By Rick Winters - West Hawaii Today
KAILUA-KONA — At first glance, the Kukio Blue Water Swim was plagued by bad luck.
With extremely choppy seas, the 12th annual 1.2-mile trek from Kua Bay to Kukio was set up to be a borderline torturous experience in the water.
However, while the conditions were tough, swimmers seemed to embrace the challenge against the wind and white surface breaks. Several even went as far as calling it a “fun” experience as they stood safely on dry land.
Even a controversial finish due to uncertainty about finish line placement by the two overall leaders of the race couldn’t dampen the spirits of anyone enjoying a day at the beach.
In a sprint out of the water up an unusually steep incline through soft sand, Aapo Eerola managed to edge out Tim Marr by inches with a time of 27 minutes and 57 seconds to pick up the win.
There was only one problem. Marr actually crossed the finish line first.
Coming into the bay, Eerola and Marr were battling stroke for stroke with a group of four or five other swimmers. Both athletes hit the sand at the same time, but Marr struggled just for a second to get to his feet. This allowed Eerola to get a step or two advantaged heading into the sprint.
Eerola reached the top of the sand, ran just past the clock timing the event, and slowed down, with Marr hesitating behind him. However, suddenly Marr noticed that the finish line stood another five feet past the clock. He managed to get a shoulder in front of Eerola and both swimmers dove to the line, with Marr getting the slightest of an advantage.
It was a veteran move by the former professional triathlete, however, due to both runners thinking the race was over just before the line, it was decided that Eerola would get the victory.
This was fine with Marr, who was all smiles after the race while basking in the irony of what would become another second place finish.
“Because of the confusion we pretty much crossed the finish line at the same time so I think it was the right call to give it to him since he had the edge coming up the beach,” Marr said. “It’s funny. The last time I was in this race in 2008 I had a similar experience. I got second in that one too. This is also my fourth second place finish of the year.”
With running as his strength, Marr also found the humor in the fact that he keeps getting beat on the sprint in swimming events.
“I’m a triathlete, I shouldn’t be losing on the run up the beach,” Marr said with a laugh. “But it is all good. This race is really fun and I love getting challenged by these young guys. It keeps me young.”
Young challengers being at the front of the pack at Big Island open ocean swims has become commonplace. Year after year, high school and youth club swimmers have been dominating races of similar distances.
For Eerola — a Hawaii Preparatory Academy student and member of the Academy Swim Club — he’s a perfect 2-of-2 in ocean swimming events. His first victory came earlier this year in the Cinco de Mayo Splash , the first of three races in the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming.
But the win did not come easy.
“I drank a lot of water during the middle portion of the race,” Eerola said. “There were pretty much waves all the way through.”
As for the confusion at the end, Eerola laughed his mistake off
“That is what happens when you don’t listen to the rules,” he said.
Familiar names lead female race
Two women very familiar with open water swimming led the female list of finishers on Saturday. Kuuleionalani Patterson managed to beat Maile Lawson to the line with an overall fourth place finishing time of 28:02. Lawson crossed in 28:11, good for fifth place and second female honors.
For Patterson, the win was an unexpected surprise, despite having plenty of success in her young racing career.
“Honestly, I didn’t expect to be first because I was a little tired and dragging at the start of the race,” Patterson said. “Pretty early on though I started to feel a little better and by the end of the race I was pushing myself to the finish line, telling myself, ‘I can do this, I can win.’”
When Patterson finally did cross the finish line as the female winner, she was relieved.
“I pushed myself harder than I ever have for a really long time,” Patterson said. “I was really close to falling up the hill at the end, but I just sprinted as fast as I could.”
For Lawson, the race was a challenging one, mostly due to the conditions.
“This was definitely a brutal race,” Lawson said. “It was pretty choppy and I was constantly going up and down with the waves and swallowing a bunch of water every time I tried to take a breath. A lot of us had to take a break and stand up in the water to breath.”
This was Lawson’s first time competing in the race, although she has plenty of experience and hardware from racing in open water events. But when she reached the sand at Kukio, she was exhausted and then she saw the hill in front of her.
“I remember getting out of the water and looking at the hill and I was like, ‘Oh,’” Lawson said. “It was definitely not a normal beach kind of finish. I walked it, I really didn’t run it, so I don’t know what that is like.”
At the end of the day though, Lawson was thrilled to have participated in one of the few swims on the Big Island that starts and ends in different places.
“It was really fun and I would do it again,” Lawson said. “I have never swam Kukio before and it was fun looking at the terrain after coming around the point. I now also know that I can swim from Kua to Kukio. I did not know I could do that before so that’s something.”