Long-distance swimming, as must be obvious by now, necessitates serious dedication and discipline. The training is arduous, demanding many miles in the water each week for months. There is also the challenge of the logistics: arranging a support boat, finding feeders who will coordinate water and food breaks, enlisting a kayaker or paddleboarder to point the way.
In the channel, all that drops away. With each stroke, each kick, swimming becomes at once calming and exhilarating. The calm comes from the repetition, the flow; the exhilaration from the surroundings, the challenge. The motion becomes a meditation that moves people in different ways and leads them to different places in their lives.
Robin Isayama Liszewski became the first woman to swim the Moloka‘i channel in 1994, when she was 25. She’d thought the greatest thing she’d take from the experience was a sense of empowerment, but in the end it was gratitude for all of the support she received. Crossing the channel, she dedicated each twenty-minute segment of her fifteen-hour swim to a
different person. And once she’d done it, channel swimming for her was over. Today she has three sons, and when she drives around the coast of East O‘ahu and looks toward Moloka‘i, she thinks, “That’s really far.” Her boys in the back seat say, “Mom, we can hardly see it. Did you swim in the deep end?”
Mike Miller and Ian Emberson did the Kaiwi Channel together in 1979. Mike grew up swimming in New Jersey lakes, swam in college in Kentucky, came to Hawai‘i when he was 21, threw his parka in the trash at the airport and declared himself home. Still, after crossing the Kaiwi, he has gone on to swims beyond the Islands: one from Catalina to the California coast, another around Manhattan. This summer, he plans to swim the English Channel with his daughter MacKenzie, a chip off the old block who swam from Lana‘i to Maui when she was 14; her 13-year-old friend swimming alongside, Elise Baker, finished to become Hawai‘i’s youngest channel swimmer.
The oldest channel swimmer, at 64, is Carl Kawauchi. To date he’s swum four of the channels in the Maui archipelago, all four in both directions: Maui-Moloka‘i, Maui-Kaho‘olawe, Maui-Lana‘i and Moloka‘i-Lana‘i. He took to channel swimming late, after his hips rebelled from too many marathons, and swam his first when he was 44. “Most of it,” Carl says, “is mental. After the initial adrenaline surge and the panic of being in the dark, you settle down and it gets very peaceful. It’s quiet and you can’t see much. Your mind turns off. It’s actually kinda nice.”