Cory Hill says his fourth Molokai Challenge win is just as special as his others, but concedes the reduced field of paddlers does take some of the shine off his victory.

Just 10 surfskis took on the iconic 52 kilometre crossing between the Hawaiian islands of Molokai and Oahu, a sharp fall from the 39 solo competitors in 2023.

That didn’t make it any easier for Hill, however, who crossed the line in 3 hours, 40 minutes and 48 seconds after a testing battle with revered local paddler Pat Dolan (3:45:04). 

Cole Jones (4:07:19) rounded out the podium, as Hill entrenched himself further in the race’s long history by collecting another crown.

The Perfect Boat for any Paddler

“It’s pretty special,” he told The Paddler.

“Hank [McGregor] has four titles, so to sit alongside him is really cool for me. 

“Even last year, winning a third to draw next to Clint Robinson. I know Grant Kenny has won five… the history of the race has always been something in my mind.

“If four is all it is at the end of my career, I’m really happy with what I’ve achieved.”

Hill celebrating his third Molokai Challenge victory in 2023.

Hill has no intention of finishing his career with just four Molokai crowns, but there are concerns around the long-term future of the race.

The size of the surfski field has steadily declined over the past 20 years.

The COVID era was particularly difficult for race organisers, the Kanaka Ikaika Racing Association, to navigate, while Shaw and Partners Financial Services also walked away as naming rights partner after just one year.

The Paddler has spoken with the Kanaka Ikaika Racing Association about the future of the Molokai Challenge in that article will be published in the coming days.

“I was really surprised by the numbers,” Hill admits.

“I speak to so many people who say that this is a bucket-list race they’re desperate to do. There’s so much going for it – it’s in Hawaii so it’s a great destination and the weather is amazing for a holiday, so it does surprise me that there weren’t more paddlers.

“I’m aware that there are constraints, though. There’s a limited number of surfskis and plenty of people are feeling cost-of-living pressure at the moment… it’s tough.”

The Perfect Boat for any Paddler

Sitting on the start line, Hill still knew what to expect. 

Earlier this month, Dolan won PA’A Hawaii’s Kaiwi Channel OC1 crossing in an incredible performance.

And after the race, he revealed the outrigger endeavour was designed to serve his surfski campaign.

“My last surfski solo was rough [Dolan finished 10th in 2023] and forced me to take a step back and see what I am missing. I need to compete.” He posted on social media.

“Racing surfski in Hawaii is lonely. With only a few guys in our season’s races, the competition isn’t like what Australia and South Africa have. 

“Instead of travelling to races around the world, I decided to get back on the slower craft to compete with the ever-growing quick and young field of OC1 paddlers.”


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That had Hill on alert.

“Pat is such a strong paddler,” Hill says. “This was his third or fourth podium in this race.”

“I went back through previous results to see how close we have been in the past, and the year that I broke the record he was just two minutes behind me.

“I think he gets forgotten about just because he doesn’t come to Australia or Hong Kong or any of those big races. But I have no doubt if he did, he’d be right there.”

“For 20 kilometres there, I was looking at him thinking, ‘You are one of the world’s best.’ But I feel like if he won it by himself today without me being here, people might dismiss his performance as a Hawaiian paddler winning a local Hawaiian race. He was fantastic.”

The Perfect Boat for any Paddler

Dolan didn’t hold back in the opening exchanges of the race.

In fact, he surged ahead to take an early lead as Hill chose to bide his time.

“That was my plan, although admittedly, the gap probably extended further than I would’ve liked.

“I had it in my mind that I wanted to get to 20 kilometres before essentially starting my race, because from there, there’s essentially two hours to go. That’s when I got into my work.”

Hill soon took the lead, but he admits to never quite feeling comfortable.

Although conditions looked favourable for the crossing, albeit quite bumpy, it was also slow-going.

Unlike previous years, Hill says there were few kilometres under the four minute mark.

And after separating lines with Dolan, it had him somewhat on edge.

The Perfect Boat for any Paddler

“I actually find it easier to monitor say 15 people’s whereabouts, rather than focus on just one, and see where they are the whole time.” He says.

“I was yelling at the boat asking, ‘Where’s Pat?’ Being a local boy, I was wondering whether he was taking a different line for a reason and trying to look for him.

“It was a bit like snakes and ladders. Is he in faster water and hooking? Back home, if I paddle at that intensity I’m doing 3:30 kilometres. Today, it was 4 minutes. So you start to wonder what it’s like on a different line.”

“I think today, he probably went too far south and that’s where I was able to open the gap.”

Hill and his family are now enjoying a well-earned holiday in Hawaii, although he’s already started to think ahead.

Winning a record fourth ICF Ocean Racing World Championship in Portugal later this year is a major priority, before returning to Australia for the Shaw and Partners WA Race Week and Doctor where he’s had so much success.

The scale of those events creates a contrast to this year’s Molokai Challenge, but even in the current uncertainty, his outlook is clear.

“As long as the race is on, I’ll be coming back. That’s for sure.”