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.

By lavagal

Hawaii Kai wife and mom. Melanoma Stage 3a Cancer survivor. English Language Arts teacher, English Learners Coordinator, and Paraprofessional Tutor. Super sub teacher. Dormant triathlete. Road cyclist and Masters swimmer. Gardener. Mrs. Fixit. Random dancer. Music Curator. A teenager trapped in an aging body. Did you know 60 is the new 40? It is.


  1. Hang in there, Paula! I too have had a bad start to 2013, it’s been one kick after another, but like finishing the swim, you’ll claw your way out of this year too! Half the battle is getting back out there and you seem to be doing that with panache. Something good will lift your spirits here soon!

  2. I’m glad that when that turtlepedo barreled past you, you weren’t aware of what I had seen: the sharked-chomped, tailless uhu that a guy on a SUP had brought, still wiggling, to shore. He said he had scared the shark off out by the corner of the bay. Then again, if it only took the tail, it might not have been a turtle-predator sized fish. And those sharks don’t frighten off so easily.

    Congratulations on your swim. Maybe you can hang with your masters crew for the final event of the series. I suspect you can go even faster with some fast, friendly company. 🙂

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