The sweetest of swims

People don’t often fly thousands of miles just to swim in a race.

Unless it’s the Hanalei Bay Swim Challenge.

For that, they’re coming from Japan, France and Australia and others from around the world will join them, and there’s one big reason why.

“It must mean it’s something special for them to come and experience,” said Billy O’Sullivan, co-race director along with Thomas Klein. “We’re getting exposure internationally, which is really exciting.”

The ninth annual event is scheduled July 25 and is expected to attracted hundreds of swimmers, from novices to veterans, from keiki to adults, to join what is considered one of the most spectacular places in the world for one of the top ocean water swims in the nation.

“It’s the best spot on Earth,” Klein said. “It’s paradise down there.”

The challenge is put on by the Namolokama O Hanalei Canoe Club and is billed as “the only race of its kind in the world.”

It features a 1,000 meter course and a 3,000 course for those 13 and older, and shorter courses for two keiki divisions that start and finish near the Hanalei Pier. Last year, it attracted 325 swimmers — about 80 keiki — and the race director believes they’ll have even more this year who will dive into warm, clear, gentle waters with nice views below and above, perfect for four races for different ages and abilities.

There will be fierce competition, for sure, but also, a whole lot of camaraderie with special attention on youth.

“We had whole families coming out and doing the whole swim,” Klein said. “That’s what we want to see.”

“We really think that getting the kids involved in activities in what is most important,” O’Sullivan said.

For those who might be a little nervous or apprehensive about an ocean swim, O’Sullivan said safety is paramount. There will be paddleboarders stationed throughout the courses ready to offer assistance, as well as accomplished swimmers on jet skis.

The longer courses run parallel to the shore, not straight out into the ocean.

Both Klein and O’Sullivan encourage people to stop by and check things out, even if just to watch and enjoy the sunshine.

For anyone thinking they might want to participate in the swim challenge but have doubts they can do it, Klein suggests they visit the YMCA pool or a lifeguard-protected beach.

Ocean swimming doesn’t have to be feared and in the calm waters of Hanalei Bay, it can be quite nice and peaceful.

“It’s a great environment to learn about how fun swimming can be,” O’Sullivan said. “We swim out there. We hang out there. We love it. We feel safe.”

Almost 50 business are supporting the swim challenge, along with a core of volunteers and canoe club members.

The Hanalei Bay Swim Challenge is projected to start about 9:30 a.m. with the keiki events, followed by the 3,000 and then the 1,000. There will be an awards ceremony, with medals for top finishers in the longer distances. All keiki finishers will receive ribbons and plenty of cheers.

Koko Kanealii will return as emcee.

Entry fees are $10 for keiki and $40 for the longer distances. Prices go up to $15 and $50 after July 10. Registered swimmers will receive a swim cap and T-shirt.

Info: hanaleibayswimchallenge.com

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