Redhead paddleboarder Stewart McLachlan is eyeing the unlimited category world crown after surviving two close encounters with a monster shark to clinch a fourth consecutive Molokai 2 Oahu title in Hawaii in record-breaking time.
The 30-year-old claimed the stock (12-foot) board category in the 52-kilometre race on Monday morning (AEST), crossing 'The Channel of Bones' in four hours, 43 minutes and 46 seconds. He finished clear of Noosa Heads' Lachie Lansdown (4:45:23) and well inside his own 2017 record of 5:02:43.
McLachlan was determined to break the five-hour barrier. Now he is aiming to step up at next year's Molokai 2 Oahu world titles to the unlimited category, which countryman Matt Bevilacqua has dominated the past five years.
"I'm done with that category now," McLachlan said.
"I'm working with the guys down at Redhead Kracka to build an unlimited board. The next pursuit is to win that and break that record and then I'll call it a day.
"Bevy will be the big competition. I'll be nearly 32, with two kids, working full-time, so it will be pretty interesting to see how the training stacks up against a full-time athlete.
"This year, in terms of distances, it's the closest a stock has ever been to an unlimited board. I was 22 minutes off, and the first year Bevy beat me by 40."
Favourable currents, a new board, added strength training and adjustments to his nutrition all helped McLachlan finish 50 minutes quicker than last year.
"It's the most comfortable I've been across the channel, even though it's the fastest we've gone and it was a close race," he said.
"I didn't have any cramps in my upper body, which is completely abnormal in that sort of race, and I flew home from the line I took."
Adding to his focus this year were two frightening experiences with the "biggest shark I've ever seen".
"It came under me twice, for about a minute at a time. It turned over and just sat underneath my board, looking at me," he said. "It felt like it was 10 centimetres below the water but it was probably a metre because the water is so clear. It just cruised underneath me. It was insane.
"I was about three hours into the race and that's the last thing you want to see when you're 35ks into the channel."
His support boat maneuvered to scare the shark away but it returned two minutes later.
"It definitely took away the pain because I wasn't thinking about anything but not dying," he said. "My board is 12 foot and it was just as big as my board. Obviously I couldn't see behind my legs but it was the nose all the way back, as far as I could see."