BRASIL TO BE SURFSKI’S “NEXT BIG GROWTH AREA” SAYS OSCAR CHALUPSKY
Oscar Chalupsky knows paddling potential when he sees it.
The South African has been at the forefront of surfski since the very start. Between then, his 12 Molokai titles and now, he’s also travelled the globe, coaching and sharing his passion.
So, when he says this about Brasil, you know the nation holds something truly unique.
“I helped pioneer the paddling fraternity in Hong Kong and Dubai, Tahiti, Holland all of these places.” Chalupsky says. “But Brasil is something a bit more special because they have a huge paddling culture.
“Not only surfski, but outrigger, va’a, and OC1… it’s huge here, really. It’s huge.
“I think it’s going to be the next big growth area in the world.”
It’s not a claim Chalupsky makes lightly, but it’s one he truly believes after visiting the country for the first time.
He’s always been aware of Brasil’s paddling scene. They’ve sent a team to every ICF Ocean Racing World Championships since the event began in 2013. But after being invited to the Molokabra race last month, this was his chance to see the community up close.
And it exceeded all expectations.
“In the whole two months that I had been watching it closely, Windguru showed there was only one hour that was blowing less than 15 knots.
“But it was actually 10 times better than I thought it was going to be.”
“Can you imagine? Every single day it’s 30 knots, its warm water, and when you come in it is the simplest thing because there’s no waves? It was incredible.”
The Molokabra race itself is a nothing short of an adventure.
Held along the north-eastern coast of Brasil, the event pays homage to the iconic Molokai to Oahu Challenge with four consecutive days of downwind racing.
Participants can opt into individual stages or tackle the four-day epic, paddling 125 kilometres in total.
That schedule makes for daunting reading, but according to Chalupsky, it’s almost the opposite.
The numbers back him up, too. More than 350 ocean-lovers took part in this year’s event, paddling surfskis, SUPS and outriggers.
“They’re trying to work with the Molokai because it’s everybody’s dream. But after being here, everyone’s dream should be to do the Molokabra.”
“I’ve done many Molokai’s in a headwind or in completely flat conditions, but here, it’s 100% downwind all of the time.
“At this time of year, you’re always guaranteed wind 24/7.”
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Still, it’s an arduous challenge for any paddler to take on – let alone for Chalupsky, who is battling bone marrow cancer.
Now living back in Portugal, Oscar finished his last round of chemotherapy the day before he and wife Claire flew to Brasil.
“The doctor shakes his head every time he sees me, saying ‘What are you crazy? You should be lying in bed recovering from this chemo shit.’
“But that doesn’t bother me. I have fun and I meet people and I spread the surski word.
“Most feelings are governed by the brain. If your brain says there’s no feeling, then there’s no feeling.
“I don’t believe in headaches, it’s all in your head. It’s bullshit. If there’s no headache, there’s no headache. If there’s no cancer, there’s no cancer.”
With that attitude, it’s no surprise the ever-competitive Chalupsky went there with every intention to win.
But it didn’t come easily.
“The guys aren’t slow. When they take off at the start, they just put kilometres into me before the waves.” He says.
“But within four kilometres, you’re doing four-minute pace, within five you’re doing 3.50, by six or seven you’re doing 3.40’s, then by eight or nine you’re going under 3.30’s in the wind.”
Ultimately, that consistency proved the difference.
Oscar Chalupsky claimed the 2021 Molokabra title in a cumulative time of five hours and nine minutes across the four stages – only 75 seconds ahead of Luiz Pecoraro in second and Alexandre Ferreira in third.
“It was fantastic to win,” he says. “My wife Claire gets mad, saying ‘Oh you don’t have to prove anything!’
“But I like to be competitive, and I like to race, and it was fantastic to win.
“Even in the videos where I’m killing myself to push over some waves, it’s a lot of fun for me, and again, it teaches a lot of people.”
“Everyone I paddled with got faster, and faster, and faster just in the time I was there, because with education, you get faster.
“I coached 50 to 60 people over the two weeks, just out there catching waves and having fun, and I think that’s the most important thing… people were loving it.”
That was one of Oscar’s big takeaways from his Brasilian experience.
They just love paddling.
“I met guys from the Amazon that actually paddle on the Amazon River,” he recalls.
“They said if the wind blows in one direction and the tide moves in the other, they can get runs like The Gorge!”
The other lasting impression is just how bright Brasil’s surfski future is.
The standard of event organisation and execution is as good as Chalupsky has seen anywhere in the world.
His favourite part? The use of a timing system that meant he didn’t have to run up the beach.
“Believe me, I am still useless in getting out of the boat and trying to walk up the beach… whether it’s five metres or fifty metres, I can still lose 10 places and that really pisses me off.”
“I am really excited because these people have shown us what surfski paddling is all about and also what it is capable of.”
“It’s fantastic that a country like that has developed this [timing].”
Chalupsky saw enough in competition to know that he won’t be able to claim too many more Molokabra titles, either.
He says it’s undeniable – the Brasilian wave of surfski is coming.
“Absolutely,” he says. “You look at Europe, I started teaching Gordan Harbrecht and Walter Bouzan, I shared with them all of my knowledge… and they’ve both done fantastically well.
“It’s like anything. It’s like Gordan, it’s like Walter… it’ll take two or three years.
“You can’t expect them to come out of nothing and be the best in the world, but with the right training and the right aptitude and these kind of downwinds, they’re going to get good… they have to.”
“One day we will see Brasil become one of the top paddling nations.
“Look at surfing. How long did it take them to dominate surfing? Now, it’s not even close.”
Oscar is determined to ensure it does arrive, too.
He’s planning to return to Brasil in November with a team from NELO to see if it really is “too good to be true” and also another trip in April.
The manufacturer is exploring the feasibility of surfski camps and hubs in the nation, and Chalupsky wants to be at the project’s centre, nurturing Brasil’s passionate paddlers.
“There are so many paddling communities and they are starved for education and coaching and knowing how to get better,” he explains.
“The talent is here. It has to be. 210 million people. They just have to have talent.
“I love getting involved and they are so enthusiastic and passionate about this sport… why not help them to do it correctly?”
“The people that are willing to take you in and are willing to listen, those are the people that improve the fastest.