To contemporary swimmers, what Harry Huffaker faced in the 1960s when he first crossed the 26-mile (42 km) Molokai Channel was unfathomable.
“I used to swim down in Ala Moana, going back and forth time and time again,” recalled Huffaker about the popular, crowded swimming basis near downtown Honolulu within view of Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head volcano.
“Not once did I see another person swimming there. Not one.
Remember I was 27 years old at the time, back in 1967. The Honolulu Marathon had not started. The Waikiki Roughwater Swim did not yet exist. After college, you just got married and went to work. You certainly didn’t do endurance sports.
I remember running in Kapiolani Park and people yelling at me. Police even came up to me because they figured that I must be doing something wrong running through a park.”
So back in 1967 at the age of 27, Huffaker was considered old to be doing sports and even more so for attempting to cross the Molokai Channel, which he eventually did twice in both directions (13 hours 35 minutes in 1967 and 16 hours 15 minutes in 1972).
Now dial forward 48 years and the former dentist will try it again.
Although he is certainly considered old, especially for attempting a 30-mile channel swim, the mindset of society and endurance athletes has changed. People like 73-year-old Otto Thaning from South Africa (12 hours 52 minutes), 70-year-old Cyril Baldock from Australia (12 hours 45 minutes), 70-year-old Roger Allsopp from Great Britain (17 hours 51 minutes), and 70-year-old American George Brunstad (15 hours 59 minutes) have proven that age is relative in the English Channel.
But Huffaker will have 2 years and 5 miles on his English Channel colleagues. While the English Channel is colder and notorious tidal flows, Molokai has sharks, more venomous jellyfish, and its own tidal flows are massive.
Living in Idaho, far away from Hawaii, Huffaker has a unique training plan that came from a simple inquiry from a friend. “How far can you swim?”
He thought, “I don’t really know,” and set out to find out. Swimming from Molokai to Oahu, a stretch of 48.2 kilometers, would be quite a test. And he is giving it an ol’ college try.
“I cycle 30 miles into town and back in addition to swimming tethered in a pool for 2-3 hours and do some shoulder exercises as well as hike twice a week from an elevation of 5,900 feet (1,798m) to 9,400 feet (2,864m) near my home. I try to keep my heart rate above 150 bpm, so we will see how it goes.”
Photo shows Dr. Huffaker at the age of 50 after another Hawaiian Isle channel swim. He has crossed the 30-mile Alenuihaha Channel (Hawaii to Maui) in 20 hours in 1970 after his initial failure of 17 hours. He crossed the Molokai Channel from Molokai to Oahu in 1967 and was the first person to cross between Oahu to Molokai in 1972 after a failed 20-hour attempt. He has swum the Maui Channel three times and was the first person to cross the 9.3-mile Kalohi Channel (Molokai to Lanai) and crossed the 8.5-mile Palilolo Channel (from Maui to Molokai) in 1989.
Copyright © 2015 by World Open Water Swimming Association