Waikiki Roughwater Swim 2013: Hard.


A tagged monk seal woke up to a few thousand people on the beach for the Waikiki Roughwater Swim.

A tagged monk seal woke up to a crowd on the beach for the Waikiki Roughwater Swim.

Labor Day 2013 at Kaimana Beach was calm. The ocean appeared gentle, no waves barrelled up against the shore, no white caps popped on the horizon. It was deceptive. I should have taken a cue from the monk seal we discovered snoozing above the shoreline at about 7:30 a.m. When it realized there were about 2,000 people on the beach, half of whom were getting ready to swim 2.34 miles, the seal slid into the drink and away from the cameras and commotion. Pretty sure I saw the seal again as I was swimming from the sixth to the seventh buoy on what felt like an amazing swim to nowhere. Heh.

Smooth as glass. How hard could it be? It was hard.

Smooth as glass. How hard could it be? It was hard.

Swimming the Waikiki Roughwater Swim is like giving birth. You train for months for this marathon ocean swim, it’s a huge pain in the ass, and when you finish you swear you are through. The End. Finis. But while you might take a few months to warm up to having another kid, the very next day you’re telling your loved ones how NEXT YEAR I’M GOING TO DO IT BETTER. Loved ones roll their eyes knowingly, because they knew already. I’m that swimmer. Find me again, probably in wave D, trying to bust my ass to surface at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in under two hours. A year older, 20 minutes faster? Could it happen? I have to believe it will.

Here’s my results via Garmin: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/369712023.

Me and the sign.

Me and the sign.

Looks like I went wide around the first buoy, wove in and out of buoys 2-9, and turned this 2.34-mile plan into a 2.75-mile swim. My husband calls me an overachiever. LOL. Like I said, it seemed flat, the trade winds blew briskly from east to west, and
it felt at first as though it would be a quick swim, much like the last North Shore Swim Series 2.4-mile swim from Pipeline to Waimea Bay, which I did in 01:32:52. I mean, why couldn’t I expect to finish this in less than two hours?!

But let’s talk about the differences between this swim and last year’s. This year I was always within sight of other swimmers. Last year I was alone a lot, surrounded by blue and wondering if I was being watched by big sharks. This year, I wondered the same thing, but most of the time I didn’t worry about it because I was amazed at all the fish I was seeing! It was amazing! Black, blue, yellow, parrot fish, humuhumunukunukuapuaa, brainy coral heads, turtles! Some swimmers saw a hammerhead, but I didn’t. We have plenty of those in Maunalua Bay here in Hawaii Kai, they’re harmless and pretty cool to look at. I got a really bad charlie horse cramp in my right leg as I was approaching the finish. It was so bad I had to stop and stick my foot up and out to give it a stretch. It was horrible! I was worried I wouldn’t be able to walk, let alone run, up the beach across the timing mat. But I did and it was AOK. I worked so hard in this swim. My arms felt like jelly for hours afterward.

While I was out there swimming my little 2.75-mile marathon, I thought of Diana Nyad, who was swimming from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage and with a University of Hawaii scientist in her crew who is an expert on jellyfish. I’ve encountered my share of box jellyfish and manowar jellies, and I can appreciate that.

I also thought about small-kid time on swim team at Riverdel Swim Club in Riverside, N.J. Every summer, we’d be at the pool by 7:30 in the morning for swim team practice that went until 9 a.m. Then we’d stay all day until afternoon swim team practice at 4 p.m. After the big Tri-County meet, we’d spend a few weeks on Long Beach Island, working on our tans, riding the waves, beach combing, our hair bleached by the sun, our noses peeling.

Now I wear sunscreen. But I still have fun being an ocean girl. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t bother.

The Flutter


On Saturday I participated in the third North Shore Swim Series event, where hundreds of us swam from the start at Chun’s Reef to Waimea Bay. The instructions were sparse. Start here, get there, and do it any way you want. Having completed my first two of the series in a weird distance-adding zigzag, I got into the water and lined up my goal between the church tower and a cleared patch of green on the mountainside to the right of it. When I swim in the ocean, I have a difficult time finding the buoys set up along the swim. First of all there are too few, and secondly, they are the same color as the swim caps they gave to the men. Bright yellow and neon green swim caps would be so much better. It’s so disappointing to realize that what you thought was a buoy was just some guy you are passing.

I took off among other swimmers and sighted often and well enough to stay on course. The tower was always in the right place. But before I got half way, I realized no one was around me. Apparently, my plan was no one else’s plan. I looked around and swam toward shore and other swim caps that had the same destination. But I was never really close enough to anyone else until I entered Waimea Bay. And even then I felt alone. A water patrol guy on a jet ski circled me and I thought for sure I was last. I always think the worst.

Before we started I was hanging out with my masters teammates and they suggested I swim with them. I wish I had as they finished about 16 minutes before me. If anything I would have had a faster start. Then I went over to talk to my other teammates. One of them asked if I was going to swim in their chain and I said, sure if that’s OK. Well, it wasn’t. I was told no. I couldn’t find my masters friends so I went into the water, alone among 500 or so other swimmers.

For ocean swim races, we are trained to draft off the bubbles of the swimmers before you. The problem for me is that all of a sudden I’m alone making my own bubbles. I have found peace as a solo swimmer at sea.

Ocean swimming is my Zen. I enjoy the feel of the water, the rhythm of my breathing and my arms as I watch the action below. Sometimes I am surrounded by nothing but blue. It is deep, lonely and peaceful. When I first started a sting ray skimmed the bottom below us. Beneath me a school of needlefish pointed toward Kauai as I headed toward Waimea. My Garmin stats indicate I stayed the course better than I had before.

When I got to a buoy, and I still don’t know if it was the first of two or the only one out there before the bay, I checked my Garmin and it said I had been swimming 40 minutes (winners were dried off by then). So I figured that I probably would finish at about 1:20:xx. I checked for the tower, looked around for other swimmers (too far away), and swam with renewed determination, finishing at 01:16:14 (last year I did it in 53 minutes. Currents can be so fickle). The giant boulders below were a deep blue, dappled with coral heads and sea urchins, uhu and humuhumunukunukuapuaa darted in and out of the shadows.

All of a sudden this huge push of energy swooshed right under my torso. There were no other swimmers near me, so it couldn’t have been a kick. I stopped and looked left and behind me and saw a big turtle about 12 feet away. I didn’t look right. I wondered if there was something chasing that turtle, and that something would be a shark. As an ocean swimmer, I constantly think about the possibility of a shark chasing me. I’ve seen them while I was out surfing, I’ve had a big something bang up against my leg while sitting on a surfboard, but when you’re swimming, there isn’t anything to hold onto except your thoughts.

I realized that if a shark wanted me it would have me and no one would have known. I’d like to think that I wouldn’t have known either. And the organizers wouldn’t have realized it until my chip, #115, didn’t make it to shore. My husband would be waiting at the finish, camera poised, taking pictures of everyone else while waiting for me to show up. I hope I always do.

This has been a tough year for me. I’ve done my absolute best to stay positive. That swoosh of energy, that flutter that stopped me in my swim, felt like the swift kick in the stomach that keeps coming at me in 2013. I’m holding on because I know that flutters can feel good, too. Rearranging my world to assure they happen.

Whole Hearted, Half Assed.

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