Epic Swim Maui, Epic Athletes and Elders Unite for Ocean Conservation

Epic Swim Maui, Epic Athletes and Elders Unite for Ocean Conservation

This summer, Maui’s picturesque waters are set to host the Epic Swim Maui, an extraordinary open water swimming expedition designed not only as a sporting event but as a meaningful movement towards ocean health awareness. The event will take place from July 10 to August 7 and is part of the official activities of the United Nations Ocean Decade, emphasizing the global commitment to ocean health. The event commemorates the legacy of Hawaiian swimming icon Duke Kahanamoku, is supported by the United Nations, the County of Maui, and a consortium that includes oceanographers worldwide, indigenous leaders, and both local and international brands.

Spearheaded by Robbie Seeger, a former windsurfing world champion and local Maui resident, the initiative began as a bold idea during the COVID-19 lockdowns, a period of introspection and yearning for meaningful engagement with nature. What started as a casual conversation in Haiku with a friend evolved into a call to action that attracted some of the world’s elite open water athletes from 10 countries across six continents such as Mariam Bin Laden, John Kaleimakali’i Thornton Clark, Andrew Donaldson, Barbara Hernandez, Prabhat Koli, Nathalie Pohl, Jonathan Ridler, Yvette Tetteh, Sarah Thomas, Stefan Reinke, Dina Levačić and Mostafa Zaki.

One of the athletes participating is local endurance swimmer Ryan Leong who said in an interview on Hawaiʻi Public Radio:

“As individual ocean swimmers, we are out there chasing crossings and channels and individual accomplishments, but rarely do we ever do something for a bigger cause,” Leong said. “The unknown is actually kind of what draws me to it. I think that’s part of the beauty of it.”

“One of the other things that’s going to be exceptionally interesting for us is that a lot of us are used to completing a single long-distance swim, maybe lasts over a couple of days,” Leong said. “We’re looking at three weeks, day upon day after day after day — sun exposure, salt exposure. Those are the things that I think we’re going to need to have a good strategy for.”

Participants will learn directly from Hawaiian elders and cultural leaders about the significance of the ‘amakua (protective spirits, often depicted as sharks) and the sacredness of the island’s waters.

The swim is plotted around the entire island of Maui, challenging athletes with its varied oceanic conditions—calm waters on one side and turbulent currents on the other. This variability requires not only physical endurance but strategic thinking and adaptability. The swim’s format encourages a collective effort rather than individual competition, fostering a sense of community and shared purpose among the participants.

The event will also be accompanied by a documentary film by acclaimed filmmaker Stefan Schaefer, aiming to highlight the collaborative efforts of swimmers, scientists, community leaders, and environmental advocates dedicated to enhancing ocean and coastal health.

Seeger outlined the mission’s scope: “Alongside achieving an impressive athletic endeavor of swimming 190 miles around Maui, we are actively participating in efforts to enrich our island and the surrounding marine environment.” This initiative extends beyond athleticism into significant environmental advocacy and research, including studies on microplastics and PFAS (forever chemicals) conducted by notable institutions like the University of Hawaiʻi, the Scripps Institute, and the Hereon Institute.

Support for this monumental project continues to grow, with contributions from various sectors, including the Moku Fund. This initiative, supported by philanthropists like Kristin and Sven Lindblad and advised by cultural figures such as Alika Atay and Kainoa Horcajo, provides grants to local organizations and individuals committed to environmental and preservation efforts in Maui’s 12 moku (land divisions).

This event is a celebration of Hawaiian ocean culture and a significant step towards global ocean conservation, resonating with the mission to ensure the health of our seas for future generations.

The website is set to launch on May 29, 2024.