Hundreds of swimmers rescued from rough waters at Hawaii race

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A Labor Day tradition turned into a dangerous situation at sea in Hawaii. (WLS)

A Labor Day tradition turned into a dangerous situation at sea in Honolulu, Hawaii.

More than 300 swimmers had to be helped to shore Monday during the annual Waikiki Roughtwater race.

More than 700 swimmers signed up to compete. Months of training in the open ocean and in the pool ends at the annual Labor Day race.

The race is all about surviving the 2.3 mile long-distance ocean swim, but this year the start was the problem.

"The surf is only 1-3 and the surf has been bigger in past years, but the current out there and the way the tide is working, is pulling against and out," said Ocean Safety Officer Ian Forrester.

About an hour in some swimmers realized they could barely get past the first buoy.

Battalion Chief Ken Lee HFD
"We are using the rescue craft and the boat and bringing them in to the shore here by the boatload," said Honolulu Fire Department Battalion Chief Ken Lee.

Some swimmers made the decision to come in on their own but others who didn't make it to the midway point by 10:30 a.m. were told to give it up.

Those who did finish said they did it by swimming close to shore after getting around that first buoy.

"We say the days that it looks the calmest are the hardest because you can never tell the current on the surf and yesterday they say the current was unusual because of the hurricanes and today it was bad," said swimmer Jami Hirota.

It took Hirota, a veteran swimmer of the Roughwater, a half hour longer to finish. But being fit and fast didn't add up to finishing.

This was to be Carl Dunaway's first try at this race. He trained all year and was disappointed he didn't make it to the end.

"A lot of us were stuck in the same formation we just kept not going anywhere. It didn't look that bad. But it's one of those things, safety first," Dunaway said.

"There were difficult conditions at the beginning. I think people who got past the third buoy had a good time, but I got pulled out at the second buoy," said swimmer Alex Niewijk.

Ocean Safety reported that aside from a few cases of exhaustion and coral cuts and difficulty breathing most of those brought in to shore didn't require medical attention.

But the onshore fuss was Deja vu of the largest water rescue effort ever.
More than a decade, ago Honolulu Fire rescue and city lifeguards were stressed dealing with tough currents on top of 3-5 foot surf.

"2003 was the really bad year. After that we hired professional lifeguards that's why we weren't too worried. It was close to that this year, but we hired Aloha Life Saving which is now part of our permit," said Rece Director Kaia Hedlund.

Hedlund says on top of the water patrol of professional lifeguards a team of 90 volunteers on kayaks and paddle boards helped out this year.
Related Topics:
u.s. & worldswimmingHawaii