Teenager Conquers Kaiwi Channel
Leahi Camacho was mentally, physically and emotionally prepared to make history. In a few hours, the 17-year-old senior from Kealakehe High School would attempt to become the youngest person to swim from Molokai to Oahu across the unpredictable Kaiwi Channel.
“We talked about weather conditions, and the forecast was calling for a tailwind, so we thought it would be great and I’d get a good push from the waves,” says Camacho.
The plan was to leave Molokai in the late evening, meaning she would swim in darkness for several hours. She said a quiet prayer at Laau Point: “I left an offering at Laau and asked for a safe crossing.”
Camacho entered the ocean at 9:50 p.m. and headed for Oahu, 26 miles away. She says the moon was so bright, she could see underwater clearly, but knew the depth of the ocean would soon change and bring with it darkness.
“I was scared, but before I knew it an hour had gone by and I was ready for my first feeding,” says Camacho of her liquid diet made up of a high-calorie, high-protein shake. “The first five feedings came quickly, but it was still dark. I think I was swimming seven or eight hours in the dark, and I was begging for the sun to come out!”
When it finally did, she took the time to soak up the sunrise and marveled at the way it danced off the ocean. Camacho was in a groove and was sailing along until she slammed into a hurdle about 13 miles into the swim. It was an enormous Portuguese man-o-war.
“I started screaming; it was the most pain I’ve ever felt in my whole life,” says Camacho. “My lower body started shaking and my back was cramping. I told my dad and my coaches that I didn’t want to do this anymore. I was numb and my teeth were chattering.”
Her physical and emotional struggle continued for nearly 30 minutes, but she pressed on.
“I was dog paddling because I couldn’t feel my lower body and I couldn’t get my arms over my head,” she recalls. “That’s when I told myself, ‘Keep going!’”
The winds started picking up, and Camacho said it felt like she was “swimming in a washing machine.”
About six miles outside Sandy Beach she reached another milestone.”That’s when I could have my chocolate and my treats,” laughs Camacho. “Unfortunately, I couldn’t taste anything. My mouth and tongue were swollen.”
The last two miles proved to be the most difficult. Camacho says the surf was “getting gnarly” and even though she could see the shoreline, she wasn’t moving as fast as she wanted.
Her father, Charlie, along with coaches Steve Borowski and Wendy Daniel and swimmer Jeff Kozlovich, joined her in the ocean for the final half-mile. The group reached the shore break, where a huge crowd had assembled. After 14 hours and 43 minutes, the 17-year-old Camacho had made local swimming history.
“I couldn’t believe that I could actually walk,” Leahi laughs. “It was humbling to see the amount of people waiting onshore. It was really, really cool.”
She said tears flowed when she recalled a conversation with a young girl on the beach.
“A little girl who I had never met before came up to me and told me she sees me at swim meets and follows my blog and said, ‘One day I want to swim the Kaiwi Channel, too,’” says Camacho. “She gave me a card and I told her go for it! Maybe you can become the youngest person to do this. It was so awesome.”
Camacho’s blog: takingonthebigblue.blogspot.com.