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Mike Spalding breaks for a smile midway across the channel between Moloka‘i and O‘ahu
Vol. 11, No. 2
April / May 2008

  >>   City on the Edge of Forever
  >>   The Channel Swimmers
  >>   Shaka Buddha

The Channel Swimmers (Page 4)

If you’re reading this on a plane flying over the ocean, look out the window and down. You may see a cargo ship; if you do, it’ll approximate a gnat. The scale of our sea is not a human one. Look out across our channels and sometimes you can’t even see the island on the other side. Swim through them and the bottom, thousands of feet below, is beyond invisible—it is practically unfathomable. So what—the question is inevitable—what would possess someone to enter such a world?

To understand, it helps to know a bit about the channel swimmers. They’re all different, of course. Take Linda, Kelly and Mike. Linda is 57, does swimming pool maintenance for a living, is pragmatic, rock-steady, generous, tempered by the sea. Kelly is 32, a marine archaeologist, friendly, funny, modest, steadfast. Mike, in real estate, is magnanimous, expansive, certain. Mike, in fact, may well have blasted in from the planet Krypton as a baby. He scales mountains, sails remote seas, bikes across countries. Four days after he swam the Moloka‘i channel, he was on a plane to Montana to hunt in the backcountry for two weeks.

They each answer the question of “Why?” in their own way. With Mike, it is this: “In the ocean, you’re totally enveloped by Mother Earth. She’s around you, she’s hugging you, she’s in every pore of your body. That’s a very special place to be.” For Kelly, it is this: “Accomplishment, peace, balance. You have to let go of everything that makes you want to resist, you have to be comfortable in your head for a long time.” For Linda, this: “It’s so beautiful out there. I like everything about being there: the water, the way I feel, the sensations. All the stress is gone. And it taught me that if I really, really want something badly enough, then I can make it happen.”

Moloka‘i was Linda’s seventh channel; her other swims include Kaua‘i to Ni‘ihau and Kaho‘olawe to Lana‘i, both of which had never been swum before and both of which she did with Mike, who’s also swum seven channels now. The duo will be inducted into the Hawai‘i Swimming Hall of Fame this year.