Channeling Success Despite Stings
Six swimmers, one treacherous 72-mile swim from Oahu to Kaua’i. It’s never been done before.
But that changed last month, and Kaua’i’s Billy Brown was right in the middle of it.
The 32-year-old was part of a six-member relay team that made history as the first to swim the Kaieie Waho Channel, finishing on the morning of Monday, Nov. 22.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I surely will never forget it,” Brown says. “Our team was the best. I couldn’t imagine doing it alone.”
One of Brown’s teammates, noted marathon swimmer Linda Kaiser, has probably the best story to tell. The 60-year-old Hawaii Kai woman had a close encounter with a shark.
“I’ll never forget it,” she says. “He was just white and he had the flattest, squarest head and his little beady eyes, and I screamed. I think he startled me more than scared me, because he wasn’t there and all of a sudden he’s there, and so I screamed and bolted to the boat. I admit I just got out.”
But sharks weren’t the only obstacles the group had to endure. Strong currents and non-stop Portuguese Man-o-War stings also hampered their efforts during the 48-hour swim to Nawiliwili Harbor that began at Kaena Point.
There have been three previous attempts to swim this channel, but time after time it has proved too difficult. Just a few weeks before them, Australian
swimmer Penny Palfrey was knocked out by what she called “Man-o-War soup.”
“I was no longer able to get the tentacles off my arms, and it was like swimming with a baggy T-shirt,” she says. “The tentacles were just hanging off both my arms. I pulled through the water, and I couldn’t keep going with it like that.”
Kaiser says she doesn’t think anyone will swim the Kaieie Waho Channel alone because there are just too many obstacles, and by taking on this challenge with a team of individuals, they were able to conquer a goal seen by many as impossible, even for a relay team.
Other swimmers in the group are Maui’s Mike Spalding, California’s Randy Brown, Oregon’s Michelle Macy and California’s Joel Swartz.
Each athlete swam for an hour and then switched with another participant in the six-person rotation, with one of them always in the water.
They were accompanied by the Kialoa, a Hawaiian sailing canoe, and a six-man and one-woman crew.
The night before heading out, the swimmers got a blessing at Puu O Mahuka Heiau. They could see Kaua’i from the heiau, which lifted their spirits and made it seem more possible. Upon completion of the swim, one of the crew members, Rob, sang a chant in gratitude for the successful swim.