By Phillip Whitten
HONOLULU, September 2. THE Waikiki Rough Water Swim usually is one of the most enjoyable, smooth-water swims on the open water circuit. Not this year. This year the event lived up to its name. And then some!
County, federal teams and private boaters were called into action yesterday when rough seas, made rougher by the approaching Hurricane Jimena, left swimmers competing in the annual event stroking furiously for their lives.
Of over 1,000 swimmers who started the race, a mere 356 finished. More than 600 were rescued by eight units of the Honolulu Fire Department, including its helicopter unit. The Coast Guard also joined in the rescue operation with a helicopter and boats and private boaters in the area pulled several swimmers out of the water.
As reported on The HawaiiChannel.com, as swimmers rounded the fourth buoy the swim turned into a struggle for survival.
"'After about 50 minutes I said, 'This isn't going anywhere. I'll be out here for 10 hours.' And I watched everybody else drifting past me," swimmer Ron Carlson said. "It was unbelievable. You couldn't move. You'd go harder and harder and see the reef slipping. You know you wouldn't get closer. You keep slipping backwards.'"
"An hour into the swim it was obvious hundreds were in trouble. The Fire Department was summoned and it turned into one of the biggest water rescue efforts in Honolulu history, according to officials.
"The fear was that someone might have been swept away. Lookouts were posted along the beach and as far away as Diamond Head.
"Witnesses said swimmers came out of the water gasping and crying. Some swimmers were pushed far off the course and clung to buoys.
"The first swimmers to cross the finish line said the ocean conditions were some of the toughest they've had to swim in.
"At the beginning of the race, announcers warned swimmers of the conditions and advised those who were not strong swimmers to bow out of the event. The organizers also told swimmers to hold on to buoy lines if they got in trouble and teams would pick them up."
Despite the large number of swimmers and the fearful conditions, not single soul was lost, thanks to the brave efforts of the Honolulu Fire Department and US Coast Guard.