This is the clearest water I've ever been in, and the longest continuous time and distance I've ever spent in the ocean. It was amazing. Most of the open water swimming I've done, and ALL of the open water races I've done have been in fresh water. Lakes and rivers are great, especially in Colorado, but generally the visibility under fresh water is murky from mud and sand. The North Shore of Hawaii is nothing like that. Instead of popping my head up to look for buoys or other swim caps, I was just looking under water at feet (when I wasn't looking down at fish and reef and scuba divers!) As a first-time ocean racer, this was an incredible event.
We met at Waimea Bay around 7:45am to get body markings and to drop our bags. Then we were bussed to Ehukai Beach Park for the start. The wind was pretty intense, and Ehukai Beach had huge waves. Buoys were set every 300 meters or so, with SUPs and various helpers. After working to get to the start buoys (diving under the waves) we were set and only had to tread water for 4 minutes or so. The horn went off right at 9am (which seemed like a late start time to me), and we were off. There were probably around 300 people all in.
I stuck closely with the group I was with (4 of us in all). It was actually pretty easy to stick together, even though I thought it would be impossible. We swam at around a 1:45/100 yard pace. The current and wind were definitely in our favor, though I had a hard time getting pushed forward and then sort of sucked back. I felt like I was working harder than the others in my group, but I got into a good rhythm. The highlights were swimming over schools of fish and several scuba divers.
We arrived at Waimea Bay in around 70 minutes. The exit from the water was easy and fun. We rinsed off and had fresh fruit before heading back to our bungalows. Overall, this was a really well-run event and I'd love to do it again. For someone not used to saltwater swimming, the most surprising part of the entire experience was how numb my tongue got from the water!