By J.R. De GROOTE
Stephens Media Hawaii
The top swimmers in the state gathered at the Kona Community Aquatic Center on Thursday for the start of the Hawaii Age-Group Short Course Swimming Championships.
Only timed events were on the schedule Thursday, starting with the longest race of the weekend — the 1,650 freestyle.
Kona Aquatics’ Leahi Camacho is familiar with swimming long distances. In August, the Kealakehe senior completed the 26-mile Kaiwi Channel swim — one of the most grueling channel swims in the world. She also is the reigning triple-crown champion of Big Island open-ocean swims, winning the Cinco de Mayo, Hapuna Roughwater and King’s swims.
Camacho took home the state title in the girls 17-18, 1,650 freestyle with a time of 17 minutes and 49 seconds, outpacing Kamehameha Swim Club’s Corrine Shigeta, who finished at 18:07.
As the afternoon turned to evening and the pool lights kicked on, the relay events picked up and so did the noise from the bleachers.
While a true test of endurance, long-distance events are less spectator friendly than relays. Under the lights, the once quiet crowd turned raucous, with parents and supporters on their feet, cheering on the teams.
Kamehameha Swim Club standout Jasmine Mau — who holds multiple state records — did not swim in any of the distance events, but anchored the winning girls 17-18, 400 freestyle relay team. The Kona Aquatics team of Camacho, Chenoa Jesser, Anna Thomas and Cara Jernigan finished second.
The Academy Swim Club girls 13-14 relay team of Taylor Doherty, Tove Fostvet, Ava Jean Johnston and Karly Noetzel took fifth in the girls 13-14, 400 freestyle relay, and the Kona Dolphins Swim Club had multiple teams finish in the relays.
As predicted, Kamehameha Swim Club had a dominant day in the water. The club concluded the day with 283 team points, nearly twice the total of the next closest team, Punahou Aquatics, with 145. Kona Aquatics finished as the top Big Island team with 49 points.
“The state championship is essential for the growth of the sport,” race director Malcolm Cooper said. “It’s something people can strive for. Unlike a sport like soccer — where you limit the amount of people who can participate when you pick the team — anyone who qualifies can come to this event.”
The Big Island is hosting the event for the second time in three years, and organizers were pleased with the beautiful conditions. Challenges with inclement weather significantly delayed the action the past two times the event was held in Kona.
“No rain, no vog — we are looking good. But we are keeping our fingers crossed,” Cooper said.
The event uses the Kona Community Aquatic Center to its full potential, but hosting an event for 550 swimmers is no small task.
“The organization is really hard,” said Kona Aquatics coach Steve Borowski, who designed the Kona Community Aquatic Center. “We had all the Big Island teams put this together and everyone really rallied to make it happen.”
On top of providing the youth with great competition, the event is a significant economic booster for the community. Borowski estimated through the combined spending of the visiting families it brings in roughly $500,000.
The event picks up today at 8:30 a.m. and continues through Sunday.