KEAUKAHA — Nakana Rivera swam competitively in high school, but he’s long since given it up in favor of surfing. Not surprisingly, the 33-year-old looks plenty comfortable navigating the open ocean.
Especially at Richardson Beach Park.
Rivera took the lead during the final quarter-mile Sunday and added to his collection of titles by winning the 26th annual Richardson Roughwater Swim.
Not bad for someone who rarely swims these days, unless he’s trying to catch a wave.
“It’s either swim in the pool or surf, and I’d rather surf,” said Rivera, a 1997 Waiakea graduate from Mountain View who now lives on Oahu. “I surf, and I run. If I wasn’t surfing, I couldn’t do this.”
The one-mile event lived up to its name, with winning times slower than in recent years.
“I’ve won a few,” said a modest Rivera, who got back to the beach in 22 minutes, 53 seconds. “It’s a true rough water. You get the surf and the swell. It was a struggle.”
Noe Vargas (23:20) set the pace for much of the race en route to becoming the top female finisher for the third time in four years.
“I led almost three-quarters of the way, then the boys passed,” said Vargas, a 2009 Hawaii Prep graduate.
Only three of them beat her, however.
Ren Kuwaye-Tamanaha, a junior at Waiakea, was six seconds behind Rivera with Kaiea Cann, 20, (23:14) in third. Vargas, 21, was the last in a lead pack of four that was far ahead of the rest of the field.
Gearing up for her last season of competitive swimming at Loyola Marymount University, Vargas also competed in two other notable ocean races this summer, placing fourth among females at Hapuna and third at the King’s Swim in Kailua-Kona.
Those two were closer to her Waimea home, but her 5:30 a.m. wake-up call Sunday was made a little more agreeable after she watched Ryan Lochte claim his first swimming gold medal at the London Olympics a night earlier.
“I love that guy,” she said. “He killed it, and that’s always good inspiration.”
Vargas headlined a strong female contingent, with four wahine placing in the top 10.