Red Letter Day: In the Zone

Wider & Words: Oskar Johansson
Photos: Slater Neborsky
Location: Molokai2Oahu
Date: Sunday July 30th, 2023

Race morning, I woke up surprisingly well rested feeling calm about the day ahead. I had prepped all my gear the night before, filled my hydration bladder with my race nutrition and charged my headphones. Unfortunately we didn’t get to stay near the start line and had a 25-minute drive to Kepuhi Beach. On the drive, we didn’t talk much about the race and pointed out a few of the landmarks with my parents and girlfriend in the car.

Arriving just in time for the pre-race ceremony, it was a surreal moment to experience. Straight after, the three of us racing on the Armstrong team (Armie, Mateo and I) put the finishing touches on our gear setups and bantered as we waited to get in the water. Honestly, the most stressful part of the morning was getting my dad and girlfriend loaded onto my escort boat with their gear. Kai Hall also flew in early in the morning to jump on my boat and support my crossing. It was a big relief to have someone in my court who knows the channel so well.

“Halfway across the channel, I started to lose sight of James to my left. The situation dawned on me; I was currently leading the M2O!”

After everyone was loaded onto boats, I was left on an eerily quiet beach with just my mum, waiting for the time to come. Some riders waited on their boats, and some on the beach. I was the first to paddle to the start line and did a quick flat water start on the way out to get warmed up. Sitting on the start line was surreal, it was just a group of good friends catching up and, of course, talking some smack. It was a challenge to get in the zone and focus on the race when all I wanted to do was froth and be stoked for all my mates out there with me!

With the starting gun sounding, I got up quickly and pumped out towards the windline with Kai Lenny, James Casey and Andrew Gibbons. Kai dropped behind and it ended up being just James, Andrew and I making it out together. Andrew and I had a moment to reflect on where and what we just did, and then quickly put our heads down. Setting my line across the channel, I felt James drifting south and knew I was making slow ground on him towards the north with a quicker line towards the south if I needed it. Halfway across the channel, I started to lose sight of James to my left. The situation dawned on me; I was currently leading the M2O! I was so amped and felt surreal moments of emotion as choppers passed over and the media boats followed.

My legs started locking up about 15 kilometers from China Walls and it became a game of rest and recovery to get there with enough energy leftover to pump as far as possible once we got around the corner. Turning that corner, it went from the silence of the channel to the full-blown spectacle that is the finish line of the M2O. Cheers from the wall, Edo coming in hot behind me, boats everywhere and helicopters overhead. The pain in my legs was suddenly gone, and I was functioning purely on adrenaline. I’d gotten around China Walls and through Pillars, but just outside Two’s a gust caught my board, and I went down. When I checked back and saw no one else on foil, I knew I had made it further than the rest. I put my head down and started paddling the last kilometer to the finish. Halfway there, I saw someone suddenly pump past, James Casey. I was bummed, but still stoked at the same time to see a friend get through. It was still on! I yelled over to my boat for information on Edo’s position, but with so much going on around me, no one could hear. I tried to flatwater start into the wind but there was just nothing left in the tank. I knew it was now about holding onto second.

Suddenly, all the boats left me alone and it was a clear 30m paddle to the finish line where James had just crossed. I had finished second in my first Molokai2Oahu, the biggest race in our sport and the World Championship! The gravity of that moment will never leave me, and it’s something I will hold onto for the rest of my life.

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