ʻEwa Beach Father and Daughter Take On Molokaʻi Channel

Kirk and Bailey Fritz have a special father/daughter Sunday planned for July — they’ll be prone paddleboarding 32 miles across one of the world’s most dangerous ocean channels.

They’re a two-person relay team in the Molokaʻi to Oʻahu Paddleboard World Championships, which bills itself as the world’s most challenging paddle race.

Bailey, who is heading into 10th grade, is a surfer, open-water swimmer, and dancer who trains with Xpress Danceof Kapolei. She’s the oldest of five children to Kirk, who is the athletic and wellness director of Ko Olina Beach + Sports Club. He’s held that position since 2010. The Fritz family lives in ʻEwa Beach.

The race will have a deeper meaning to Kirk and Bailey, because they are doing it to raise money for Hawaiʻi Food Bank. When I spoke to Kirk and Bailey, they had raised $3,000 of their $5,000 fundraising goal.

“$5,000 provides over 12,500 meals,” Kirk told me. He said thinking about that — and the fact that more than 1 in 8 people in Hawaiʻi, including 54,000 keiki, need food assistance — will be a big motivator for him and Bailey as they fight treacherous waters on their way home.

You can join the dozens of local folks who are supporting the team by donating here. Some of the Fritz’ initial supporters include Ko Olina Resort and Community Associations, Boca Hawaii, Surftech Hawaii, and Geo-tech Hawaii.

Molokaʻi Channel, also known as Kaiwi Channel, is renowned as one of the most challenging water crossings in the world.

The Channel’s waters are so treacherous because of the deep, narrow canyon between the islands of Oʻahu and Molokaʻi. In the 26 miles between the two islands, the ocean floor plunges to 2,300 feet below sea level, creating unpredictable currents.

So, when I asked Kirk and Bailey what their target time is, it wasn’t a very good question. “You never know what the conditions are going to be,” Kirk said. “It’s ever-changing. That’s why people come back year after year.”

For example, in the men’s standup paddleboard division, Travis Baptiste won the 2014 race with a time of 4 hours, 23 minutes, and 54 seconds. The next year, his time was more than an hour slower — but he still finished first.

To train, Kirk and Bailey have been doing open-water paddles of between 6 and 12 miles. They did one between Hawaiʻi Kai and Hanauma Bay last weekend. The challenge, Kirk told me, is getting used to the inevitable wind bumps and swells. Bailey’s comment? “It was fun.”

Kirk and Bailey will fly to Molokaʻi the day before the race. On race day, Kirk will do the first 30-minute leg, while Bailey rides on an escort boat. When it’s time to switch, the escort boat will search for Kirk (hopefully finding him easier because of their bright green paddleboard).

Kirk will come alongside the boat (you aren’t allowed to gain an advantage by drafting), Bailey will jump off and get on the board. The departing rider is allowed to give their teammate a push to get them started.

The plan is for Bailey to do the final leg and finish the race. How many 30-minute legs will dad and daughter have to do in-between? That’s for the ocean to decide.