on a 12 foot board. Competitors make the 52km journey across the 700 metre deep Ka'iwi Channel, also known as the Channel of Bones which connects the islands of Molokai and Oahu.

Affectionately known as 'The Wriggler' due to his racing style, McLachlan fits in his training around full time work and family commitments (he and wife Tabitha have a 19 month old and another baby on the way). He is a lifesaver at Manly Surf Club and has won multiple open board titles at the Australian Surf Lifesaving Championships.

Stewart McLachlan with his family after racing at Molokai
Stewart McLachlan with his family after winning for the fourth time at Molokai and breaking the 5 hour mark.

We caught up with a very ecstatic Stew on his return to Australia, who had his entire crew on hand in Hawaii to watch the incredible race unfold.

FT: Stew, can you give us a brief outline of your race strategy this year?

SM: My strategy actually changed around 15 minutes into the race. I usually go hard for 40 minutes and then relax with, what I hope is a lead, which I've had in previous years and then hold or gently extend over the next 4 or so hours. This year, I noticed about 15 minutes in that a couple of my competitors were hanging around my wash and pushing to stay around me early. I thought I could push harder and grab a lead, but I was also conscious that if I push too hard in the first hour, the last 4 hours could be tough. I might blow my forearms or shoulders or stuff up my nutrition which is planned to the minute. So instead, I backed right off and cruised as comfortably as possible for 4 hours, and then turned up the pace with 25 minutes to go, which was the difference in the end as my nearest competitor blew up.

FT: How did it feel to finally crack the 5 hour mark?

SM: I have been saying for almost 5 years that the 5 hour mark was beatable, and I wanted to be the one to do it. In the week leading up to the race everyone was talking that the current this year, if you took the right line, was going to be epic! Basically meaning that the conditions were not going to hold me back like last year where the current worked against us and would have sucked us back out to sea. Knowing I was fitter than previous years I was confident I would be able to do it, but I never expected to break my own record by almost 20 minutes!

FT: Is this a race that you learn from every time you do it?

SM: 100 per cent. The more you do it the more you understand the channel. I went really far north this year to drop with the currents towards the end and it worked giving me a really fast line. It was a kilometre longer than the shortest line, but it's about using the current, tide and ocean, not necessarily just taking the shortest way to the finish. The conditions were great, the wind chop wasn't amazing, but having an ocean current working with you, not against you, makes a huge difference!

FT: How did it feel as you paddled to shore, elation or exhaustion?

SM: I nailed my nutrition this year, so I wasn't at all exhausted. You pretty much lose all feeling about a kilometre out and get pretty emotional, with dehydration and cramping in both legs and every toe which is complete pain, but you know your family is waiting to greet you on the shore so the pain is mixed with complete elation at what you've just accomplished.

FT: What did you do differently in your preparation this year compared to previous years?

SM: Compared to other years in training, I did a lot of strength work with a physio as I have had a really bad shoulder for the past 2 years from previous Molokai races. I still ran 40-50 kilometres a week, swam 10-20 kilometres and paddled 20-70 kilometres as well as core work and strength sessions. I also re-engineered the way my board worked the runs in consultation with my board manufacturer. I put a lot of volume in the nose which helped me push over the top of swells more, instead of burying the nose when I would come down a big swell and run into the one in front. This helped me carry more speed across the channel.

FT: So Stew, are you already thinking about next year and how you are going to go faster again?

SM: Of course! I'm planning to paddle the unlimited boards next year, which means I'm not restricted to a 12 foot board and I want to win and break the record in that category.

It's a massive effort from Stewart, especially juggling work and family life as an amateur competing against full time athletes. With number 2 bub on the way and big goals for 2020 we can't wait to see what Stewart can pull together in his pursuit of a fifth title and record at Molokai.

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