HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Around 350 people had to be rescued during the 50th annual Waikiki Roughwater Swim race on Monday morning, Ocean Safety officials said.
Lifeguards say changing tides and strong currents made conditions challenging for swimmers.
The 2.4 mile race starts near the New Otani Hotel and ends at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.
Participants say it wasn’t too bad swimming to the first buoy, which is located less than half a mile off Kaimana Beach, but then they say the ocean conditions got worse.
“I felt like I was moving backwards,” said Megan Ouellette, a swimmer from Maine. “There was a huge current and I was swimming for two hours and didn’t move very far.”
Swimmer Reid Revelli from Oakland, California says he finished the race two years ago in about 90 minutes, but says this year, he barely made it past the first buoy in the same amount of time.
“The waves were a lot harder and higher, and it was not easy,. We just weren’t moving. We weren’t moving an inch,” said Revelli.
Multiple agencies — including the Honolulu Fire Department, Emergency Medical Services, and Ocean Safety — responded at around 9:45 a.m. to assist with the rescues.
“I just grabbed onto the buoy and just waited,” said swimmer Sherri Eng. “I saw others waiting there and they were getting rescued, so I figured I would also be rescued there as well.”
Crews on jet skis and boats, as well as good samaritans with canoes and kayaks, pulled swimmers from the water as HFD’s Air One scanned the race course from the sky.
“They were doing an aerial search because they can cover large areas to make sure we didn’t have anybody outside the designated event area,” said HFD Battalion Chief Alan Carvalho.
Fire officials say the race course was cleared of all participants and no injuries were reported.
They say they are working with race organizers to ensure everyone is accounted for.
“That is a big challenge with such a large number of participants and an open ocean event. Anybody could have been brought ashore anywhere along the course and they could have gone home from there," Carvalho said.