KOHALA COAST — With more than 200 participants waiting on the warm white sand Saturday morning, Hapuna Rough Water Swim maestro Mark Noetzel delivered some simple but sage advice.
“Three rights and a left,” Noetzel repeated to the group just before they plunged into the water at Hapuna Beach State Beach Park.
Through three rights of the 1-mile race, everything was going smoothly with a clear lead pack. But that final left, well, it was a doozy.
As the lead group made the final turn, part of the pack veered off course, well right and past the final buoy, opening the door for Aiden Ankrum to capitalize. All alone once he reached the beach, the 13-year-old speedster zoomed to the finish line in 22 minutes and 34 seconds to secure the top spot at the 39th edition of the event.
“Always listen,” Ankrum said with a laugh, a sentiment his parents and teachers will be happy to hear. “That was the lesson I took away from this race.”
As he reached the final stretch, Ankrum said he was surprised to see some of the swimmers he was side-by-side with earlier scrambling in the opposite direction to get around the buoy.
“It was neck-and-neck, but then all of a sudden I saw them coming at me,” he said. “When I saw it, I couldn’t believe it. I knew I had some room and just thought to myself, ‘Wow! I’m really going to do it.’”
Ankrum, a Kona Aquatics standout, has been swimming competitively since he was 7, but it was his first victory in any of the Triple Crown races — a circuit which also includes the Kings Swim, which will be held on June 30 at Kailua Bay, and last month’s Cinco de Mayo Splash.
“I love the ocean swims,” Ankrum said. “This one is pretty tough. At the beginning everybody was on top of each other. It was crazy.”
Academy Swim Club’s Kanoa Birdsall took second overall (22:47) to represent the host club, while two-time defending Triple Crown champ Weylin Foo (22:59) was third among the male athletes.
Hawaii Prep and Kona Dolphins swimmer Maile Lawson is no stranger to the front of the pack, and added another first overall female title to her resume with a time of 22:51. Lawson took the best line of everyone to the final buoy, pushing her into the top three overall, male or female.
Ku’uleionalani Patterson — who took home top honors at the Cinco Splash — finished second among the women at 23:16, while former Hawaii Prep standout and University of San Diego swimmer Taylor Doherty rounded out the overall female podium with her time of 23:18.
Noetzel — the head coach for Academy Swim Club — could understand the race-changing miscue. When asked how easy it is to do when near the front of the pack, Noetzel just raised his hand.
“I’ve done it myself,” he said. “You are lacking oxygen, and while you know where you have to go, you still have to get there. That’s just part of the gig when it comes to ocean swimming. It makes it a challenge.”
The beautiful conditions were similar to those for the Ironman 70.3 Hawaii last weekend. But as Noetzel noted, Hapuna is always a challenge, so much so that the term “Hapuna Mile” has been coined when describing the length of the race, which can occasionally exceed 1-mile thanks to some mischievous buoys.
“It’s a rigorous mile,” Noetzel said with a smile. “Pretty heavy duty.”
The race is not just for the elite, however. Some families swam together, and others wore masks to take in some of the underwater scenery.
“We are lucky. It was a great day today,” Noetzel said. “It was really nice to see people from the volcano area out here enjoying the event. That was probably the highlight for me.”
The race served as a benefit for the Academy Swim Club teams, as well as the Daniel Sayre Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to providing essential equipment and training to the Hawaii Island Fire Department.
“That’s the driving force for us,” Noetzel said.
Triple Crown leaderboard
Every second matters when chasing the elusive Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming on the Big Island. The award is given to the top male and female swimmer with the lowest cumulative time in the three Triple Crown races. Athletes have to race in all three events to be eligible.
Ankrum’s win moved him into third place on the overall leaderboard with a cumulative time of 44:35. He’s chasing Sean Reilly (44:21) and Birdsall, who holds the top overall spot with a time of 43:57.
On the female side, Patterson holds a healthy lead on the field with a two-race combined time of 46:12. Noelani Vargas is the next closest at 47:11, followed closely by Brenda Avery (47:28).