Swimming the Ka'ie'ie Waho Channel
This story comes from Patagonia friend Mike Spalding about the swim he and some friends did from O’ahu to Kaua’i last fall. -Ed
The Ka’ie’ie Waho Channel from O’ahu to Kaua’i is the longest between the main Hawaiian Islands at 72 miles. No one has swum it: Obstacles like sharks, unpredictable and strong currents, Portuguese man-of-war stings and trying to find a calm period in the trade winds defeated the prior three solo attempts.
The winds were down on November 20th, a good sign for our attempt. Our swimmers were all experienced: marathon ocean swimmer Linda Kaiser had previously swum all the Hawaiian Island channels except the Ka’ie’ie Waho Channel; Michael Spalding who on his attempt to swim the Alenuihaha channel was bitten by a cookie cutter shark; Randy Brown and Joel Swartz both experienced cold water swimmers from San Francisco; and Michelle Macy, a renowned marathon swimmer from Oregon. Billy Brown from Kaua’i would also join us on his first long-distance swimming adventure.
[The swim escort boat at the dock in Hale’iwa. Photo: Mike Spalding]
Halfway through the channel the worst nightmare of a channel swimmer came true: Linda looked down between breaths and saw a tiger shark 4 feet beneath her. She let everyone know and hopped out of the water. Randy Brown jumped in as it was his turn, but fortunately the shark disappeared. From then on every shadow was suspect.
The really annoying thing, and what almost forced us to give up the swim, was getting stung by the Portuguese man-of-war. All of us, except lucky Joel, got multiple stings from these nasty creatures that float in the ocean and sting from their tentacles. Then strong currents off Kaua’i kept us stationary for almost 5 hours. Each of us individually cracked many times, but the collective spirit of our group and support crew kept us pounding away at our goal.
When we finally finished the swim there was a huge sense of accomplishment for the swimmers and crew. We bonded as family and we would carry our accomplishment with us for the rest of our lives. It proved to us that if you prepare, execute and support one another on such an adventure there are no barriers that can’t be toppled.
[Above, right - It’s a big ocean, Mike Spalding puts in his turn in the water. Photo: Mike Spalding Collection.
Left - The team from left to right: Billy Brown, Randy Brown, Joel Swartz, Michele Macy and Michael Spalding. Photo: Jamie Woodburn