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Molokai Channel – A bit of history

September 14, 2010

Thank you to my fellow marathon swimmer and friend, Chris Palfrey for writing a lovely detail of Molokai Channel.  It was so lovely in fact that I decided to reuse it.  Chris's write up below:

It is 26.4 miles (42km) of open ocean separating the Hawaiian Islands of Molokai & Oahu.  It is recognized as one of the toughest “doable’ marathon swims on the planet.  For some interesting background reading on the Kaiwi (aka Molokai Channel) & other Hawaii ‘Channels’, go to the ‘Hawaiian Channel Swim’ Website & click on the link to the Hana Hou (Hawaiian Airlines Magazine) article.  In the article, our good friend Forrest Nelson from LA describes the Kaiwi this way.

“This is  by far the most challenging channel I  have ever been in. My analogy is that the English Channel is a river between two huge land masses. Yes, there are strong currents and the threat of hypothermia. But here, you’re in the middle of the frigging Pacific between two tiny dots”.

The first serious attempt to swim the Kaiwi, was mounted in early 1961 by Olympic Gold medalist & world record holder, Greta Andersen.  She made two really valiant, but unsuccessful attempts, each time getting out at around the 17 hour mark.

Amongst her support crew, was an accomplished local swimmer by the name of Keo Nakama.  He must have learned some valuable lessons from Greta’s attempts, as later in 1961, he made the first successful crossing, finishing in Haunama Bay, Oahu, before a large crowd of well wishers.

Since Keo’s triumph, only 12 other people have successfully swum the Kaiwi Channel.  All of them were Hawaii residents except for Forrest Nelson (LA, California) and Chris Palfrey (Australia).  And all successful crossings have been made from Molokai to Oahu, except for Forrest and the great Harry Huffaker who have both swum the Kaiwi in both directions.  The times taken by successful swimmers have generally been relatively slow (15 to 16 hours is about average), reflecting the difficult conditions & strong & unpredictable currents.

The early mark, as of April was, around 13 ½ hours was set by Huffaker in 1967.  Jon Ezer bettered this in 1974 with a time of around 13 hrs 20 mins.  Finishing times are not officially recorded anywhere & these times were advised to me [Chris Palfrey] by Harry & Jon’s brother, Scott.  In April, Chris Palfey broke Jon Ezer's record and set a new time of 12 hours 53 minutes and some odd seconds.   An amazing accomplishment.  



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