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Lifeguards called to help 200 swimmers in Waikiki

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    Swimmers enter the water at Sans Souci Beach at the start of the 47th annual Waikiki Roughwater Swim.


    This map shows the route of the Waikiki Roughwater Swim.

Some 200 competitive swimmers — and perhaps dozens more — had to be plucked from the ocean by rescue crews today as strong currents dogged the 47th annual Waikiki Roughwater Swim.

“It was a very, very, rough swim,” said race director Kaia Hedlund, noting some swimmers couldn’t handle the strong current after the first buoy. “This was not just a little walk-in-the-park race. If you’re going to to do this, you need to train and need to be prepared for the elements.”

Of the approximately 700 people registered for the event, at least 455 finished, said Hedlund. Swimmers who didn’t reach the halfway point by a certain timewere picked up by rescue crews, she said.

Hedlund said every participant was accounted for.

The 2.4-mile race started at Kaimana Beach at 8:30 a.m. and ended at Hilton Hawaiian Village. Those who struggled — or straggled — were picked up by citylifeguards, Honolulu Fire Department crews and volunteers hired by the event organizers.

Shayne Enright, spokeswoman of the Honolulu Emergency Services Department, said participants who sought assistance were eithertoo tired to finish the race or to make it to shore on their own.

There were conflicting reports of the number of swimmers assisted. Enright said more than 300 swimmers got help, while event organizers said the numberwas 200 or less.

The Waikiki Roughwater Swim Committee hired water patrol crews that consisted of 17 professional lifeguards equipped with three craft. In addition, morethan 90 kayakers, stand-up paddlers and surfers volunteered to help during the event.

“We take safety very, very seriously,” said Hedlund.

During the race, a 15-year-old swimmer was taken to the hospital by her father after she had an asthma attack.

Paramedics treated and transported a 32-year-old woman in serious condition after she suffered an injury on the reef.

The Honolulu Fire Department brought tired swimmers to shore via rescue boat or Jet Ski.

Spokesman Capt. David Jenkins said the department deployed the Air One helicopter to survey waters for any swimmers who might have drifted off course.

The Weather Service said surf is rising as a south swell began arriving this morning.

Lifeguards estimated the wave heights at 1 to 3 feet.

In 2003, rescuers pulled 361 swimmers from the roughly 2.4-mile race because strong currents possibly related to the passage of Hurricane Jimena near the Big Island.

At the time, race organizers said about 300 people were pulled from the water in the 1984 roughwater swim.

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  • This seems to happen every year — that the lifeguards have to help out to this extent. One year I believe a swimmer died. Two things that need to happen: the organizers need to be more careful about who can enter; the city should charge the organizers for all the rescues that need to be made.

    • I agree. Why should lifeguards be called to rescue these idiots….as mentioned, the organizers should pay the city for the lifeguards time and NOT take advantage of them just because they’re lifeguards and getting away not paying the city or lifeguards for their heroic duties. THAT’S JUST RIDICULOUS!! Just like police on special duty…well, these lifeguards should also be compensated for special duty in standing by this event.

    • I’m guessing you’ve never done it. The WRS is one of the premiere ocean swimming races in the world. The course is beautiful and usually is well within the abilities of people who can swim 4000 m. It’s also the reason why the swim leg of the Ironman Triathlon is 2.4 miles. (the bike leg is 112 miles after the Dick Evens bike race around Oahu and the run of course was first done on the Honolulu Marathon course and is 26.2 miles.)

  • In Clint Eastwood’s 1973 movie, Magnum Force, Inspector Harry Callahan wisely says: “A man’s got to know his limitations”.

    Fast Forward 2016:
    “Everyone has to know their limitations”.

    Shoot… I would never consider entering this race !!!
    I didn’t get to be this old by doing foolish things.

  • I volunteered in the 2003 race to assist swimmers who needed help and wrote about that experience in my Water Ways column in the old Star-Bulletin. As I noted then, the first swimmers we helped appeared to be generally out of shape, but then others had the look of athletes. When we brought aboard two exhausted kayak paddlers who were supposed to be a part of the safety patrol, we knew the situation had deteriorated badly. I find it remarkable that over a decade later this race’s organizers have yet to be able to make proper risk assessments before allowing so many unqualified swimmers to even enter the water.

  • Organizers need to weed out the weak swimmers, those who can’t swim at least 1,000 meters at once without tiring so fast, as this event is not a fun run where you can easily stop along the way for a break. You’re out in the middle of the water and there is no one else to hold your arm.

    I’ve done this swim when I was a competitive swimmer and now a master’s swimmer and you need to be in shape to handle the waves and currents as it is not the pool you are swimming in — it is a challenge that I look forward to in this event.

    Yes, there are risk especially following two hurricanes in Hawaii and the organizers should take a different approach, considering they have faced such issues several times as pointed out in the story.

  • Dumb to even think about having this after the recent storms passing close to Hawaii. Should have shut this down last week. Everyone should be very grateful for our hard working lifeguards and everyone else helping to save these folks.

  • As someone who has done the race dozens of times it is definitely for those who are prepared for it. Unfortunately there is no way for the organizers to evaluate the swimming ability and condition of every entrant. Ultimately it is each swimmer who must judge his or her ability.

    Some years the current is with the swimmers sometimes against. Generally speaking an outgoing tide will cause a current against the swimmers while an incoming tide will assist the swimmers. This is easily determined by consulting a tide chart. Generally when the currents are averse the swimmers are warned before the start of the race. I don’t know what happened this year.

    Most years the race goes off without major incident. Perhaps the organizers can beef up their rescue capabilities when conditions are unfavorable.

  • This is a well run, safe, athletic event that is very affected by weather events. The day looked very favorable, but the current is hard to predict. There are many swimmers that enjoy this event and the challenge it presents.

  • Well, common sense is rare these days. Our late son used to swim this event when he was a teen. Did pretty well too, fortunately the weather was nice and no storm before or after the race!

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