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Friday, August 20, 2010

No Solo Marathon Swim Exceptions - Even With Sharks

If there is anyone in the open water swimming world who knows about the dangers of swimming with sharks, it is Linda Kaiser, one of Hawaii's most accomplished marathon swimmers and a member of the Hawaii Swimming Hall of Fame.

The 58-year-old is the most prolific channel swimmer in Hawaii where 40 different species of sharks of all sizes and shapes, including the occasionally aggressive Great White Sharks, Tiger sharks and Gray Reef sharks, roam with freedom and have approached Linda on more than a few occasions.

On the issue of whether or not flexibility should ever be allowed on open water swims, Linda has a decidedly firm position against allowing a solo marathon swimmer to temporarily exit the water when a shark confronts them - and then to get back into the water without calling the swim off as has been the case throughout the annals of marathon swimming history.

"I think any ocean swimmer knows sharks are there. I was always told that a shark was always within a football field of me and he knew I was there. That was a while ago. Now, maybe there are fewer sharks or maybe they are farther away. but they know we are there."

Linda Kaiser explained her position, "It's the risk we as ocean swimmers take. So you get out, rest on the boat, get food, fluids, stretch, take your goggles off, maybe a massage, then the shark goes away and get back in. You get to do something other than swim or tread water for a time. You get to hear things and see things other than the water you are in. Ocean swimming is a mental and physical test. Should we change the rules? No."

These are powerful and profound words from a swimmer who has directly confronted large sharks head on - and not gotten out and continued swimming while her heart was undoubtedly beating wildly.

Following in the footsteps of Harry Huffacker in 1970 and Penny Palfrey, Linda crossed the 30-mile (48K) Alenuihaha Channel in 2009 in 17 hours from the Big Island of Hawaii to Maui.

Whether facing sharks in the Hawaiian Isles - without protective shark cages or other protective devices - Linda's track record is unprecedented.

Besides the 30-mile (48K) Alenuihaha Channel, Linda has also crossed the 26-mile (42K) Molokai Channel in 2007, the 9.3-mile (15K) Kalohi Channel from Molokai to Lanai Island in 2001, the 7-mile (11K) Alalakeiki Channel from Kahoolawe to Maui in 1991, the 8.5-mile (13.6K) Pailolo Channel from Maui to Molokai in 1990, the 17-mile (27K) Kaulakahi Channel from Kauai to Niihau in 2003, and the 17-mile (27K) Kealaikahiki Channel from Kahoolawe to Lanai in 2005. "You've got to respect the ocean. You've got to come prepared. If you're not serious, and you're not focused on what you're doing, you're bound to have trouble. The ocean doesn't put up with any wimps."

Linda should know. It was during her 1990 Pailolo Channel swim from Maui to Molokai when she noticed a dark shape in the water beneath her. According to her interview with Honolulu Magazine, the shape was "no larger than a fist at first, but was growing quickly and racing straight for her."

"All of sudden I thought, 'Oh, that's a shark.' He just kept coming straight up, and I said to myself, 'Ooh, this may not be good.'"

Fortunately, after the 12-foot shark circled her a few times, the shark lost interest.

But that scare obviously has not slowed her down during her lengthy career which also includes hundreds of local swims - sharks or no sharks.

Copyright © 2010 by Steven Munatones

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