You’d have thought it was noon instead of 7 a.m. at Hapuna Beach State Park’s overflowing parking lot last Saturday morning.
But instead of relaxing on the sand and splashing in the waves as most beach-goers do, the early risers who filled the shoreline that morning were preparing for a mile-long racing tradition — the Hapuna Roughwater Swim.
Since it was a free event and sign-up took place on the beach the morning of the race, the usual pre-assigned numbers written on the biceps of athletes were replaced by a uniform “H.” That makes sense, the swimmers thought; “H” is for Hapuna.
If organizers had assigned numbers, they would have reached the incredible tally of 256 — 70 more than at the Cinco de Mayo Swim one month ago.
The beginning of the race was chaotic. Hundreds of arms and legs thrashed about, slapping the water and anyone unlucky enough to be in their paths, as the once innocent branding of the letter “H” began to stand for hit and hurt. The culmination of mayhem was reached at the first buoy, with people clumping together and fighting for the innermost position around the corner, attempting to turn in the most efficient manner possible by means of corkscrewing, breaststroke kicking and body shoving.
And then hurt turns to “help!” for a chosen few whose noses are introduced to the unforgiving foot of an oblivious assailant. The wounded swimmer’s only consolation lies in the fact that a shark is unlikely to pick them out as the source of blood. It’d be like finding a needle in a haystack amidst a ferocious tornado. fast enough to escape the frenzy of the main pack, a few of Kona’s finest swimmers glided along peacefully ahead. Nathaniel Goodale led for a minute, but Leahi Camacho soon passed him.
As it turns out, Camacho took the lead out of courtesy; “Nathaniel doesn’t like people touching his toes.”
Now I know he’s your teammate, Leahi, but that statement sounds more like an invitation to play a tactical “this little piggy” head game than a reason to let a fellow competitor draft off you for the duration of the race.
Madison Hauanio, the Cinco de Mayo Splash winner, had a rough start to the race and got caught up in the chaos of the masses. With Madeline Foo on her feet, Hauanio spent the majority of the race attempting to close the gap between herself and the leading group that included Camacho, Goodale, and Sonny Hapgood.
Upon making the turn around the second buoy, racers swam on a long straightaway parallel to the beach. Personal space is finally granted as the group begins to spread. The space is welcome at first, but it also brings doubt.
“If I’m alone,” they wonder, “Does that mean I’m off track? Do the people 20 yards to my right know where they are going? Or maybe the people to my left have the right idea?”
Since a map and compass aren’t standard issue at this event, it’s almost impossible to tell exactly where to go. With Hapuna’s rough water living up to its name, and the next buoy out of sight, it’s part chance and part intuition that lead competitors to the third checkpoint.
Once the swimmers make it past the third buoy, it’s a straight shot to the finish line. One final neon inflatable marks the diagonal path toward the beach. Upon spotting the final buoy, Camacho made her move and separated herself from Goodale and Hapgood. She took the overall title in 17 minutes, 55 seconds, with Goodale and Hapgood finishing in second and third, respectively.
Hauanio was never able to bridge up to the main group, and she completed what she considers to be a “pretty bad” swim 20 seconds after Hapgood, with Foo still on her heals.
Now that two of the three swims in the Big Island’s version of the Triple Crown are complete, it is clear this weekend’s King’s Swim will be one for the books.
The crown goes to the swimmer with the fastest cumulative time from all three races. With Hauanio besting Camacho at the Cinco Splash by 4 seconds, then Camacho countering with a 32-second victory at Hapuna, Hauanio now trails by 28 seconds. The King’s Swim, which will take place Saturday at Kailua Pier, measures 1.2 miles, making it the longest of the three races.
Hauanio considers the extra real estate to be to her advantage, as she will have more distance to make up for a bad start in the event of a Hapuna replay, and to possibly redeem the time she needs in order to earn the Triple Crown.
Meanwhile the men’s title remains wide open. Hapuna’s winner, Goodale, is not in the running for the Triple Crown because he stood on the sidelines at the Cinco Splash. Not having swum for three months prior to that race, he didn’t consider himself to be in good enough shape to participate. By his own projection, Goodale was able to swim at 80 percent on Sunday. Since he went from zero fitness to 80 percent in 26 days, we should expect great things from him tomorrow, as my math puts him at 101 percent by then. And assuming that he will return the favor of a draft, I expect to see Camacho following his little piggies all the way home.
To get in on the action yourself, sign up at Bike Works today for $15.