27 Hours Later, 15-Year-Old Maya Merhige Becomes Youngest to Swim 28-Mile Kaiwi Channel

by Riley Overend 4

January 22nd, 2023 News, Open Water

Fifteen-year-old Maya Merhige made history on Thursday night as the youngest person to swim the Kaiwi Channel, completing the 28-mile journey from Molokai Island to Oahu in 27 hours and 33 minutes.

Merhige, a native of Berkeley, California, left Papohaku Beach on Wednesday evening just after 5:30 p.m. Rough conditions during the first nine hours of her trek added an extra 12 hours to the swim’s expected time. She finally reached the shore in Oahu after 9 p.m. on Thursday night.

“I got stuck in strong headwind/current for the first nine hours, so I didn’t make a lot of progress and wasted a lot of my energy at the beginning, which made for a very long swim,” Merhige told SwimSwam. “Regardless, I had the most fantastic time throughout the entire swim. It was one of the best experiences of my life.”

At one point, a shark reportedly came about 50 meters away from Merhige.

She’s only two weeks younger than former record holder Edie Markovich, who finished the swim in over 15 hours.

Not only was Merhige’s 27-hour swim the longest-ever traverse of the Molokai Channel, but it also made her a new member of open water swimming’s “24-hour club.” According to Openwaterpedia, the swim ranks as the 137th longest ever in terms of time. There are 205 members of the 24-hour club.

Merhige was swimming to raise money for pediatric cancer. She dedicated the swim to a family friend who passed away from cancer, writing his name, “Sam,” on her cap. She has been working with the organization Swim Across America since she was 9 years old, raising more than $50,000 for cancer research.

“I had a lot of different things motivating me throughout the swim,” Merhige said. “I often reminded myself about Sam, the kid who I dedicated my swim to. I reminded myself that this swim was to honor him and that he was with me the whole time.

“My kayakers and crew were also insanely encouraging and throughout the entire swim never stopped believing in me and assuring me that I was okay and that I could do it,” she added.

Last July, Merhige made headlines for becoming the youngest woman to swim the Lake Tahoe Triple Crown at 14 years old.

Merhige currently competes as a sophomore at Berkeley High School. At last year’s West Alameda County Conference (WACC) Championships, she placed fourth in the 500 free (5:46.65) and seventh in the 200 free (2:11.76).

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Eric Schall
2 months ago

Fabulous achievement!!! I follow and applaud every Kaiwi crossing with great interest as my attempt in March 2019 was cut short at 14 miles by a shark attack. Every successful crossing provides me with inspiration to attempt it again. This crossing is truly inspirational!!!

Rob Davis
2 months ago

Congratulations to Maya ! Such a tremendous swim.

K Chilly
2 months ago

28 miles is one thing but 27 hours is a completely different animal! Looking at her form it looked much faster than 30:00min mile pace. If there were this was done in a lap pool with no current I think she would have gone at least 50 miles. Fighting currents is tough!

2 months ago

Some people take 14 hours to swim 28 miles, however this is more impressive since the swimmer spent over a day fighting the conditions!

I’m sure there’s no two days that are alike when swimming this event!

About Riley Overend

Riley is an associate editor interested in the stories taking place outside of the pool just as much as the drama between the lane lines. A 2019 graduate of Boston College, he arrived at SwimSwam in April of 2022 after three years as a sports reporter and sports editor at newspapers …

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