Clubs cherish return to wet: After lengthy layoff, swim practices at county pools back in vogue

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Warrior Aquatic Club’s Sarah Igawa swims the backstroke Thursday while practicing at Kawamoto Swim Stadium. It was the club’s second workout since county pools were reopened for organized workouts.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Warrior Aquatic Club coach Bill Sakovich said it’s back to basics for most of his swimmers, with many of them relearning techniques

The waters off the Big Island figure do be a little less teeming with youth swimmers than previously during the pandemic.

That’s because it’s been deemed safe again for Big Island swim clubs to hold organized team practices in public pools – with an emphasis on safety courtesy of USA Swimming and county COVID-19 guidelines.

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“Every single kid went home with a smile on their face,” Big Blue Swim coach Dorothy Staskawicz said of her 28-member Pahoa club, which held its first practice in some 10 months Sunday.

“They went home happy, hungry and a good kind of tired.”

While Big Blue Swim is able to use five lanes at Pahoa Pool five days a week, matters are much more condensed for Hilo Aquatic Club and Warrior Aquatic Club at Kawamoto Swim Stadium. Those two clubs returned Tuesday for twice-a-week practices, making do with four lanes apiece for 90 minutes.

Hilo Aquatic Club coach Jon Hayashida said he’s had 30 swimmers this week and has had to divide them between two groups. He said he doesn’t have pool time to accommodate all his registered swimmers, while others have been placed on a wait-list.

But make no mistake, it’s good to be back.

“We were patient for so long, we can be patient moving forward,” Hayashida said. “We’re just appreciative the county is letting up back.”

Hawaii County swimming pools reopened for modified use in July, so the more dedicated swimmers could train on their own if they could find a lane along with the rest of the public, or they could head to Pacific Ocean spots such as Carlsmith Beach Park or Kailua Pier.

Warrior Aquatic Club coach Bill Sakovich praised WAQ’s Korrie Tengan and HAQ’s Courtney Kim, both swimmers of his at Waiakea High, for putting in hard work on their own.

One theme of the return to practice – along with temperature checks, sign-in sheets and staggered starts – has been an emphasis on technique.

“The first few days have been tough, just starting all over again after all these months,” said Sakovich, who has 18 swimmers right now. “They are doing better, but you show someone something and they say, ‘Oh, that’s how you do it, I forgot.”’

It would make sense that conditioning would be an issue for swimmers coming off a layoff, but Hayashida said getting back in shape isn’t the first point of emphasis right now.

“USA swimming wanted all the clubs to focus on making it fun again,” Hayashida said. “Bring them back and enjoy the fact they’re back in the water.”

Sakovich credited Staskawicz and two West Hawaii swim club coaches – Dave Gibson of Kona Aquatic Club and Joyce Follis of Kona Dolphin Swim Club – with working on a return-to-practice proposal that was acceptable to county officials, including aquatics specialist Alejandra Flores-Morikami.

“There are a few little things we could work on,” Sakovich said, “but (Alejandra) came over and told us, ‘Give us a couple of weeks. This just the beginning.”’

Kona Aquatics returned to practice at Kona Community Aquatic Center last week, and Staskawicz said the Kona Dolphins did as well – a welcome sight for Follis, no doubt.

In September, Follis told the Tribune-Herald the Dolphins had been the only Big Island club practicing in the ocean, but at the time they had to relocate to Heeia Bay in Keauhou because of a sewage spill at Kailua Pier.

As for competitions?

“The focus right now is just getting back in the water,” Hayashida said, “but maybe a competition in March, it depends.”

If there is a meet in a few months, Academy Swim Club in Waimea may have the advantage. The club uses a private facility – Hawaii Prep’s Dowsett Pool – and first returned to practice last summer.

Take the dive

Hilo HI-Diving, under coach DJ Freedman, is set to return Friday with once-a-week practices from 1-4 p.m. at Kawamoto Swim Stadium. Freedman said practices are free for the next six Fridays through the end of February.

The diving board at Kawamoto has been closed since the shutdown last spring, Freedman said, so he expects a fair amount of rust from his pupils this year. He said he has four divers registered after having 12 last year.

“We’ll just get back on the board and work on diving muscle memory,” Freedman said.

While swimmers are encouraged to head to the beach to safely work on their craft, Freedman said he would never advise a diver to practice on their own in the ocean, even when dealing with acceptable depths.

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“You want to focus on the dive, not the water you’re diving into,” he said.

To register, email dj@hilohidiving.org.

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