Story by Tiffany Hervey
Photos by Elyse Butler
As Angela Kwong neared the start line, she panicked. The Kane‘ohe
resident was about to swim one mile, from Sunset Beach to Pipeline. Small
problem: She hadn’t been in the ocean in twenty years — because of panic
attacks. Angela’s no wuss: She’s a six-time qualifier for the Boston Marathon.
But if she were going to run a triathlon, as she hoped to do, she had to
conquer her fear of the water. And she did—barely.
“I lost my goggles in the first two hundred yards of the
race,” Kwong says. “I came in last. I bawled at the finish line.” But she didn’t
stop. She swam all four races in the North Shore Swim Series (NSSS) that year: the
1-mile from Sunset to Pipeline, 1.2 miles around Waimea bay, 1.6 miles from
Chun’s Reef to Waimea bay and 2.3 miles from Pipeline to Waimea. “I came in
last every race,” she says. Kwong signed up for the NSSS again the following
year. She still came in last, still cried. But her confidence grew, and in
December 2013 she competed in her first Ironman.
About a third of the eight hundred participants in the NSSS
are triathletes training for Ironman, but the rest are just regular people
ranging in age from seven to 80-plus years old. Anyone can join these loosely competitive
races: competitive swimmers, water polo players, lifeguards, big-wave surfers,
paddlers and people who just love to swim in the open ocean. In its twenty-sixth
year, the NSSS now features a fifth race: 1.9 miles from Laniakea to Pua‘ena Point.
“The North Shore is the ‘Seven- Mile Miracle,’ a series of world-class surf breaks
from Hale‘iwa to Sunset,” says NSSS director Chris Gardner. “With the new race,
the series now covers the entire seven miles.”
But don’t worry about getting pounded by giant surf. “North
Shore in the summer is like an aquarium,” Gardner says. “You’re swimming where
the best surfers in the world come to test themselves during the winter —
swimming right over the reef formations that create those legendary breaks.” For
Kwong the Seven-Mile Miracle has also been a personal miracle: “NSSS made me a
swimmer. If I can do it, anyone can.”