The 49th Annual Waikiki Roughwater Swim will be held on Saturday.
The 2.384-mile (3.84 km) course from Kaimana Beach to Duke Kahanamoku Beach is renowned among triathletes for its distance that became standard in full Ironman triathlons, but the swim has always held a special place in the hearts of swimmers throughout the Pacific Rim.
The first of traditional four heats – set apart by 5 minutes – are always headlined by Olympians and world and national swimming champions. This year, as in the recent past, there are additional heats for fin swimmers and disabled swimmers. Heat 7 includes paraplegic swimmers and those who utilize wheelchairs like Daryl Holmlund and Zach Pickett and disabled stroke victim James Akaka. Kaia Hedlund writes, “James is a nice guy and a stud, but he has physical limitations and uses a wheelchair. He swims backstroke and has a pace swimmer with him.”
“The conditions are range from beautifully tranquil with a strong current pushing the swimmers to the finish – or the exact opposite,” says former race director Steven Munatones. “In 2011, for example, there were 865 swimmers who started, but only 1 did not finish. The next year, only 891 of 1,119 swimmers finished. In 2013, only 923 of 1,100 total starters finished. In 2014, it was 835 out of 1,013. In 2015, the race was cancelled due to high surf and rough conditions. In 2016, 433 people finished out of 672 starters.”
Hedlund adds, “Due to [recent] storms we anticipate lots of late registrations if the weather on Saturday clears up as expected.” But Kenny Rust and his Aloha Surf Lifesaving team of professional lifesavers use 5 Jet Skis, 10 SUPs and paddle boards coordinate with a number of other safety personnel both on the water and onshore. The Hui Wa’a Kaukahi kayak club of Honolulu provides 20 volunteers to patrols the course and support Rust and team.
“It is interesting to note that the tourist-filled Atlantis Submarines suspend its operations during the race as they occur the same general are as the outside of the course. Take it Live Swim provides a live and archived webcast of the event.”
With a race of this size and intensity, interference with other swimmers are monitored. “Any purposeful gross interference with other swimmers that is observed or witnessed by any of five different race personnel – led by George Kane – along the course will render the person subject to disqualification. This includes pull backs, dunking, violent behavior or any action that can cause harm to another person. On the beach, any intentional flagrant interference with another swimmer in order to gain advantage like pushing, tripping, tackling, etc. will also render the perpetrator subject to disqualification.
Anyone who false starts with a step ahead of their group will receive a five-minute penalty.“
Of course, Rhys Mainstone of Australia, a 4-time champion, cannot be counted out and will be in the hunt in the lead pack as will be Wes Roberts, a Cook Islands 1500m Olympia swimmer, professional German marathon swimmer Alex Studzinski, 2016 champion Ollie Signorini and Australian Solomon Wright.
1976 American Olympian Casey Converse will also take part.
On the women’s side, University of Hawaii swimmers Aukai Lileikis and Phoebe Hines, the defending champion, may be tough to beat. But 2-time champion and USA Swimming national team member Becca Mann and 2017 5 km world champion Ashley Twitchell will push the pace very hard from the start on Kaimana Beach so it will be interesting to see the battle between the locals and visitors.
Jim Cotton – who will compete on Saturday as the oldest swimmer – started the race in 1970 and modeled the concept after the La Jolla Rough Water Swim in California. “But we didn’t want the same triangle course as they had in La Jolla. So we thought that a point-to-point swim would be better.”
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