Record Ka`iwi Swim

Community Contributed

By Natasha Westhoff

On the cloudless, starlit night of April 9, a group of five women padded down the path from Kepuhi Beach Resort to the water, to watch and wait. On the horizon, one tiny light moved slowly across the Ka`iwi Channel, heading toward the pounding shore break at Kepuhi beach. An hour later, after a slightly chaotic kayak landing and the jostling of gear and crew into and out of the surf and onto the waiting escort boat, two women: Liz Fry and Marcella MacDonald, stood together wearing bathing suits, swim caps, and vaseline, timing their entry into the sea. It was 9 p.m., and they were about to step into the pitch black ocean, to begin their swim across the Ka`iwi Channel. Through the night, and on into the late afternoon of the next day they swam, and swam some more, until finally at 2:30 p.m. on April 10, they navigated the surf break at Sandy Beach on Oahu, stepped out of the water, and stepped into the history books. In all, their crossing took 17 hours and 27 minutes.

They were not the first to attempt this feat, but completing the crossing does put them into an elite group. Only 35 people have ever successfully completed a solo swim across the Ka`iwi Channel, considered one of the more brutal channel crossings in Hawaii. For Marcella MacDonald, 57, a distance swimmer from Connecticut, who has crossed the English Channel no less than 15 times, this swim was a notable change of pace.

“The Channel is just different type of water,” she said. “I would never want to swim a tandem swim for the English Channel, because it’s so cold. When we had to wait during our feeds, if Liz was feeding and I was done feeding, I would be freezing. But here? Here it was great. It was glorious. The temperature was fantastic. I mean, I’ve never seen so many stars. There were a lot of things that I did enjoy. The thing I didn’t enjoy was my sunburn. But it was warm, it was beautiful. Every swim gives you different challenges.”

In Hawaii in particular, strong currents, jellyfish and Man o’ Wars, pounding sun, rollicking waves and the ever present potential for shark encounters are just a few of the things swimmers must gird their loins for.

“There’s no sport like this.” MacDonald said, “The things your body goes through in this open water, I don’t even think we can explain it because no one studies us.”

According to MacDonald, what keeps her drive going after 45 years of long distance swimming is her personal motto: “Dream. Prepare. Succeed.” MacDonald and Fry’s next challenge will be the Swim Across the Sound, a 15.5 mile swim across Long Island Sound to benefit the St. Vincent’s Medical Center Foundation, planned for this month.

You can learn more about MacDonald’s record-breaking history and upcoming distance swims on her blog,


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