I woke up at 2:30 am HT (8:30 am back home) shaking with fatigue, my mind wanting to be awake and my body begging for more sleep. Or maybe it was the other way around – either way, my parts were at odds. Sleep won and I managed to get a few more hours in. Judging on my energy today and my relative ease staying up so far this evening, I probably did right by myself to stay awake for so long and remain conscious till Hawaiian bed time.
Breakfast at my place with geckos
My plan was to meet Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen at the Kona pier at 8am for the iconic IronMan swim. The first part of the challenge: Finding the Kona pier.
Take a whole bunch of letter Ks, Hs, As, Us and a handful of Ls and Is and pour them into a salt shaker. Shake them up really well, then sprinkle liberally over 60 or 70 street signs. These are the roads of Kona. Every street name looks the same – with minor changes in positions of a K and an H. It’s tricky until you know where you’re going.
So I left my house with the ridiculous notion that I’d memorized the directions, only to be completely befuddled by the first 10 streets I passed. I found my way to the pier – it’s right there in the middle of this bustling little surfy artsy funky village center (across from the most spectacular Banyan tree) – everything is pink and turquoise and yellow and striped and polka dotted – it’s a visual feast, but good golly I could not figure out where the hell to park. I called Karlyn to tell her I would be late, and she told me she could see me in my car, and proceeded to try to narrate directions to me over the phone. Left! Right! No, back there! Back up! Turn around! Go in there! You missed it! I drove in a complete circle in the middle of an intersection (thank you Hyundai for such a tight turn radius!). Fortunately for me, Hawaiians are probably the most chill drivers I’ve ever encountered. No one speeds. No one gets upset. I can’t even imagine anyone here ever honking a horn, never mind road rage. So no one seemed to mind my crazy maneuvers. I’m sure they realized i was an Haole (google it).
Finally found my way and parked. Ran the few hundred yards to the pier where Karlyn and a few friends stood waiting in suits caps and goggles ready to jump in. I stashed my towel on the convenient rack on the pier – everything here is set up for people to go for a swim. We went down a few steps to a small beach right in the center of town and waded in.
The water was clear and cool here – cooled by fresh water springs pushing through the sand beneath our feet. Karlyn reports that these springs are actually rain from nearly 30 years ago which has run down the mountains into lava tubes underground. It slowly makes its way to the sea and surfaces into the warm brine. The patchy effect is refreshing and unique.
The IronMan swim course is marked with buoys that are in the water all year long, and several hundred people come each day for their morning swim. It’s like jogging in central park if you live in New York. Only it’s swimming. In Hawaii. With some of the most beautiful coral reefs and fish you can imagine. Oh yeah, and dolphins.
Not 20 feet from the start of the swim the reef starts – all my old Pacific fish friends – Durgeon and Tangs with color combinations so different from their Caribbean counterparts swirling around me. I stopped and looked up just to confirm i was still in the center of town, yup. Head back down to a magnificent aquarium. I fell in love.
The sea was calm – slow lazy rollers with wide troughs, barely noticeable. Karlyn is a champion and many of her friends are former Olympians – I was prepared to just meet them all at the finish but she hung back with me. She swam a lot of back stroke and I still had to swim hard to keep up. She was a great guide, stopping to explain the significance of several buoy points, pointing out cool sites on shore or on the reef. This is a reef so healthy, so rich, it’s hard to imagine you’re not on some remote atoll. At one point we stopped to see her friends had gathered at a point 50 yards off course. Dolphins. They’d been swimming with dolphins. by the time we’d reached them the Spinners had moved 50 yards away, but I saw the pod of fins surfacing again and again. Karlyn told me that no matter what the training goal of the day, when dolphins come around, the swim is called and everyone goes to play. What a great rule.
We continued on past the half way point on the way out of the course, cruised another magnificent reef, and headed back, totaling about 3000m. On the way back in I saw the fattest barracuda I have ever seen, and a bait ball of Aku fish 40 feet in diameter. All of this in crystal clear, deep blue water. A phenomenal swim. I beached in bliss.
Swimming with Karlyn guiding me gave me an opportunity to imagine what it’s like to be a SwimVacation guest on Day 1 of one of our trips. I definitely felt the heaviness of yesterday’s travel in my stroke. And Karlyn did a great job of allaying my anxiety at not knowing where I was going, making sure I took time to stop and appreciate where I was. A great exercise for me to be able to get into the mind of our guests, and brings home the importance of having a team of good guides to make our swimmers feel safe and welcome. We need to always remember that for our guests, each swim is new.
Walked around the village before heading home, trying to picture myself here with 6 – 10 guests in my charge. What a cool place. Everyone is friendly and laid back. Guy walking down the street playing the ukelele? Yup. Kid riding his bike with a surfboard strapped to his back? Of course. Pay for parking? Well, you could but, nah, don’t worry about it. There’s a saying here: TIH: This is Hawaii.
Post swim smoothie down town Kona, back to my place for business with a view.
The rest of the day was very businessy – phone calls and copious note taking, visiting a rental property just around the block from my little place (promising!). Scheduling visits to several more. Studying maps (and attempting to discern between street names ha ha – or should i say KuliHa KeKuliHa). I ventured out to cruise and actually picked up on the layout pretty quickly. It feels like everything about Kona is ready to welcome me, and I’m getting the sense that this place would make a great fit for SwimVacation. Easy. Laid back. No rush! Enjoy the sea.
Scenes from Kahalu’u beach
One thing I learned quickly is to always leave the house in a bathing suit and leave a towel and goggles in the back of my car. There is no end to the spots begging me to go for a swim. Late this afternoon I made my way to Kahalu’u beach (not Keauhou, nor Kiholo, not Kua, and definitely not Kealakekua – do you see what I mean?) rocky and beautiful and full of fish. I romped around in there for a few minutes before heading back up the hill to my home. I’m imagining our guests stopping for evening dips before cocktail hour on our private deck somewhere…..Yes.
The afternoons bring Vog – volcanic fog caused by sulfur dioxide emitted by the erupting volcano reacting with oxygen and moisture in the afternoon sun. It’s not an overwhelming problem, but I did find myself randomly breathless walking around this evening. Best to do any land based excursions early in the day here. The Vog does make for beautiful sunsets over the Pacific, however.
Afternoon Vog over Kona from plane yesterday and at sunset today
Karlyn and her Mom had me over for dinner – they happen to live one street down from me. We talked shop and they shared great swimming spots with me as i took mad notes, Ks and Hs flying. I ambled home in the pitch black and headed to bed. Tried to finish blog before sleep, but well….
(Pause for a few hours of sleep)
So now it’s 3am and I should be asleep but want to get this up before my next busy day starts. I’ll run Ali’i Drive (oopsy daisy someone lost their Ks and Hs!) to the pier, or maybe do IronMan swim again before my stand up paddle board lesson at 9…should be very funny to watch if you find yourself sitting under that Banyan tree.
Mahalo, Kona! This Wahine already feels at home.