By J.R. De Groote West Hawaii Today

KAILUA-KONA — The King’s Swim came down to a sprint on Tuesday morning at Kailua Bay, providing an explosive start to the Fourth of July.

Brock Imonen and Weilyn Foo guided the lead pack of athletes into Kamakahonu Bay and the young duo were neck-and-neck as they reached the shore. However, Foo stood up in the water just a second too early and it proved to be costly.

Imonen took advantage and dashed up the beach just a little quicker than his peer, clocking a time of 23 minutes and 27 seconds, notching the overall victory in the 1.2-mile race.

Foo followed less than a step behind at 23:28.

It was deja vu for Foo, who also had to settle for second behind Imonen at the Hapuna Rough Water Swim last month after a similar sprint up the sand. However, he wasn’t too down about it postrace.

“I felt like I paced it right, but you can’t change the past,” the Kona Aquatics standout said. “It’s exciting to be in a race like that and to get out of the water and feel the rush.”

Despite placing second, Foo locked up his second consecutive Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming, which is presented by Bike Works to the swimmer who records the lowest cumulative time in the three qualifying races — the Cinco de Mayo Splash, the Hapuna Rough Water Swim and King’s Swim.

After more than three miles of swimming, Foo finished with an aggregate time of 1:10:37, just outpacing Bodhi Whitmore (1:10:51), and Imonen (1:10:53) for the title. Foo didn’t win any of the three races, but he showed consistency, reaching the podium in each.

“I kind of knew about how close it was, but I just felt loose out there,” Foo said. “It’s awesome.”

Whitmore placed fourth overall on Tuesday and third in the men’s division with a time of 23:44.

On the women’s side, Maile Lawson notched her third consecutive victory at the King’s Swim with a time of 23:36. She subsequently claimed her first Triple Crown with a cumulative time of 1:07:04.

“I’m excited — it’s awesome,” Lawson said. “I didn’t really know too much about the Triple Crown until this year and a friend explained it to me. But once I heard about it, I figured I could get into it.”

That might be a bit of a modest understatement.

For those doing the math, Lawson was by far the overall winner in the race for the Triple Crown, and she out-swam the next closest female competitors, Noe Vargas (1:14:22) and Kristen Bennett (1:14:33), by more than seven minutes.

However, the humble incoming junior at Hawaii Prep was just happy to see her Kona Aquatics teammates doing well in the King’s Swim.

“I would say it’s like a home race for us. Almost our whole club competes in it,” Lawson said. “We get excited for this and talk about it beforehand. It kind of bonds our team.”

Foo agreed that the Kona Aquatics Club feels fairly at home in the comfortable waters of Kailua Bay.

“I feel like I could close my eyes and race here,” Foo said with a laugh.

In the small area around Kailua Bay that hosted fishing, recreational paddling and even a yoga class on the morning of Independence Day, the 23rd edition of the annual swim competition was the star attraction.

“The conditions were perfect today. There was no swell, the visibility made it gorgeous, and we had terrific water patrol out there, keeping everyone safe,” race director and Kona Aquatics guru Steve Borowski said.

Borowski moved the event to the July 4 a few years ago to avoid conflicts with other things going on around the bay. It has worked swimmingly, as nearly 250 swimmers put barbecues and fireworks on the back burner to finish the race named after King Kamehameha.

“The goal was to create an event for the community, and to give people the chance to swim part of the Ironman course,” Borowski said. “It also was meant to give people a goal to look forward to, which is always important.”