The 2017 Molokai to Oahu Paddleboard Championships held moments of triumph, personal challenge and feats of incredible athleticism. Perhaps one of the most poignant was the personal victory of F-ONE team rider Josh Riccio.
Josh has a heart as fierce as his paddle stroke. His goal has been to do well in the Molokai to Oahu Paddleboard championships all year and, this year, he had his sights set on winning the Men’s Stock 14′ division. Not only did he succeed, but Josh came in 8th overall AND won the 14′ stock class by nearly 45 minutes.
This is one young man to watch, Josh Riccio. Here it is in his own words: how that race felt, his strategy and his passion for the art of downwinding.
Josh Riccio: Victory at M2O result of strategy & equipment
“It is pretty hard at the moment to describe how stoked I am to win the 14′ stock class for this year’s Molokai to Oahu Challenge. It definitely was my biggest personal goal going into the year!” – Josh Riccio
What was your strategy this year?
My strategy for this year’s M2O race was to really focus on reading and riding the bumps as efficiently as possible. This meant I would press forward when the opportunity to connect several bumps presented itself, but always paddle efficiently in between the big glides.
“I use the other paddlers around me to gauge my line and performance, so I kept my sights on Travis Grant and Connor Baxter.”
M2O is a long race and the conditions were expected to be pretty challenging at the end of the course due to an unfavorable wind. I use the other paddlers around me to gauge my line and performance, so I kept my sights on Travis Grant and Connor Baxter. That way, I could to check to see how their strategies and lines were different from mine and – if so – how that decision was paying off for them.
I always try to have a few race strategies and backup plans if things are not going the right way. This is when a good escort boat captain can really come into play. The day before the race the Captain and I went over a whole list of different scenarios that we might find ourselves in during the course of the channel crossing.
How does this year compare to last year in terms of conditions?
The conditions this year were the fastest I’ve ever seen in my 4 years of racing the Molokai to Oahu Paddleboard Championships. However, the China Wall and headwinds at the end were also the most challenging I have ever seen in those 4 years as well. The trade winds had been blowing strong for several days leading up to race and by 8AM that day were already blowing consistently around 20mph. The wind gradually increased throughout the race creating some insane conditions. I crossed the 16-mile mark at 2 hours 3 minutes, so at that meant my pace was putting me on the finish line well ahead of the stock sup course record set by Kai Lenny.
As expected, my average pace started to drop around mile 26 due to a strong tidal current running against us. The result of strong current running against a strong trade wind made the backwash and surges off of China Wall really challenging. Even though I managed to stay on my feet through the whole leg around China Wall it was so hard to get the board gliding on any bumps against that current.
“The headwind almost beat me in those last 1.5 miles.”
I usually like the rough water out by China Walls, but on Sunday I was really looking forward to pulling into Maunaloa Bay and finishing the last 1.5 mile upwind stretch. Even though I caught and connected waves on almost every little part of the reef on the way into the finish, the headwind almost beat me in those last 1.5 miles. I ended up off the board about 6 times in that final stretch, but I managed to just out power the headwind long enough to finish at 4:36:45.
Did you use a new board design for the course?
Yeah, I got my first 14’x23.5″ Downwind board from F-One in May. Even though I’ve gotten some great results on that board with a 7th place overall at Olukai, 1st place stock class at Paddle Imua, and 2nd place stock class Maui 2 Molokai, I was feeling a few things I wanted to modify for Molokai 2 Oahu. The first downwind board wasn’t bad, but with Molokai 2 Oahu being my biggest goal this year, I asked the crew at F-One if it would be possible to
make a second 14’x23.5″ Downwind board for me in time for M2O. Seemingly without delay, F-One took my thoughts and feedback from the first 14′ downwinder and created for me a second generation 14’x23.5″ downwind board.
“…with Molokai 2 Oahu being my biggest goal this year, I asked the crew at F-One if it would be possible to make a second 14×23.5 Downwind board for me in time for M2O.”
I actually got the board just 5 days before the race so I got to use it for one 10 mile Maliko run and one 13 mile Kamalo run (sec\on of the Maui 2 Molokai ). It immediately felt great under my feet. The new board was faster in the flats, lower in volume, less weight, and maneuvered better in the bumps. I brought both boards with me for Molokai 2 Oahu just in case I needed a backup, but after the Kamalo run I was extremely confident that the newer downwind board was the one!
Working with F-ONE to create the right ride for the conditions
“In my opinion, equipment is a huge factor in our sport.”
Considering the results I have had on the first 14’x23.5″, I was confident in both
boards’ abilities. In my opinion, equipment is a huge factor in our sport, especially right now, because you have so many different companies producing so many different designs. It requires the serious brands and dedicated athletes to keep up with the pace of progress when it comes to board design.
“As a full time sup athlete passionately pursuing my goals… I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have F-One boards under my feet.”
I have been training more this year than in the past but I definitely have to give the guys at F-One a lot of credit for designing and building some incredible race boards for me. I’m amazed at how good the boards are performing, especially with this being our first year working together.
As a full time sup athlete passionately pursuing my goals, to compete against the world’s best paddlers at the world’s most competitive Sup events, I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have F-One boards under my feet.
Did you have a specific training regimen for the course?
M2O was not only my biggest goal for 2017, but also the longest and most physically demanding race on my 2017 schedule. I started training in the end of January to figure out where my cardio base was. From there, I began with weekly interval training.
“Even though I have done around 50 Maliko runs or 500 miles in preparation for M2O this year, I wish I could have done more downwinding.”
January and February this year on Maui were terrible months for downwinding, so it forced me to do nothing but flatwater interval training and surfing until March. We just didn’t seem to have any trade winds over 10mph until March. So, even though I have done around 50 Maliko runs or 500 miles in preparation for M2O this year, I wish I could have done more downwinding. I had a 5 week trip that started late March for the Santa Cruz Paddlefest, until late April after the Carolina Cup. So, when I got back to Maui, it was basically May and the trade winds were blowing. I averaged 3-5 Maliko runs per week pretty much every week since May.
Downwinding: You must ride in order to read the glide
I really wanted to put myself through as many miles and different conditions as possible to increase my understanding of my environment and skills as a downwinder. I really think the mileage helped me improve my mental ability to read the bumps and make the best decisions with my energy.
“To me, downwinding is just like surfing in the sense that it requires skills beyond physical strength and conditioning.”
I was a surfer before paddling took over my life so I always tend to relate things back to surfing and, to me, downwinding is just like surfing in the sense that it requires skills beyond physical strength and conditioning. These are important and necessary, but just like John John Florence needs to surf to get better, a downwinder needs to ride more bumps to get more proficient at riding bumps. To me, there is no substitute for downwinders just as there isn’t one for surfers. It’s a great thing because I’ve been really fortunate to call Maui home since 2010. I’m lucky to have some of the world’s best downwind runs an hour away from my bed.
Written by, Josh Riccio