Tom & Nick Carroll Cross The Channel of Bones

12 Sep 2015 1 Share

Tom & Nick paddle to the finish line together after 55kms

Tom & Nick paddle to the finish line together after 55kms

Story by Sally Mac

There is no other brotherly team like them. A world surfing champion and a world class legend.

Tom and Nick Carroll would have more water hours clocked up in their lives most people you know. This year in July they took on the mighty 55km Molokai to Oahu World Paddle Championships through the ‘Channel of Bones’ as a team.

The Molokai is not just your average race, it's not a ‘bucket-list ticker’ as Nick explains, it's a full lifestyle, body and mind commitment.” It’s brought Parko to the edge of his athletic ability and is an event that can make or break some of the top watermen and women in the world. 19 people were pulled out this year, which was a race record. Conditions got gnarley and the swell entering Oahu reached 8 foot. "You’re not going to make money out of it and no one becomes a social media hero upon finishing, it’s an event that is fuelled by soul." said Nick.

Since their first crossing together in 2001, when they had had no paddle experience except surfing, the Carrolls have come a long way. So far that Tom is now a regular at swim squads.

The first the brothers heard about the event was from Jamie Mitchell and Dick Van Straalen back in 2000 and as Nick says “We just looked at each other and said ‘Lets do it!’ We wanted to change in how we saw surfing, the race seemed impossible but we wanted to do it anyway.”

“It was a real challenge and put paddling into perspective for both of us”

They sought advice and sourced equipment from friends and experienced ocean paddlers. They flew to Hawaii in July 2001, spent a lead up week in the water and watching the currents and tides, then they were off. “There was a lot of wind and the tidal currents were really rough. A lot of people got pulled out. It was a well run event, but much less hype back then, no one really knew about it. It was a real challenge and put paddling into perspective for both of us. Tom said ‘Well that was crazy, I don’t ever want to do that again.’ But I got the paddle bug and went on to complete the crossing a number of times after that individually.” Said Nick.

Nick & Tom with their racing boards in training pre event.

Nick & Tom with their racing boards in training pre event.

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“Individually it’s a completely different race, it’s a mental game. Truthfully, it’s the toughest thing I’ve done in my life and nothing compares, except having kids, that’s like doing the Molokai non-stop for 15 years.” Said Nick.

Since 2001 Tom has got into Stand Up Paddling and in 2014 completed the race with Brad Gaul. “It was really tough on the SUP, I chose a 12’6 board and it was probably a bit short for the crossing.”  Nick said “He got smashed around a bit, imagine being on a SUP in a channel like the Molokai, it would be really heavy.”

At the beginning of this year and 14 years since their first gruelling crossing, the guys decided they’d give it another crack as a team in the prone paddle division. Nick felt fitter than ever and Tom was ready to give it another shot.

By entering as a team you use one board and swap paddlers alternatively. The aim is to get the board across the channel as fast as you can. “It’s the classic Polynesian Imperative,” said Nick, “to get from one island to the next.”

“As a team the most important thing is to have a lot of fitness so you can just get back in the water and go fast. Tom hadn’t done much prone paddling so I got him into swimming squads. He got really into it and built up his aerobic fitness quickly. We’d do 8 to 10 kilometres of structured board training and got used to using the same board and smooth transitioning between us. We got the right board sorted and headed to Hawaii one week out to adapt to the Hawaiian summer sun and get in some small early training sessions.”

Tom with his game face on, Photo by Nick

Tom with his game face on, Photo by Nick

Before they knew it they’d cruised over to Molokai and were off and racing. “It felt like boom!” said Nick. “I vividly remember getting back on the boat at some point and didn’t realise how far we’d come.”

The quickest way across the channel is in a straight line, no matter the magical stories you hear.

Nick said “A lot of people were in the race on the same line and mind as us. We had a little battle with people and could constantly see (eventual open men’s winner, Australian Ironman Kendrick Louis) and his boats so we figured if we just stayed in sight of them we’d be alright.”

And they did alright, despite some of the SUP crew catching them towards the end they were on track and keeping an impressive pace.

“The toughest part is always coming into Oahu, it’s so rocky and rough, bouncing and vibrating the board all over the place, it’ just crazy, but at the same time it’s the most exciting part of the race.” 

*See also Wave of the Week / Secret Wave in Neverland

Nick, with Oahu in sight, Photo by Tom

Nick, with Oahu in sight, Photo by Tom

There is a delusion by some people and chatter before the race people say “aw, we’re gonna have so much fun out there.” “It’s a classic delusion of long distance racing, people telling themselves this and then realising it’s not fun at all.”

Reece Burrows got to about 3 hours of the race and was on the same line as us. You could just see in his face, he was thinking ‘this is terrible’. 19 people pulled out this year which was a race record. Conditions got gnarley and the swell entering Oahu reached 8 foot.

“The hardest point of this race is always 8 to10 kilometers out where it gets really rough you’ve already paddled 40ks to get there and it seems like you’re really close but you’ve still got 10k’s in tough, rough conditions. The best racers save energy in the middle working with the ocean’s surface to carry them to the end point then use all their energy for that last sprint.” Said Nick.

Nick and Tom had planned it out that Tom would take the final leg into the finish just before they saw the swell picking up and working the outer banks.

Nick said “I gave to board to Tom to take the waves in, after seeing Aussie iron woman Jordie Mercer take the set of the day in front of us. I thought, this is going to be sick! The first time we did the crossing Tom picked up the board and stood up. I was yelling at him ‘get back down! Don’t lose that board!’ This time he managed to pick up a 4 footer right to the finish. He finally worked out hot to ride the board and cruised past all these people falling off everywhere. It was that incredible Tom Carroll luck that took him right through this field of flailing paddlers right to the finish.”

Jordan Mercer just ahead of the Carrolls taking on the China Walls Sets, Photo by Molokai2Oahu

Jordan Mercer just ahead of the Carrolls taking on the China Walls Sets, Photo by Molokai2Oahu

“Tom and I are mid 50's and even as a team it was tough to deal with that water. You just have to buckle down and think about nothing else. This year we did 35 minutes better than our last time 14 years ago. So, really when we’re 70 we’ll win the whole race.”

And after 9 months of training it wasn’t just about the race. It was about two brothers spending time together, working towards a goal and smashing it in style. “It was really great to spend that much time together.” Said Nick, “We probably won’t do that race again realistically. It was really cool to do as brothers and I feel like we’re lucky to be here and lucky to walk let alone paddle. We worked really well as a team.”

We know these guys, this is not the end. 

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