Just Keep Swimming

Hanalei Bay takes center stage for Nāmolokama O’ Hanalei Canoe Club’s annual Hanalei Bay Swim Challenge, this year slated for July 27.

After the 2018 flooding that devastated Kaua‘i’s North Shore and put the annual Hanalei Bay Swim Challenge on hold, Nāmolokama O’ Hanalei Canoe Club’s signature event returns as a stroke of hope for the community.

The Hanalei Bay Swim Challenge was named one of the top 100 American Open Water Swims by World Open Water Swimming Association, and those interested in taking on this national aquatic wonder can head to the iconic beach-front July 27 on Kaua‘i’s North Shore.

The event began back in 2006, when Jim and Barbara Smith, longtime paddlers and members of Nāmolokama O’ Hanalei Canoe Club, came up with the idea of an open-water swim as a club fundraiser. Jim regularly competed in triathlons and did a majority of his training in Hanalei Bay, so the Smiths thought it was the perfect location for an open-water swim event.

Nāmolokama O’ Hanalei Canoe Club president Hobey Beck poses with dad Nick, who is one of the founders of the club.

That first year, there were approximately 60 swimmers, mostly from the North Shore. Thirteen years later, the event has grown to well over 200 participants and an additional 300 spectators who venture to the Garden Isle from all over the world.

Swimmers from California and New York to Washington and Virginia make an annual summer pilgrimage to the tropical waters of Hanalei Bay. They are regularly joined by international athletes from Austria, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Switzerland. In 2017, the youngest swimmer was just 2 years old, and the oldest was 87.

The event had just concluded a decade of success when the April 2018 historic floods devastated the North Shore.

Naturally, the swim challenge was cancelled as the community began a long, hard recovery process.

Nāmolokama’s Alana Goo-Frazier and Kristin Foster won Kōloa Regatta’s Women Open 4 race.

Thus, the 2019 event brings with it a special significance, marking another step forward following the immense flooding and destruction that happened last year.

“This year’s event is more important than ever as we continue to recover from the floods of 2018,” adds race director Pam Murphy, who has been involved with the event for the past five years.

Beyond the impact on the club alone, Murphy hears the stories of how the return of this year’s event impacts the entire community.

“Many North Shore families who are still seeking ‘normalcy’ after the floods are happy to see events like the HBSC back on the schedule, not only because their families and friends participate but also for their businesses,” she says.

Club president Hobey Beck and Pam Murphy, Hanalei Bay Swim Challenge coordinator, discuss the event.

“Without a doubt, the incredible beauty of Hanalei Bay — with its warm waters and sandy bottom and the scenic mountains and waterfalls — is what makes this swim so special,” Murphy adds.

A favorite element of the Hanalei Bay Swim Challenge are the keiki races. Murphy shares that her most memorable times have been spent watching the youngest swimmers.

“Many of the kids are doing it for the first time, and they all come out with huge smiles and ready to do it again,” she says. “They are so excited to get their participation ribbon. The safe and fun environment of the course along the pier gives them a great introduction to swimming.

“In 2017, we had one young swimmer who did not want to get out of the water. We were holding the start for the 1,000-meter swimmers, and everyone was laughing and watching him come in … with some help from his mother,” recalls Murphy.

This year, the club will be using the funds raised to repair and replace canoes and equipment lost during last year’s flooding. Proceeds will also help to pay for some of the costs of the races the club will be attending this year.

Nāmolokama O’ Hanalei Canoe Club also will be competing in the upcoming state championships, a regatta that will take place in Hanalei Bay, followed by Kaua‘i’s long-distance Nāpali Challenge. The club will then travel to compete in the Pailolo Challenge from Maui to Moloka‘i, Queen Lili‘uokalani Canoe Race in Kona, and Moloka‘i Hoe from Moloka‘i to O‘ahu.

Nāmolokama O’ Hanalei Canoe Club was started in 2001 by a group of enthusiastic paddlers from the North Shore and is one of the smallest of the 11 clubs on the island, with 70 members. Its Hanalei Bay Swim Challenge is the club’s signature fund-raiser, and for a small canoe club the support of the community is essential.

Murphy is quick to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of their team of helpers to make it happen.

“The community of volunteers work together to give the swimmers the best event possible,” she says. “Our volunteers come from all walks of life and are always excited to be a part of the event. The atmosphere is so positive and it is just fun to be there.”

Check-in and day-of registration for the Hanalei Bay Swim Challenge runs from 7 to 8:30 a.m. at Hanalei Pier. The race begins shortly thereafter. For more information on the event or to register, visit hanaleibayswimchallenge.com or email hanaleibayswim@gmail.com.