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Swimming the Big Island

I’m a triathlete, a triathlon coach and an open water swim coach. So, when my husband and I decided to FINALLY take a honeymoon for our seventh anniversary, of course I suggested Kona. Being the good sport he is, he of course agreed and when someone asked him if I was taking my bike he said “Of course she is!’ Because on a honeymoon, you’re supposed to do things together, but you’re also supposed to do what makes you happy! Swim bike run make me happy, so we planned on me training every day, and us spending time together every day.

Little did I know my non-swimming husband would have so much snorkeling the first day he asked “Where are we swimming today?” every day after! As a result, I got in a LOT of swim, bike and run, but I also got in a lot of snorkeling and just plain splashing around in the sea. We had no super planned agenda, but we tried to get to a new beach everyday.

During training for Ironman Cozumel, when I was wiped out, I’d spend a little time researching and planning our trip, and my workouts. I definitely wanted to experience the Ironman World Championship course while there, but where else could we swim and explore and see new things?

I found a lot of resources online, and Yelp and Google Maps were invaluable. But one of the best online resources, for me, was a site called Love Big Island, and their guide to Big Island Beaches.It breaks beaches out by area of the island, has a decent map, and has enough info that we could prioritize which beaches we HAD to go to, and which we hoped to go to.

We had 8 days. How many beaches and swims could we squeeze in (along with other activities!)?

Day 1, Kahalu’u Beach Park

We landed around lunchtime, got our car, and got some food. Then we checked into our Airbnb and headed for Kahalu’u Beach Park. It was mid afternoon and we’d been traveling since 4 am PST, but we were determined to do a little something, get some food and then early to bed.

Kahalu’u didn’t disappoint. There’s a small gray sand beach, facilities, and lots of families. It’s also just past the run turnaround of the World Championship course so I would see it later too ;) We walked off the lava rocks and into the water and right into some amazing reefs of fish. There were a lot of families, and this is probably one of the two best places you could go to snorkel with kids on the island. There’s surf off over by the tiny church, but most of the little beach is protected by a rock breakwall, and so the water is pretty placid and you can just float around in what feels like an aquarium. Rob the Iron Spouse isn’t a swimmer, but he too had a blast - and it set the right tone for the trip! It’s not a beach to get any serious yardage in, but it’s well worth putting on your goggles (or a mask) and checking out the fish!

The Iron Spouse gets wet

First fishies

Day 2: Swimming in Holy Water

The Ironman World Championships looks big on tv, as do the pier and Ali'i drive. Intimidating even. It’s the big show after all. But in person, it’s warm and inviting and not intimidating at all. It’s actually a rather small pier, and a rather small beach with an easy entry. A few steps, a small patch of sand, and you’re in the crystal clear water, swimming along the well marked buoy line (well, until the 1.2 turnaround buoy but that story is coming). The water was low to mid 60s each day I swam from the pier. I hadn’t brought a wetsuit, but many of the locals and visitors were wearing them. According to the locals I met in the water, it was a bit chilly and murky, but I thought it was quite warm and so clear. Since I swim in the SF Bay a lot now, it’s all relative! :)

Just down the steps and across the wall and...

Locals: Meh, not so great today, can’t see much.

Me: Look at all the FISHIES!!!!!!!!

I was so happy to be in the water, sans wetsuit and where my face didn’t hurt. I felt like I could swim for days, though my training plan called only for a short swim. This proved to be the case for our whole trip (what off season?) so I only recorded about half of my swims :) I still overachieved my workouts, but hey, this was MY vacation so if I wanted to workout extra, that’s my choice!

Why, yes, I do race like a girl #irlag

Let's swim fishies!

I hung with a group past the first set of buoys,along a reef then the buoys thin out. The group stopped at a buoy and I chatted, and they were turning around. I could see the next buoy, which is the 1.2 turnaround, so I carried on. Was rewarded by being surrounded by a big school of silvery fish, swimming over another reef and met 2 guys coming back from the 2.4 buoy who asked if I’d seen the pod of dolphins that had swum past them on their way out. Sadly, I had not, but we talked about the course and I asked about sighting to the next buoy since you can’t see it from that one. There are a handful between 0 and 1.2 but only the 2.4 buoy after that. It’s a long way sans buoy :) One was local and gave me a few landmarks to sight on, and I was on my way. It felt like an awfully long way, but discovered later I’d been swimming against the current as it was MUCH faster on the way back in.

Still, I was enjoying the scenery and still all a-giggle that I was swimming the WC course. My Iron Spouse was there as I got out and we made our way for coffee and acai bowls which became our post-swim ritual all over the island! After, a run on Ali'i, a nap, some yummy food and an early night and we were ready to hit it again.

Oh, I WILL be back.

Kona Pier Day 2

After posting about my swim online, a friend from my swim family, SMOG, who was on the island visiting family messaged and asked if we could swim! Swimming with friends in paradise? ALOHA!

I'm just waiting on a friend. A SMOG friend!

This was bike course recon day, but what better way that to get a swim in first! There’s always swimmers heading in, so I got to chat while I waited as Rob headed out for coffee. Alison arrived, and we took off. Alison hadn’t gotten a swim in a while, but probably got in just under a mile, while I did 1.2 and was ready to head out. And I got to see a turtle my friend Courtney had befriended when she was out here for WC. I’m certain it was the same one.

A snack, a pic of the SoCal/NorCal SMOG meetup in Kona, and a kiss and I was on the bike and headed to Hawi!

Thanks for meeting up Alison!

Kiholo Bay and Queens Bath

I rode up to Hawi, checking out the course, and met Rob for lunch and a stroll through town.

Gratuitous bike shot

On the way back to Kailua-Kona, we decided to try to see more fish! Rob drove and I plotted the course for Kiholo Bay, where it looked like we might get to sight some turtles AND check out the Queen’s Bath, a tide pool in a lava tube. Like a Mexican cenote, lava tubes have created some salt and some fresh water watering holes which you can swim in, and this sounded like a must do.

Right off the parking lot

Yelp suggested we needed 4WD, and our budget Jeep wasn’t, but we decided to try. Made it to the parking lot, and the beach is a few short steps. No signs to the queens bath, but the snorkeling wasn’t awesome right there, and the beach was long, so we hiked a bit hoping to see a good spot.

The bath is in the bushes a couple hundred yards from the sea and not well marked, but luckily a small family was there and checking it out so we didn’t miss it. I eagerly climbed in and Rob decided he’d stay on photo duty - it was fresh water and definitely colder than the ocean! It was super cool to be down there and swim from opening to opening, but the echoes off the walls and the tiny caves that spread out from some of the main openings were, not going to lie, a little creepy. I stayed with the openings in clear eye shot, and didn’t swim long. It DID feel like a great ice bath after a long hard bike ride, but I’ve never been a huge fan of the full body ice bath, so I climbed back out. I had really impressed the 3 year old little girl from the family. Mission accomplished!

We were still hoping for a little snorkeling, but the surf was a little big- not for swimming but for snorkeling for sure. We settled for tidepool exploring and hoping for turtles. We were about ready to give up when we saw this:

Two Step

I’d created a fishy-finding monster. Rob wanted to see more fish, and there was still plenty of daylight. So, we drove down to Captain Cook to a beach known as Two Step that was supposed to have great snorkeling.

Two Step didn’t disappoint. Basically, you take two steps off lava rock and you’re in a ton of reefs, with lots of little inlets and almost-caves. Tons of bright colored fish and not as many people as Kahalu’u. There’s also, if you have little ones, a little sandy beach in a protected cove.

Pro tip: Don’t decide to swim over and swim over the rocks and into the cover to walk up the sand. This is probably ok to do, but I misjudged the waves and got knocked around on the rocks. A few cuts and scrapes weren’t enough to diminish my spirits, but, this happened:

Pro bandage job

Yep. Lost the top of my finger. A friendly fisherman grabbed bandaids out of his truck but they didn’t go very far. Losing the tip of your finger bleeds a lot. Rob wanted to head to urgent care, but, afraid they’d tell me not to swim the rest of the trip, I managed to talk him into the drugstore for Neosporin and some Extreme Sport bandaids. Does Longs Drugs sponsor triathletes? Because if anyone should be sponsored by Extreme Sport bandaids, it is ME.

Fingertip update: In case you’re wondering, I bandaged this thing carefully daily and swam every day. I was not letting a little finger loss stop me. It actually didn’t start healing well until the flap fell off and I truly lost my fingertip and then it began regenerating. I do have some nerve damage and typing with it tickles. So, yes, I am smiling while typing this!

Laupahoehoe Beach

Time to explore more of the island, after Fingergate, we got up the next day, checked out of our little apartment, and headed north, and then toward Waimea after breakfast and a little run near the water (and probably an acai bowl and coffee). Our next residence was in Peepeoke, just north of Hilo, and we wanted to make it by afternoon. We stopped for coffees, explored a lot, and decided to check out Laupahoehoe. Rob was intrigued by the history - a small sugar mill town that had been decimated by a tidal wave. I loved watching the waves crash on the rocks. Definitely not a good beach for swimming, which is often a dealbreaker for me, this beach had rocks, waves, cliffs and lush greenery so was worth a stop. High winds too!

I was a little worried that all the beaches on this side of the island would be this rugged and my swims would be short, sweet and tough but I didn’t need to worry.

Onomea Trails

After finding our farm and a fab smoothie place in the wilds of Peepeoke, Rob and I slept well. I had an hourish run to do in the rain, so decided to head down towards the water and meander and then have Rob come meet me. The run was lush and glorious, but the meeting was harder than expected thanks to GPS issues. I ended up at Onomea Falls and Trails near the Botanical Gardens and texted him, but Google sent Rob 5 miles south.