There’s been a lot of attention the past couple of days following the big swim by Diana Nyad – a great swim, an inspirational message and a demonstration of fortitude. Yet the vast majority of open water swimming legends do not garner such world wide media attention but their efforts remain hugely important and noteworthy. Hawaii’s Linda Kaiser has done swims that few could image nor accomplish and she’s done it with the quiet humility and respect (if not deep love) for the ocean that is common among many Hawaiians. Recently Kaiser was inducted into the Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation’s Hawaii Waterman’s Hall of Fame – a distinction granted to the men and women who demonstrate extraordinary aquatic sport accomplishments.
Recently Linda shared some of her background with SwimSwam:
What drives your passion for open water swimming?
I don’t know if passion=love or love =passion. I truly love the ocean. I was in the ocean before I could walk.Being born and raised in Hawaii, it is what we did. We were always around the water, and people who were involved in the ocean. My brother always had a boat and was an avid spear fisherman and grew up knowing all the fish names. He went on to be the curator of the reef tank at sea life park and is now in Dubai v.p. of water features for the atlantis hotel and also designed and stocked the atlantis in the Bahamas.
My father was born and raised in Hawaii and he grew up in the water as well. He passed on his love and respect for the ocean to my brother and I. Dad used to take a month off work every summer and after we got done doing our chores we would head to hanauma bay. That is where I learned to swim. I remember swimming over the reef and seeing the very scarey moray eels sticking their heads out.
I think my love/passion/respect comes from being raised in Hawaii by a father that instilled love and respect for the ocean. As you know Hawaiians have an extreme reverence for the kai(water). our family has its aumakua and I have a very personal aumakua (spirit that looks over you) in the form of an ocean going bird. Itis the spirit of my swimming buddy, Janice Vierra. she comes over me during all my ocean swims and paddles. When we swam Kauai-niihau someone took a picture and the bird was over a swimmer and under the bird, it was light and on either side the color was normal.
Of your many open water swimming accomplishments, which means the most to you (and why)?
Every channel swim has a different meaning/feeling. some were fun, like the Maui-Kahoolawe swim where the swells were 20ft and we were literally body surfing the entire way. The water between Kauai and niihau was gorgeous. Other swims were done for different reasons as the big island-Maui swim which I did a few months after Mike Spalding got bitten by the cookie cutter shark. I was on Mike’s boat when he got attacked. we discussed my swim after he got out of the hospital… and I was really afraid. I thought of Mike the entire way. I was a very scarey swim for me. saw 3 big sharks , but it turned out good, and I learned a lot about myself during those 16+ hours.
When I swam the early swims, we had no idea what we were doing. Basically we got in and swam to the other island. We had no GPS, no fancy nutrition and no kayaker. We followed the boat and they threw us a water bottle when we told them to. My first swim was in 1989 – some of the guys I knew had done the swims around maui/Molokai/lanai and I figured if the guys could do it why couldn’t I?
I’ve seen channel swimming evolve and have mixed feelings. it used to be just pure swimming, no trying to be the fastest , no trying to beat anyone’s time, no pressure to perform, just get in and swim and enjoy the moment. As you know many of my swims were the first time that a channel had been swum by anyone, so no one knew much. We weren’t supposed to swim to niihau or from or to Kahoolawe as they are private islands. We didn’t have GPS, we read the currents and the winds. That was part of it all when we first started.
What does being inducted into the Hawaii Waterman’s Hall of Fame mean to you?
Being inducted into the waterman’s hall of fame is HUGE. only 3 other women have gotten in. and to see who is in there ..well its like a whose who of Hawaii’s ocean legends. no channel swimmer has been inducted other than keo nakama who was the first to swim kaiwi channel. so to be a woman channel swimmer and be inducted is just incredible. I still cant believe it. me..in the waterman’s hall of fame…and for doing something I love .
I like to think they also took into consideration that I do other ocean activities. I paddle 1 man, 2man ( first to do the kaiwi channel in a 2man(actually 2 woman) I’ve paddled 6 man canoes also.