Welcome to Extreme Exposure, a weekly column rapping on the best photography and news from the world of action and outdoor sports. In this edition: Travis Grant wins his second Molokai2Oahu, the Special Olympics World Games open and Tahiti goes Code Red.
Paddling the 32-mile channel between Molokai and Oahu is never easy. Bumpy seas, warm temperatures and those 32 miles can suck the soul right out of you. But this weekend’s Molokai2Oahu Race was especially mind-bending for paddlers who crossed the “Channel of Bones” in what is the unofficial long-distance World Championships for stand-up and prone paddling. Usually, racers are helped along by wind that creates surfable swell on the open ocean, aiding in their crossing. But on Sunday, the wind was nil and the seas were flat, creating a slog of a paddle.
But that’s why Travis Grant’s win this year was all the more special. The 32-year-old Australian, who now lives on Oahu, won his second Molokai title, outlasting the sport’s best athletes. “It wasn’t really the kind of race I was hoping for,” Grant told SI.com. “But I new how I wanted to play it (in those conditions) and I just threw down from the start and kind of shocked (everyone).” Grant sprinted away from the starting line and never relinquished the lead, besting second-place finisher Kai Lenny by 15 minutes. “It’s the toughest, most meaningful race you could possibly compete in,” he added
Fellow Australian Jordan Mercer won her fifth consecutive title in the prone paddleboard. She’s now halfway to Jamie Mitchell’s all-time mark of 10 consecutive titles.
It’s a huge week in Los Angeles as the Special Olympics World Games kicked off this weekend with some 6,500 athletes descending on the City of Angels. And Noah Dellas had one of the most important wins in recent World Games history when he won the first ever triathlon gold medal. The 17-year-old from New Jersey has big expectations for his triathlon career, telling ESPN he hopes to compete at a high level in the sport some day. Dellas wakes everyday at 3 a.m. to swim and lift weights before school, then rides his bike when he gets home. “I push myself as far as I can go,” he said. “And then eventually farther.”
There’s overcoming fear. And then there’s Keala Kennelly. In 2011, during a World Tour event in Tahiti, Kennelly paddled out at small Teahupoo for an exhibition heat. She didn’t expect to take the wipeout of her life as the lip clipped her in the head, slamming her into the shallow reef. Her face was mangled and she was rushed to a Tahitian hospital two hours away where she went into surgery to save the skin on the right side of her head.
So this week, when Teahupoo went Code Red, it was more than sweet redemption as the former World Tour competitor caught arguably the best wave of the swell (pictured). She didn’t make it out of the barrel but her courage was put squarely on display. “I have PTSD from the impact (of that wipeout in 2011),” Kennelly told the Surf Channel in March. “When stuff like that happens and you’re able to go back out there and stand up to your fears and succeed, there’s something so empowering about that.”
Man on Fire
And in other Teahupoo news, Jamie O’Brien flew to Tahiti for the swell last week ... to light himself on fire in the barrel. Why? Good question. “I got a direct message on Instagram that said it would be cool if you lit yourself on fire,” he said. “And I kinda thought, ‘Why not?’ So I went to Red Bull and said, ‘Hey, I want to light myself on fire and get barreled at Teahupo'o.’ They looked at me like, ‘Are you for real?’"
Even if the rational isn’t, well, deep, the stunt definitely took some planning. O’Brien worked with Hollywood stuntman Riley Harper, wore a fire-resistant wetsuit, covered himself with a flammable substance, had a friend light him on fire with a blowtorch, then stepped off a jetski into a heaving tube. If you haven’t checked out O’Brien’s Redbull web series, Who Is JOB, do it. The show centers on O’Brien’s unquenchable thirst to try and kill himself.